This post is written by Ritabrata Roy, Doctoral Tutor at University of Sussex, Law School, UK.
Do you cuss often?
No that’s not the question that I intend to ask here. Well .. we all do. Indeed cuss words have become an integral part of our daily vocabulary. It is certainly not my job here to engage with the behavioural morality and make a commentary on whether it is a good or bad habit to express our feelings in that manner.
What I find far more intriguing is to understand the underlying sexist undertones of these words. Amazingly whatever may be the language or dialect, cussing is itself marred with misogyny and sexism.
So the larger question that I am trying to address is whether it is high time that we should make efforts to cuss in a gender-neutral manner?
Well … show a bit more patience to stay with me here and you wouldn’t probably find it so amusing.
Let’s first understand what is problematic with the ‘traditional’ vocab of cussing. Suppose we take a cuss word in English … “Motherfucker!” and one from Hindi … “Chutiya”. As we have discussed, these words can be used in a number of ways to express a wide array of human emotions (a lot of them might be happy ones too).
But … what is common between the words?
Both the words reflect a clear sexist way of cementing the inherent misogyny of our patriarchal society by degrading worth of women by comparing them to male supremacy. Similarly, ‘whore’ and ‘slut’ are also insults that are part of a long history of shaming female sexuality. ‘Slut’ and ‘whore’ began to take on negative sexual connotations in the 15th and 16th centuries. Even men can be described as a “manwhore” or “manslut.” The man is still being insulted in terms used to degrade women for their sexuality.
Okay then … let’s do a drill now. Try to recollect how many times you have used the word “Ba###ch@d” in your daily conversation.
Now that you may have counted the numbers roughly… try and think in what context you used the word. In this context have you ever wondered why it makes you furious if someone angrily shouts at you “Ba###ch@d”?
Is it only the emotion of the person uttering it that makes an impact on you? Or at that moment you felt disgusted with someone speaking ill about your sister? And moreover it hurts your honour and self-esteem through the insult of your sister!!! (Spot the red flags of patriarchy here).
Some of you must have got the point thus far and may be wondering …. is that it?
Alas! There’s more to it. The social impact of normalisation of these cuss words as we will see connects to what Deniz Kandiyoti terms as “patriarchal bargaining”. In simple words patriarchal bargaining explains a woman’s behaviour to accept the patriarchal social norms and even mimic them to earn a place for herself in this “man’s world”. There is of course an underlying sense of loss of self-esteem for them in such behaviour.
It is very common for girls also to use these misogynistic cuss words, mostly because these words have blended in our daily vocabulary. For me, this behaviour connects to Kandiyoti’s argument of ‘patriarchal bargain” of girls trying to mimic the masculine behaviour.
Also use of cuss words is perceived as a parameter of the cool quotient of your personality. However, this normalisation effectively leads to their patriarchal bargain and loss of self-esteem. Also the patriarchal norms of the society remain unchallenged … largely to result in other forms of casual to severe violence against women to be normalised simply out of these misogynistic expectations.
Remember that dialogue in Thappad?
“It was just a slap”. But was it?
Now answer these questions:
Do you still find it funny? How far will you let these practices be normalised?