Dirty Mouth? Clean It Up, Ladies.
What the f**k? A Catholic high school has come under scrutiny after requiring its female students to recite a pledge in which they swore not to, well, swear.
Last week during homeroom, Girls at Queen of Peace High School in North Arlington, N.J., raised their right hands and said in unison, “I do solemnly promise not to use profanities of any kind within the walls and properties of Queen of Peace High School…So help me God.” Upon completion of the mass recitation, each girl was each given a pin (lips with a red slash through them!) to wear as a reminder of her promise.
The whole not-swearing-in-school thing isn’t so controversial; after all, teens all across the English-speaking world have long known that dropping f-bombs in class is likely to land them in detention. What’s new about Queen of Peace’s take on the prohibition is that the school isn’t requiring its male students to make the same promise the girls did. Teacher Lori Flynn told ABCNews.com that although the girls’ language wasn’t particularly foul, instances of “subtle swearing” encouraged administrators to give the one-month policy a try. She called the experiment “a really sweet, innocent, special treat for the ladies specifically for the month of February kind of thing.” (Personally, I prefer truffles and roses during the month of Hallmark love, but, like, that’s just me.)
So why not the boys? Beyond being a “sweet, innocent, special treat for the ladies,” it’s not such a leap to assume that double standards are at play in administrators’ decision not to require male students to promise to clean up their language – though anyone who’s met a 21st-century teenage boy can attest to their common tendency toward the uncouth. Boys will be boys, and sometimes being a boy includes yelling “Shit!” when you get a C on a math test – but swearing is unladylike, and being ladylike is an old-fashioned value to be returned to and upheld.
Ah, yes, old-fashioned values. The girls’ pledge is also apparently part of a broader civility campaign, run in conjunction with National Catholic Schools Week (I didn’t know that was a thing, but then again, I’m Jewish.) as part of an effort to return to values of yore. You know, like back in the 1950s when dad came home from a hard day of bread-winning, and mom, clad in high heels and a frilly apron, already had meatloaf, potatoes and a highball waiting for him on the kitchen table. Weren’t those the good-old days, when women knew their place and their perfectly lipsticked mouths never dared speak the crass swear words reserved for men?
Earlier this week, as I listened to hosts on my local radio station debate whether Queen of Peace’s gender-specific policy holds any water, I was shocked to hear only from female callers in support of it. Over and over, I heard that word again: “unladylike”. Callers said that women who swear only do it for attention; that women who swear don’t respect themselves and garner less respect from men; that women who swear lack confidence, education, and class. The only differing opinion came from a Southern caller who forewent the gender binary altogether and declared that all Northerners, male and female alike, are inherently ruder and more foul-mouthed than their genteel counterparts below the Mason-Dixon Line. But not a single caller said what I would’ve, which is this:
I am a successful, confident, educated woman – and I also swear a lot. I swear not because I have a limited vocabulary but because sometimes swear words are simply the best words for expressing a given sentiment. I swear not because I lack class, but because I have too much self-respect to ever worry about whether my lexicon can be considered “ladylike”. I swear because I’m angry (“I can’t f**king believe this is happening.”) and I swear because I’m happy (“I can’t f**king believe this is happening!”) I swear because my boyfriend is in the military and that’s what they do, aside from defending our freedom, and I’ve gotten used to it. I swear because sometimes, I just like the way the words feel in my mouth.
Of course, I don’t believe that swearing is universally appropriate, and I recognize that there are times when one should refrain. I don’t swear at work except in calculated situations when I have determined that my audience will appreciate and allow for it, and because I recognize that my work persona should be slightly more professional than my not-at-work one. I don’t swear around children (or I wouldn’t if I knew any children) because I fancy myself a role model and don’t want anyone’s kindergartner saying (s)he learned the B-word from mommy’s friend, Kate. But other than that, I swear when the spirit moves me to do so, and I don’t feel bad about it, not ever (unless a child overhears me) – and I am no less confident, educated, or classy because of it.
Do I think it’s a good idea to ask high schoolers to participate in an exercise in verbal restraint? Yes, because being able to swear in casual conversation without negative repercussions a perks of adulthood and teenagers should have to wait their turns for it. But do I think it’s a good idea to hold different genders to different standards of what is conversationally appropriate, to ask girls to keep it clean simply because they are girls? Simply put, no f**king way.
You can read more from Kate Bigam on her blog.