Monday, February 04, 2013

Gender Differences. In Swearing! Girls Must Be Queens of Peace!

This is a fascinating story about how some gender differences probably came about:  Women and girls were not allowed to do certain things at all.  Then it became customary that they didn't do those things and then we get an evo-psycho story about how the differences improved the changes their genes got passed on in the prehistory.

Partly kidding, but as I'm reading so much evolutionary psychology recently I note that they would not pay attention to any alternative explanations for gender differences such as this one, at Queen of Peace High School in North Arlington, New Jersey:

Female students at a Catholic high school in northern New Jersey have taken a “no-cursing” pledge at the request of school administrators, though some question why no such demand was made of male students.
  Lori Flynn, a teacher who organized the campaign at Queen of Peace High School in North Arlington, told The Record of Woodland Park there is no double-standard. She says that while males weren't asked to take the vow, they have been asked not to swear when girls are near.
Flynn says school officials want “ladies to act like ladies.” And Brother Larry Lavallee, the school's principal, says girls have the foulest language.

Another story suggests that the girls at Queen of Peace do not have the foulest language:

Flynn told that for the month of February, girls at the school were asked to try not to curse. While their language wasn't a serious problem, she said there were plenty of instances of "subtle swearing."

Two things make this story fascinating:  First, that only girls are asked not to swear, and, second, when there were questions about this the boys were asked not to swear when girls are near.

Thus, the requests are asymmetrical.  Girls are not expected to swear at all, boys are expected not to swear near girls.  That's the traditional rule, by the way.  Men have always been allowed to swear but not in front of the "ladies", and "ladies" (upper class women, usually) were not expected to swear at all.  If they did, they became something less than "ladies."

Delicious stuff, and I want to dig into the deep underbelly of all this.  My guess is that the ban on male swearing in front of the "ladies" is because so much of the traditional male swearing is misogynistic, about cunts and such.  It can be awkward to do that right next to a possessor of the said cunt, without, well, coming out as a misogynist.  So keeping all that to the locker-rooms and other men-only-places seems advised, albeit sly and deceitful.

But is this all that is going on here?  I doubt it.  I think the school is trying to create or maintain a sex difference in speech more generally.  And somewhere in the deep background is the idea that the duty of women is to civilize men.  How can women who swear civilize men?

I don't find excessive swearing a useful communication skill.  The more someone swears, the less the swearing counts because it becomes diluted and customary for that person.  I keep mine as a weapon which is used only rarely, because that way it is more powerful.  But to tell me that I cannot have this weapon at all, just because I don't have the carrot-and-two-peas?   The school can shove it.

Finally, I wondered if this asymmetric request might also have something to do with the fact that the American swearing IS pretty misogynistic.  I hear "bitch", "slut" and "whore" quite a bit, and "cunt" is very, very common.  When girls and women use that same language, given that it is the language of swearing, they come across as self-hating, though obviously completely unaware of it.

Nah.  I'm pretty sure that a Catholic school is not much concerned with women's self-hatred.  And if they were, attacking the swearing in general and pointing out how it is about women's bodies etc. would do more good than telling girls not to swear.