Some professionals argue that women should avoid swearing at work. I get where they're coming from -- to a point.
Publish date:
October 17, 2012
jobs, swearing, swear words, work etiquette

I know this is a shocker, but I fucking love cursing. Or, okay, to be specific, I really love the word “fuck.”

Weirdly, “shit” often feels a little too crude for me to use on the regular, and “bitch” always feels strangely harsh when I’m not using it to describe myself. But “fuck:” visceral, to the point, and a natural verbal progression from the sad “Fffft” noise that I make when I break my toe on my housemate. I also enjoy swears that can substitute for any number of situations, including (but not limited to) expressions of joy, sorrow, anger or sexual arousal.

I’ve even been known to say it around children, although this is usually a consequence of not noticing said child until their mother has screamed at me to watch my language while, say, traipsing around a corn maze.

As much as I love “fuck,” though, the one time I won’t use it is while I’m at the workplace.

This will probably surprise some of the coworkers who read these posts, because God knows I swear like a sailor in G-chats or when it’s just me and my close colleagues. But the idea of just using “fuck” in my normal manner (i.e., basically every five words) in public, around my bosses, makes me all squirmy and nauseated. Even when in a meeting this week with a supervisor who has actually read my erotica, I still eked out, “This client is so -- freaking frustrating,” at the last second.

It’s a little odd that at my super-casual job, where I wear jeans about five days out of five and where we frequently send each other Parks & Rec gifs in response to formal work-related requests, this particular etiquette-nugget of all things has stuck in my brain like some sort of blazer-wearing parasite.

Apparently, it’s a decent instinct. According to a CareerBuilder survey from earlier this year, many bosses think that excessive cursing shows an employee’s lack of maturity and discretion. Though some professional studies maintain that it can demonstrate authenticity and passion, I imagine that saving up your fuck-bombs for choice occasions does this way more effectively than executing a Conway-style five-syllable “fu-u-u-u-uck” as shorthand for, “I’m a little drowsy today, perhaps another coffee is in order?”

My mom, for example, can still make me and my brother burst into penitent tears with a well placed “damn,” a skill that I deeply envy but will never be able to replicate.

Interestingly, the same CareerBuilder survey also reported that men swear slightly more than women at their jobs, at rates of 54 percent and 47 percent, respectively. As someone who’s always worked on professional teams dominated by women, I don’t have any experience with women using cursing to “integrate themselves in mixed company,” as the Times of India puts it. I can, however, distinctly remember using an overly crude persona as a sort of fuck-you queermo bomber jacket when finding myself surrounded by frat dudes in college.

Maybe that same sort of “You’re not as hot as you think you are, and here’s some profanity to prove it” attitude works similarly in the kind of high-powered pantsuit-office that I have never experienced but that I always see on USA Network television.

I can say that my aversion to swearing in the office has nothing to do with maintaining my flawless persona as a proper business lady. According to the folks at “Above the Law,” women should hold themselves to a higher standard when it comes to foregoing expletives.

Editor Staci Zaretsky writes, “I’m not anti-woman, I’m anti-stupidity, and I think that cursing in professional situations is one of the most stupid things that a woman can do.”

Lots of people have ragged on Zaretsky for this comment, but I can kind of see where she’s coming from -- to a point.

I don’t like or agree with her implied exaltation of women as noble goddesses who forego "fuck” in the name of being the calmer, more articulate gender or something. Because of her distinction, Above the Law’s editorial comes across as sanctimonious and preachy rather than genuinely concerned.

But I think the point Zaretsky was attempting to make was that women are held to a higher behavioral standard in a lot of workplaces. We face discrimination if we’re mothers, if we’re conventionally sexy, if we’re less so, if we’re comparatively young, if we’re comparatively old -- the list goes on. By advising women to moderate their behavior, professionals like Zaretsky seem to be trying to deny dudes yet another reason to screw us over.

Though I haven’t seen any empirical studies either way, I’d be fascinated to examine bosses’ respective reactions to women and men swearing. Personally, I’d guess that higher-ups would react negatively to men’s immaturity and women’s irrationality. Men are conditioned to use anger as productivity when appropriate; women tend to resort to being overly timid rather than offend anyone. Blech.

Most people are familiar, I think, with the rhetoric of hysteria: that women can’t be trusted because we let our emotions get the better of our rationale. When women choose not to control themselves –- to give themselves over to crying at work or cussing -– they’re seen as unfit to let their brain ever take the wheel over their feelings. Which, as everyone who has ever rocked a PowerPoint or made six deadlines while having an epic boyfriend meltdown knows, is complete bullshit.

Part of me is totally on the side of Zaretsky and other women like her, because I’d way rather see women succeeding than getting fired or underpaid because they said “fuck” at an inopportune moment. At the same time, I just can’t reconcile the idea of censoring my workplace Hulkout because it might remind people that women occasionally want to tear their own accommodating smiles off and hang them on their computer keyboards. Sometimes anger just happens, and denying its expression is only going to make the initial problem worse.

I don’t swear at the workplace because it goes against every etiquette instinct my mother drilled into me when I was an impressionable pre-pubescent. But I don’t think that should stop other women from doing so, especially if they’re really fucking pissed off.

Kate once made a Tweetcloud and the second most prevalent word was "fuck." Big surprise. Follow her profanity at @katchatters