Jul 12 2009

OW! F***, B*****ks, C***y, M*****F*****! I stubbed my toe.

This post was inspired by a Twitter conversation with @EvidenceMatters about pain and swearing. Apparently, swearing can increase pain tolerance, increase heart rate and decrease perceived pain (when subjects put their hand in icy water) compared with not swearing. I guess it is the linguistic equivalent of rubbing the elbow you just banged. But the study did say specifically that this was only true for men. What about women?

I went on the hunt for a study into female responses to pain and swearing. None. And yet I came across a whole plethora of linguistic, gender studies, organisational psychology, even politeness research (?) studies into gender differences in swearing.

Now, you may have noticed, I’m a big fan of swearing. I think it’s an important linguistic tactic. Plus, it is both big and clever. I love the fact that Armando Iannucci sends the scripts of The Thick of It to a ‘swear man’ who put more swearing into it.

However, if readers of this blog are true to form, you should be rather alarmed by my swearing and indeed think that this signifies my lack of morality. Of course, if you think that you can get tae fuck.

Culture and expectations tend to mitigate against women’s use of obscenity. Swearing is seen as an aggressive and masculine thing to do and therefore sweary women are seen as transgressing gender norms. Indeed, studies show that women are judged more harshly for swearing than men (de Klerk 1992, 1997).

Swearing is also associated with lower socioeconomic groupings and/or working-class culture. A study by Elizabeth Gordon, found that in addition to the expected judgments of lower social status, female ‘non-standard speakers’ were additionally perceived to be of lower moral standing, on the basis of their vernacular usage (slang as well as swearing). So not only am I a gobshite, I’m a filthy, loose gobshite.

I admit to using swearing in a consciously gendered way. Just for shits and giggles. Calling men bitches, women wankers and requesting people suck my dick is part of my one-woman crusade to break down the gendered distribution of swear words. This isn’t unrealistic as apparently “terms like bitch and sow, were first used of males (or of both sexes) and only later applied exclusively to women”.

So could it be that the cultural norms that restrict women’s potty mouths could be doing them out of pain-relief? If you’re a woman and frequently find yourself frustrated, banging your legs on corners of tables or burning yourself with your cigarette – let out a screaming ‘fuck’. It’ll do you good on so many levels.

And on a positive note, girls swear as much as boys on MySpace – progress of sorts!