Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Oh, ****!

A Catholic school got some unwanted attention last week after it issued a challenge to female students--but only the girls--to stop cursing:
Catholic school girls think it’s just plain sexist that they were asked to take a no-cursing pledge on Friday — and the boys weren’t.

What the hell is up with that?

Lori Flynn, a teacher who launched the civility campaign at Queen of Peace High School in North Arlington, said the rationale was simple: “We want ladies to act like ladies.”

And besides, the principal, Brother Larry Lavallee, added, the girls have the foulest language.

That’s bull, according to an unscientific sampling of students of both genders who were hanging out in the hallways before the morning ceremony. Research by psychologist Timothy Jay, a professor at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and author of “Why We Curse,” backs the view that men are typically more profane. In general, people who are more extroverted, dominant and hostile tend to swear more.

Yet, despite their annoyance at what they said was a clear double standard, many girls were game.

This kind of "girls must be ladies, but boys will be boys" double standard annoys me.  So I was glad to read (hat tip: Deacon Kandra) that the no-cursing pledge has been opened up to boys:
Days after a coed Catholic school made headlines for asking only its girls to take a pledge to stop cursing, it administered the oath Monday to some boys who sought equal opportunity.

Some staff members at Queen of Peace High School in North Arlington were upset that the media attention and online comments that followed The Record’s coverage of the girls-only pledge on Friday focused largely on criticism that the campaign was sexist.

The school administered the civility pledge Monday to teenage boys who chose to participate, said Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark, which oversees the school.

“Once the boys heard about it on Friday or Saturday, a lot of them said, ‘We’d like to get in on it,’” Goodness said. It was unclear how many boys took part, he said.
I find it encouraging that the boys themselves asked to participate while being realistic--as the rest of the article discusses--that it won't be easy to cure themselves of an all-too-prevalent sort of speech pattern in our country.

All of which means that I do not agree with those who think that habits of casual cussing or cursing or however you prefer to say it are just fine and dandy.  Do I think it's immoral or a sin to let the occasional expletive fly, even in print?  No, I don't.  Do I think it's rude and insensitive to pepper your speech or writing with words that include the Lord's name being taken lightly, words connoting sexual violence, words that are scatological, or words that call down imprecations on their targets?  Yes, I do.  Why?  Because these words are meant to be coarse and vulgar, and even though they may have lost their power to shock all but the most sheltered, the last thing we need in our culture today is more coarseness and vulgarity.  And it's particularly rude to swear in front of children, those elderly who were raised in a generation when public swearing was truly offensive, and anybody who is especially sensitive to this sort of thing (victims of domestic violence, for example, were often treated to the worst four-letter insults on a regular basis, and thus tend not to laugh and shrug when people start yelling four-letter words in their presence).

Whether a swearing habit actually rises to the level of sin is something I think people ought to take up with their confessors or spiritual directors; I suspect that the answer is "It depends," followed by a lot of specific questions by the spiritual director about the person's particular state, the words employed, the context of the swearing, and so on.  But does something have to be sinful before Catholics can agree that it's rude enough not to be encouraged?  I mean, there's nothing objectively sinful about making armpit noises that resemble the sound of flatulence, but most of us would agree that it would be rather rude to do so while, say, waiting in a cashier's line at the grocery store.  A lot of cursing these days is the verbal equivalent of making armpit noises in public: not particularly intelligent, not especially enlightening, and telling the hearers more about the person engaging in that behavior than they probably realize.

So I'm glad to see the young men and women at Queen of Peace high school take a step away from the popular culture's widespread acceptance of cursing and swearing as a sort of speech code for the cool kids.  If it's uncool to prefer the use of language which strives to avoid these words and phrases, then I admit to being uncool.

UPDATE: Pat Archbold has a different take on this.  He writes:
While I am not in favor of either gender cursing, I have no problem with asking young women to be superior to their male counterparts.  Even in a coed school (which may or may not be such a great idea) we need to teach our boys to be men and our girls to be ladies.  And guess what, ladies don't curse (much).

I think it is perfectly sensible and reasonable to single out girls for a call to better behavior.  Boys will be called to behave like men in their own way, but boys are different than girls.  I think that our world and our culture already suffers from the lack of the former benign influence of ladies.  Today, we have all too many girls who grow up merely into curvier versions of the vulgar male counterparts.

Bottom line, you cannot make ladies of young women by asking them to be equal parts sugar, spice, slugs, and snails.

The world does not need more women who act like men.  We need something better than that, we need ladies.  We don't merely need the other sex, we need the fairer sex back.
Needless to say, I have huge problems with his framing of this.  It's okay to teach boys to be men but girls to be "ladies?"  Nope.  Either you're busy teaching the boys to be gentlemen as well, or you're admitting that you want women to adopt a whole bunch of artificial stereotypical ideas about how "ladies" don't curse and do dress for a day at home with infants and toddlers in an outfit something like this and stand helplessly in front of doors just hoping some big strong fellow will come along and open it for her out of the kindness of his heart and the awareness that in her gloves and heels it's just unseemly for her to be doing the physical work of door-pulling, while reserving for men the option to sit around in jeans and tee-shirts watching football and engaging in recreational belching and cussing and borderline-sinful conversations about hot babes because anything less is somehow emasculating.

No, and no, and no.

Boys and girls are different.  Cussing is rude and vulgar in either sex.  To let fly a cuss word in moments of extreme provocation is no more wrong for a woman installing her own shelves than it is for a man doing the same thing; she doesn't get to be shamed with the additional charge of being unladylike on top of the vulgarity.


freddy said...

Swearing, rather like smoking I suspect, is attractive to the young as a way to show how socially acceptable they are. It's best not to make a habit of it; however, as like smoking, it becomes less and less attractive the older you get.

It doesn't have anything to do with gender: Old Aunt Lulu's potty-mouth and stinky cigarette are just as embarassing as Old Uncle Lou's. This is 2013, not 1913, after all, and this particular double standard is just silly.

catholic traveller said...

Sorry, I find this situation a bit humorous on the surface. Deeper down, however, It is serious. I am glad the boys stepped up to make things right. I agree that boys need to be taught to be gentlemen and girls, ladies. We have far too much unisex culture today. Not to say women shouldn't work just as hard as men, or that we should go back to "division of labor" in all instances, but as a hard working woman, I enjoy my bits of femininity: wearing dresses, speaking without cussing (not perfect there, okay) and men opening doors and loading the hay bales for me. It takes the edge off the sore muscles and frustration. Just as a feminine woman, respecting and treating a man with dignity, having conversation without profanity, will hopefully make his day a little better, too.

beadgirl said...

That's what I love about conservative Catholic men -- they're always telling me what a failure I am as a woman.

B et G said...

I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that the original challenge was only for girls. How would that even occur to someone? I've never even contemplated the notion that swearing would be something for men to do but not women? Where does that come from? I was raised among people who never swore, men or women, so maybe I'm missing a major cultural thing here...
Rebecca in ID

Alisha De Freitas said...

Pat Archbold's weird post got me flying over here in hopes of a sane take on the issue, and I'm not disappointed. Thank you!

Bathilda said...

I think that girls curse more than ever not because they are gaining equality with men, but rather because we still aren't equal! I agree that the sexes are different and have different skill sets to bring to the table. I mean we are not considered equal in the ways that we can actually BE equal. Young women, especially, curse not to be a man, but to be heard! Not paying attention? Here's an F bomb! It's not effective, and likely backfires, but I think it's a symptom of the frustration of not having a voice.
My fourth grade son came home crying last year because the boys were cussing so much and he was torn between telling on them and being labeled a tattle tale. That was in third grade! (A catholic school). The girls weren't cussing.
I like the idea of high school kids challenged to clean it up and use more creative ways to get their opinions and points across. It should not be limited to girls. That it was presented as a female problem is abhorrent, ridiculous, and just plain exasperating.

Svar said...

I don't know. The things that seem normal to young men seem unseemly on young women. We young men curse a bit, but if a girl were to do it it would be awkward and strange and make that girl not a good candidate for a girlfriend or a future wife.

And tell me, is there something wrong with young men sitting around talking about hot babes?

Egalitarianism doesn't really exist. What we young men like in women we want to marry and what young women are willing to tolerate in us is quite different.

Bathilda said...

Wow, Svar, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but many young women don't consider their lives as a tryout to be marriage material. Especially for men who sit around and talk about hot babes. If I didn't think tat red would kick me off, I'd tell you exactly what I think of Neanderthals who consider themselves entitled to the perfect women they have dreamed up in their heads.