The administration at a high school in Jersey recently asked students to take an anti-swearing "pledge" in time for Valentine's Day, citing the importance of a fuck-free vocabulary in a teenager's never-ending search for a dude to covertly grind on at the date dance.
Troublingly, they asked only the female students, claiming that they could take the lead when it came to convincing the boys to improve their behavior.
Though administrators seemed to recognize the absurdity of requiring only the girl students to forego curse words for the month, they also claimed that the girls were by far the worst offenders. "Ladies should act like ladies," they half-pleaded to several different media, "and gentlemen should not swear in their presence."
Don't get me wrong, this is definitely some sexist pandering bullshit. It's also hysterically funny to me, though, because good luck forcing girls in their mid-teens to act like anything but semi-disgusting human disasters, swearing or no.
I say that last completely out of affection and admiration. I have known many a teenage girl in my life, and there is no one more vulgar, less apologetic or more capable of devouring four extra-large pizzas than a flock of adolescent young ladies. I love the idea of a girl saying "holy fuck" in response to the mere sight of a peeled orange, for example, which is alluded to in this story covering the issue, because naturally that's the only way to react to a peeled orange when you're 15.
As far as I can remember, there's not much time spent in the doldrums when one's 15 -- it's all tears and snot and explosive laughter in addition to "Holy fuck, an orange!" When I was 15, "Fuck" was pretty much all I said, because it was all I ever felt.
Of course, there's not much of a difference between the way high school boys and girls act in terms of sheer impropriety. When my brother and I were teenagers, we each spent approximately equal time in our parents' basement drinking sodas by the case and watching sad anime with our friends for literal days.
The only reason I think of teenage girls as being particularly horrifying is because I was one, and it's hard to shake the memory of, say, having contests to see who could go the longest without taking off her uniform or printing out the raunchiest tentacle erotica we could find and passing it around the school with our names signed at the bottom.
All-girl's high school was when I learned my "stick a sour straw in my chin rolls and eat it from the top down" trick, for example.
Sometimes it got more sophisticated: my friend Bonnie used to look up verbs like "to lick," "to bite," and "to suck" in Spanish and conjugate them in sentences starring Harry Potter perfectly on the white board, blinking innocently at our teacher and asking if she'd used the -ar form of vosotros correctly when she got caught.
And one of my fondest memories of playing high school soccer is the dimly horrified look on my young, hot-to-trot male coach's face when he veered too close to the sweepers during practice and heard them enthusiastically comparing the size of their boyfriends' peens to various cuts of butcher meat.
Most of all, though, was the swearing. I fucking love cursing, as you may have guessed, and I learned my best material on the bus to school every morning. When I go back through my old high school mementos, like the letters and comics we used to slip into each other's lockers, they're riddled with "fucks" and "bitch"es, probably just because we knew they would upset anyone who happened to stumble upon them. At that point, they still had the zing of the forbidden, and using them felt like an incantation.
I can't speak as much for the boys, but teenage girls are crafty motherfuckers. If you give them an inch, they will take a mile and make it trend on Twitter, which I think is part of what makes them so terrifying to onlookers.
The concept of "ladylike" when applied to young women only seems to haunt well-meaning adults like the administration at that Jersey school, who in turn try their best to saddle the girls in their acquaintance with this expectation of grace and poise. When it's used by those in power to evaluate good behavior, "ladylike," as far as I can tell in, is synonymous with "nonsexual" and "submissive."
At my old high school, for instance, the principal flirted with the idea of banning wearing boxers under our uniform skirts because they encouraged us to sprawl every which way, piling on each other and slouching, knees apart, in homeroom. It wasn't "ladylike," one teacher snapped at me, to loll around on my friend's lap at lunchtime with my Snoopy shorts bared to the sky for everyone to see.
Even though the whole affair was about as sexy as the actual Snoopy character wearing boxers, my wanton positioning evidently reminded her of something more R-rated. Because somehow that was my fault.
Cussing, meanwhile, is rooted in body-words: shit, fuck, ass, cunt, and dick are all decidedly corporeal, whereas the sainthood of "ladylike" is supposedly above all that. I've always thought of swearing as a viscerally pleasurable activity: "fuck" rips out of your belly like a burp, "shit" hisses out from your gums, "dick" makes your teeth clack and your tongue go numb.
I'm not saying any of that language belongs in high school hallways, but it's no wonder an administration fantasizing about students being "ladylike" would want to deny young women that bodily thrill, right?
Realistically, I doubt the girls at this school in Jersey actually swear all that much more than the boys do. The contrast between reality and expectation when it comes to "proper" behavior, though, is way more stark for young women than young men. I'm sure a "dickweed" spat in the hallway from a girl carries a hell of a lot more shock-weight than the same from a dude. But girls are still arguably being punished for failing to live up to a standard that is much higher.
Plus, there's this whole "girls leading by example" nonsense. If a guy drops a "fuckwit," these policies seem to say, he's just succumbing to the same base instinct that supposedly makes dudes incapable of shielding their eyes from "distracting" lady parts and therefore shouldn't be blamed too harshly.
If a girl does it, she's showing that she can't control herself. And since it's somehow become girls' duty to prevent boys from swearing in the first place, teachers have placed the impetus on young women to be the moral police. This just sets them up for the blame when things go awry.
Which sucks, because they're teenagers -- of course things are going to go awry. It's what always happens.
All the teenagers I've ever known have been huge, inappropriate weirdos in their own way, and no sexist cursing ban is ever going to change that. It'll just make the sexism of the would-be rulemaker seem all the more ridiculous in comparison.
Kate is cursing on Twitter: @katchatters.