Monday, September 19, 2011

Women, the Workplace & Profanity

Three random nouns, right? Apparently not. As I've mentioned before in this blog, I rather enjoy profanity and I fully believe it has a place in our culture, even if organizations like the Parents Television Council does not. Because of that fondness, I occasionally search for recent news about cursing. A story from Yahoo seems to have that business world buzzing about profanity in the workplace. And not just any profanity, but unladylike maledictions!

It all started after Yahoo chairman Roy Bostock called CEO Carol Bartz earlier this month on her cell phone to tell her that her services were no longer needed. In an interview shortly afterwards, she called the board members that fired her a bunch of "doofuses" who "f----- me over." Since her firing, Bartz's penchant for profane language throughout her career has become recurring themes in discussions about her and whether or not cursing is proper in the workplace.

Profanity in the workplace! What a great idea for a blog post! So I searched for just that, and wouldn't you know it, the first five news titles that popped up in Google’s results were questioning or commenting about women using salty language in the workplace. The stories ranged from simply asking the public's opinion through a poll to an essay about how "Cursing in the Workplace is a Lose-Lose Strategy for Women."

The article does make an interesting point that basically women are natural communicators who shouldn't resort to blue language to get their points across. By singling out women and not addressing the issue of men swearing in the workplace, I’m left with the belief that the author lets males off the hook when they fail to mind their “French” in the office. The writer also implies that using profanity calls a person's judgment into question. Since the article is aimed at women in the workplace, does this imply that a man's credibility isn't ruined by profanity but a woman's is?

Women, swearing and the workplace sheds some light on this, though I don’t like the observation’s pallor:
“It stands out because it's not expected," said Deborah Tannen, a linguistics professor at Georgetown University and author of "You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation."

"We always take notice of what's unexpected and women are still not expected to curse, so when they do, it's noticed more."
"If women talk in ways expected of them or project a feminine demeanor, it's seen as weak. But if they talk in ways associated with men or bosses, then they're seen as too aggressive," she said. "Whatever they do violates one or the other expectation, either you're not talking as you should as a woman or as boss."
Naturally, I don't like this "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation. Either profanity isn't acceptable for anyone to use in the workplace or it is okay for everyone. It should really depend on the verbal standards of the unique office culture and the individual's choice whether or not to curse.

I've worked in professional offices where profanity was a part of everyday conversation and others where I thought I might by swallowed by the flames of hell dare I say the word "damn." I learned to adjust my vocabulary thusly; it should be easy enough for others to do it. But if there are mixed messages as to which gender can acceptably use such words and which can't, there may problems far bigger than profanity plaguing that particular workplace.

What is your view on swearing at work?


  1. Why are you surprised that there is still a double standard for Men and Women. I also believe curse words are acceptable depending on the environment at the workplace whether they think it's profesional or not. I'd personally would rather my Dr. say, hmmmmm than OH SHIT!
    Enjoy your work and point of view. Keep it up.

  2. Thanks for the comment and compliment :) I'm not so much surprised, as there always seems to be a double-standard as far as the sexes go. I'm more just hoping to inspire people to think about the topic and maybe examine it in their own lives :)