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There was outrage in 1939 when Clark Gable, playing Rhett Butler in "Gone with the Wind," uttered the phrase "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." In the past, a "lady" never used profane language. Popular culture and the media has lessened the impact of swear words. The characters in many mainstream films and some television programs use profanity. Both men and women now swear with alacrity.
According to a "Psychology Today" article published in July 2010, there has been an increase in the number of women using taboo language in public. In 1996, 67 per cent of men, compared to 33 per cent of women used profanity in public. In 2006, 55 per cent of males and 45 per cent of females were reported to swear in public. Relaxed standards in the media and popular culture have led to an increase in the use of profanity, across the board.
Comedy and Vulgarity
Comedians have driven the acceptability of swear words. In 1972, George Carlin became famous for his list of "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television." Female comediennes now use profanity as often as their male counterparts. Joan Rivers was asked to leave a United Kingdom live television program in 2008 for using profanity.
Women as Role Models
Traditionally, women were the caregivers and homemakers. They were expected to act as an example to their children and refrain from using foul language in the family setting. Most mothers still scold their children for using taboo language or swearing. As women became more competitive in the workplace, often working alongside men, their use of profane language increased.
Taboo Language as an Act of Rebellion
Young people use taboo language as a form of rebellion. The feminist movement, as did the homosexual and civil rights movement, took ownership of words that were used in a derogatory manner. For instance, African Americans took ownership of the "N" word, gay people took ownership of "queer." Women have appropriated a number of misogynistic words, such as the "C" word, "bitch" and others.
Taboo words vary according to culture. In some religious cultures, blasphemy is considered the worst kind of profanity. Racial epithets are particularly offensive to all of us who are not racist. Words about bodily functions and sexually explicit words are in common use by men and women. The "F" word is the most common taboo word, because it can be used so many ways. It is no longer gangs of young men or sailors and truck drivers dropping the "F bombs." Girls night out can be just as verbally rowdy. In cultures where women do not have equal rights, they also hold back from using language that is considered the property of men.
- "Psychology Today"; Language: Profane Brain; Emily Anthes; July 2010
- Perspectives on Psychological Science; Taboo Words, et al.; March 2009
- Language and Societies; Gender and Swearing: A Free Listing Approach; Beth A. Kersey; April 2009
- BBC News; Entertainment; ITV Takes Swearing Rivers Off Air; June 2008
- Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images