Everybody uses swear words. That’s just how people talk nowadays. If so, why can’t we use it to express ourselves in our business copy? As women in business, we need to show the patriarchy that we refuse to fit inside the little box of “propriety” it gives us and have our authentic voice be heard. And if that authentic voice comes with not-so-savory words, then so be it.
In this episode, I’m discussing how the patriarchy fights to keep women in their place through an obvious double standard when it comes to swearing. I’ll explain why there’s nothing wrong with using swear words in your business copy.
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Swearing In Your Business
Spend any length of time in a business Facebook group and you’re bound to see at least one conversation pop up around swearing or being nice or not being controversial as the face of your brand. Nothing makes me roll my eyes harder than the number of people who jump on those threads and talk about how women shouldn’t swear or have polarizing opinions or be “too much.” I’m here to let you know that there’s nothing wrong with swearing and how policing women’s language is a symptom of the patriarchy. Let’s get started.
Let me start this episode with…I fucking swear. In case this is one of the first episodes of the podcast that you’re listening to so you won’t be surprised.
I see these conversations around swearing started by 1 of 2 kinds of people. There’s the one who wants to shame women for the language that they use and then there’s one who’s seeking permission to be more herself.
The shamers can fuck off. First of all, trying to shame a woman for the language that she uses is gross. Second of all, what is the point of doing that other than to force your viewpoint on someone else and try to make them conform to your idea of what is and isn’t acceptable?
To the ones who were seeking permission to be more themselves and do what feels okay to them, you end up getting many mixed messages. I want to say it’s okay to swear if that feels natural to you because there is a natural way of using swearing in your business. You will alienate some people, but you’ll attract others and you’ll attract the right kind of others. The more permission you give yourself in general to be yourself, the more you’ll attract the right kind of clients that you want to work with.
Swear words aren't a social taboo in general. They're a social taboo for women. Click To Tweet
The idea that women can’t swear is born straight from the patriarchy. Surprise, a rule for women born from the patriarchy, what a novel concept. Men have been swearing since swear words were invented. Otherwise, why would we have swear words?
You have hundreds of old movies and TV shows where a man would use colorful language in front of a woman and then he would apologize for speaking that way in front of polite company. Old social norms and rules are slowly eroding, which makes swearing more socially acceptable now. Who knew that being able to say “fuck” without Martha clutching her pearls was going to be such a radical thing, but here we are.
The problem with language policing is that swear words like shit, damn, fuck, hell and my personal favorite, cockwomble, aren’t a social taboo in general. They’re a social taboo for women. I see my friend Brian swear on Facebook all the time and they’re big, brash, made-up swears that would make a sailor blush. I’ve never seen a single person pop into the comments to chastise him over his word choice.
However, that’s happened to me on more than one occasion. I’ve been told that I’m brash, that I’m unprofessional, that I’m alienating clients, and that’s because swear words aren’t off-limits to everyone.
I can imagine men sitting around in dinner jackets, clouds of cigar smoke in some men’s club in 1960 tossing out words like, “shit, fuck, and damn” like nobody’s business. These words have been off-limits for women for a long time because apparently if you identify as a woman, you’re much too delicate to utter an expletive.
As many things women deal with, the double standard of who is and isn’t allowed to swear is never more obvious than in politics. In January of 2019, new Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib said on the Floor of the House, “We’re going to impeach the motherfucker,” which I enjoyed.
While there was support for her word choice on Twitter and other social platforms, for people who are, “Finally, someone who is saying what we’re all thinking.” The political hammer fell on her swift and hard to the point where she issued a roundabout apology. She said she apologized for, quote, “The distraction of her words, but not the swear.” We know what that means.
The problem of what happened around what she said, is not what she said. It’s the fact that everyone else was focusing on her word choice rather than the meaning behind it. The problem was never with Rashida Tlaib, the problem was with how people were reacting to it. We can’t say that that was like a strictly partisan reaction to her because she was admonished by senior Democrats as well who were like, “Why did she have to use that word?”
A 2016 poll by the Associated Press found that 25% of adults use the word fuck daily. The number of people who use it more than once a day, people like me have doubled in the last decade. We could pretend that swearing is largely a no-no, but there’s too much evidence to the contrary that AKA swearing is okay for men, but not for women.
In 2004, Dick Cheney told Pat Leahy to go fuck himself on the Senate floor. Many people regard that as the best thing Cheney’s ever done, which granted he shot someone in the face and instigated the Iraq war. That maybe is probably the best thing he’s ever done. Nobody was, “I can’t believe he swore. How terrible.” In 2011, CNN published a list of the Top Sixteen Foul-mouthed Politicians, all men, although Hillary Clinton got an honorable mention for her use of the word fuck. She only uses that word in private because, otherwise, it would be unladylike.
In 2014, The Hill published a piece about John Boehner, former Speaker of the House and his best swears. You’ve got all these articles and whatever else that are, “Look at all these men boldly swearing,” and when women do it, it’s terrible. Now we have the current occupant of the White House who’s said things like, “Bomb the shit out of ISIS,” and “Shithole countries.” During a tantrum about trade with China, he called Chinese leaders motherfuckers, which goes a long way for diplomacy.
In 2016, during the election, Time ran a piece that said Donald Trump Is Smart To Swear. When Bernie Sanders swears, he’s “man of the people” but women who swear, Mike Huckabee thinks they’re trashy. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was called unhinged for using the word fuck. She used it twice in one paragraph and a far right-wing conservative media outlet called her “unhinged”.
This isn’t about swearing. It’s not about swearing. It’s about who’s wielding the words because we don’t care about men swearing, but we care about women swearing. That’s a whole different ball game. It’s not about the words anymore. It’s not about how they make you look and who’s saying them.
That is how that stems from the patriarchy because even if you’re not looking at it like that, but you have this unconscious bias and men can swear and women can’t or when men do it, you have, “Boys will be boys mentality,” but when women do it, you’re calling them out. That’s a symptom of the patriarchy and you need to stop that shit.
If you do swear, as I do, as many people that I know do, swearing might seem a tiny thing. To me, it doesn’t seem radical in the day-to-day moments because it’s how I talk. Especially if you catch me in a passionate moment where I’m upset about something, there are swear words flying all over the place.
When you swear and you don’t give a fuck what people think about it, you’re authentically being yourself, you’re punching patriarchy in the face. When you sit down and think about it and you’re saying, “I’m not going to follow your rules because your rules are stupid. Your rules are meant to police my behavior and I don’t fucking care what you think. I’m going to do what I want to do anyway,” which is a nice feeling.
If you want to do something because it feels good to you, furthers your social cause, and allows you to do the most good, then do it. Click To Tweet
We’re breaking out of the mold that women should look or act a certain way. Which is, coincidentally, the way that white men have told them to act. We’re taking back our power over how we act and how we show up in the world. That, in my opinion, is a beautiful thing. If you act the way that you want to act, because it feels good to you and it furthers your social cause and it allows you to show up in a way in the world that allows you to do the most good, then fucking do it.
Women who swear make the patriarchy uncomfortable because it’s a crystal-clear neon sign that you’re operating outside of the boundaries that patriarchy has set for you. Patriarchy doesn’t like that. You’re telling men and women who also prop up the patriarchy (yes, women prop up the patriarchy), and you’re telling them that they are no longer going to be the only voices in the room.
Men, especially older white men have this unspoken expectation that they’re always going to be the loudest voice in the room. When you step up and you use your voice in an authentic way, you’re signaling to them, “This isn’t a thing. You’re not always going to be the loudest voices in the room. We’re coming. We’re here. We have things to say and we’re going to say them however the hell we want to.”
I do want to make a point about authenticity here. I know I’ve used that word a few times already because that authenticity in this situation, when it comes to swearing in your business is important. If you’re swearing to be buzzy, then people will spot that shit from a mile away.
People can tell when you’re shoving swear words into your copy so there is a string of expletives punctuated by little actual information. Swearing to get noticed is not doing you any favors. You have to be yourself and the right people will find you. Always. That is always how that shit is going to work.
If you’re swearing because you want to look cool or you think it’ll get you noticed so that people will buy your stuff, you’re not going to attract the right people. People are going to get in. They’re going to work with you. They’re going to realize that your copy doesn’t match who you are as a person. They’re going to be disappointed and nobody needs that.
Be authentically yourself whether that means never swearing or swearing all the time or whatever it is. Do your best not to jump on the sweary buzzy bandwagon because you end up forcing yourself into a mold that maybe doesn’t fit you in the long-term. Spend more time figuring out who you are and what you want to say and how you’re supposed to say it.
I swear in my business unapologetically because that’s how I talk. Sit in on any conversation with my friends and certain family members and you will hear me swear. I try hard not to swear in front of my 87-year-old grandfather, but sometimes it slips out. I know he doesn’t like it, but he stopped admonishing me for it anyway. He knows what’s going to happen when he hangs around me. My 22-year-old brother swears and I’ve decided that if we’re going to have a conversation about it, we’ll have a conversation about it.
I want to be authentically myself in my business and this language naturally makes its way into my copy. I don’t censor myself on my website. I don’t censor myself on social media, in live videos and this show. When I meet with clients, I don’t because it doesn’t feel good to me. I started in my online business censoring myself all over the place.
If you read my food blog posts, they are so bland that you wouldn’t even know they were written by me if my picture wasn’t on the website and much of my early business copy is. There are still times when I fall back into my educator space because I have an education background.
There are many times where I fall back into that and I am watering down my language. I have to go back through and ask myself, “If I was talking with someone about this, if I was using this post as a dialogue with another person, would there be more colorful language here? How would I say this if I was speaking it?” Because I want to come across as personable. I want you to know what you’re getting before you hop on the call on Zoom with me or whatever.
I don’t want there to be any secrets about who I am, what I’m for, and how I show up in the world. I could edit all that stuff out. I could edit it out of this show so I didn’t have to put the little E for Explicit next to my show, but I don’t want to. Me swearing and showing up unapologetically and talking about the things that I talk about allows people who find swearing to be unprofessional or brash or unladylike and people who don’t agree with me…it allows them to make the decision to self-delete from my sphere of influence so that I don’t have to deal with them.
I don’t have to hop on the phone for a discovery call with someone who doesn’t agree with me. I don’t have to waste my time doing that because I am being exactly who I am. I’m not trying to attract everyone. I’m trying to attract the right someones. That’s the purpose of being authentically yourself in your copy, whether that involves swearing or not.
I’m not for everyone and that’s okay. That’s the point of who I am online, what I do, and how I express myself. If you disagree with my use of language, with my politics, with my beliefs, and with my values, we wouldn’t work well together anyway. The more upfront that I am about who I am and who I want to work with, the more likely it is that the only people who make it all the way through those filters, the fucks, the political posts, and the decrying of racism. The people who make it through that and still want to work with me, and explore that option of working with me, are going to be my people. When you connect with your people, magic happens.