For those of you who somehow haven’t noticed, I occasionally use cuss words in my writing. I’m a grownup writing for grownups, and I just kind of figure that these are all words we’ve heard used at one time or another. Like, does anyone actually find the words fuck or shit all that shocking? Especially on a blog (as opposed to a For Real Credible News Source)? I mean, come on.
And yet every time I have a post go viral, the pearl-clutchers come out in full force.
Oh, they don’t tell me that they’re taken aback or upset by my language – after all, they don’t want to seem prudish or old-fashioned. No, they frame it as concern for me and my well-being. People won’t take me seriously if I swear, they say. No one will read my posts. I sound like I’m uneducated, “common,” with a limited vocabulary. Swear words devalue what would otherwise be quality writing. I would be so much more successful if I would just stick to politely outlining my points; swearing makes me seem hostile, and that turns people off. And, perhaps my favourite: cussing isn’t ladylike.
Friends, that is a lot of shit to unpack right there.
Let’s start out with the most easily refutable stuff. For one thing, it seems weird to tell me that no one is going to read my stuff when, whether I deserve it or not, I have a pretty wide readership. There are 8,639 people who currently subscribe to this blog and receive an email every time I publish something, I have 4,415 fans on my blog’s Facebook page, and 2.563 followers on twitter. And yeah some of those people are my mom, but the vast majority of them are people that I’ve never met who genuinely like my writing. I’m not throwing out those numbers to be like GUYS LOOK HOW GREAT I AM, because I am constantly humbled and baffled by how popular this blog is, but I do think it’s important to point out that a fuck of a lot of people read my stuff and take me seriously, even with all the swears.
Now, as for the rest of it, let’s take a look at what’s being said and why it’s problematic. First of all, there’s a lot there that’s true. For example, I am relatively uneducated, at least compared with many of my super-smart fellow bloggers. I graduated from high school, but didn’t complete any kind of postsecondary education unless you want to count yoga teacher training. Most people don’t. And you know what? I am common, whatever it is you want to mean by that; I certainly don’t consider myself to be upper class or elite in any way. Sometimes I’m hostile, especially when I’m writing about something that I’m angry or upset about. And I’m certainly anything but a lady. So I’m not offended or hurt by the actual content of any of these remarks.
What does offend me is the fact that we think it’s acceptable to use someone’s level of education and their perceived social class as insults.
These comments – comments making assumptions about socioeconomic status, comments telling me that choosing the wrong words, the “common” words, devalues my writing – are incredibly classist. They operate on the assumption that only writers of a certain social class have any kind of merit. They perpetuate the idea that only people who speak the right way, work the right jobs, and live in the right parts of town are worth listening to and taking seriously. These comments lay bare what every poor person already knows and what deeply entrenched social systems and cultural ideas tell us every day: the poor don’t matter.
I mean, sure, poor people matter when we need workers for dangerous or degrading jobs. The working class matters when we want someone to clean our house or serve us food or take care of our children. We like to objectify them, especially if they’re people of colour, and make dehumanizing comments about them. We talk down to them, condescend to them, even lose our shit at them if we feel like it because seriously no one is going to step up and tell us to stop. I had a friend who worked at an upscale grocery store, and during his time there he was subject to all kinds of abuse from the wealthy clientele. One older gentleman screamed at him that he was stupid and a child because the leeks that my friend was trying to ring through for him weren’t coming up at the right price. Another time a customer told him they were going to shove a cookie up his ass because the lineup to the cash register was moving too slowly. These people say these things because they know they can get away with it – they know that business owners will side with them, because the customer (especially the well-heeled customer) is always right and workers are disposable. This is the world we live in.
I’m not going to change the way that I write because it might make some people assume that I’m uneducated, or poor, or working class. You know why? There is nothing wrong with being any of these things. Being poor isn’t some kind of moral flaw; lack of education is not indicative of low intelligence. Using “common” words does not mean that what you have to say has no value. Fuck everyone who buys into this kind of thinking.
And as for the comments about hostility, I want you to sit back and ask yourself – seriously ask yourself – if you would say those things if the writer of this blog was a man. Would I still come off as hostile if I had a dick*? Or would you perceive me as being justifiably outraged? Because in my experience the word “hostile” is typically applied to women who aren’t being sweet and demure, and I am neither of those things. In a funny way, I almost take remarks about my hostility as a compliment, because it means that I’m subverting people’s expectations about what a woman should be. If I’m coming across as hostile, that makes me feel like I’m doing something right.
What I really want to get at is this: if you are someone who reads my writing and thinks, “well, I fundamentally agree with her but all those swear words make me wince,” you might need to take a moment and check your privilege. If, out of all the things that are printed here on this blog, it’s words like fuck and shit that get you hot and bothered, then you might need to rethink your priorities. If you think classist remarks about language somehow prove what a smart, enlightened person you are, I’d say that’s a pretty sorry state of affairs. And finally if you think that I care about your opinion on my use of swears, well, you’re wrong. I care about your opinion on a whole lot of issues, but not this one.
Because fuck it I will fucking cuss if I want to, because swear words are funny and awesome and sometimes no other word will do.
*Not all men have dicks and not all people with dicks are men but please allow me this one dick joke