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Why ladylike language can sod off: Lucy Mangan is pleased that we have reached gender parity on swearing

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At last, some f***ing progress, bitches! About motherf***ing time!

Before Stylist runs out of asterisks, I’d better explain. New research by Lancaster University and Cambridge University Press has revealed that women are now swearing just as much as men.

We have, in this one area of life, achieved parity. We are ‘f***’-ing equally – the researchers say women make around 546 out of every million words they speak the eff one, while men average 540. We’re up 500% on the paltry 167 we were mustering back in the f***ing Nineties. Men are down 50% – 20 years ago, they were apparently firing off 1,000 of the f***ers per million words. And we are currently 10 times more likely than men to say “sh*t”, up from four times as likely two decades ago. It echoes other findings earlier this month that male and female millennials swear an almost equal amount in the workplace.



It’s not equal pay in that workplace. It’s not avoiding being sexually harassed on a daily basis. But it’s something.

For me, it is a pleasing result, partly because I am an inveterate swearer. I both enjoy it (it makes me laugh and I will consider it – till my dying day – both big and clever), and find it necessary. I am never going to be physically strong enough to pick and win a fight. If I couldn’t give full verbal vent to what has become, as I age, an almost constant state of fury, I would just be a mass of raw, ulcerated tissue by now. How people who have their own or an office no-expletives policy manage I do not know. Heavy meds?

And partly because it means, collectively, more than you might think. Language is important, in how it’s constructed, in how it’s used and how it’s policed. Swearing, for example, has always been deemed “unladylike”. It was always faintly unseemly for a woman to speak, so to express herself using something that is transgressive by definition was of course doubly so. It was the preserve of the truly vulgar and uncouth woman. I would say this is by way of a little history lesson for y’all, but then I remember with a sigh the reaction of a certain male columnist in the Daily Mail 18 months ago after Helen Mirren described being 68 as “f***ing awesome!” He traduced her for “blurt[ing] out filth like an uneducated trollop.” Bill Nighy, six months before that, had been celebrated as a total lad/legend for effing and blinding his way through the press promotion for his film About Time. And last year during a tense game at the Australian Open, Kim Sears got far more post-match abuse for appearing to swear about her husband Andy Murray’s opponent than she herself ever mouthed courtside. So, not quite history yet.



But if women are equalling men in the small matter of transgressive language in the home and at work, I think that’s a measure of change – of increased confidence, of greater power, of further liberation – that is hard to fake and worth being cheered by. It means concerns about “ladylike” behaviour are receding and that (unless all these imprecations are being muttered in furious whispers in the ladies’ loos, or alone while watching the latest news, which does not seem to be the case) women are starting to occupy more verbal space wherever they go.

Hoo-f***ing-ray to that, I say. Let’s keep making our f***ing feelings vulgarly known. Life is too short for this sh*t.


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