Can I pick your brains please?(10 Posts)
I'm in my second yr of a social science degree.
For my social psychology module, we have to do a research paper. The subject and the style are being left pretty open which is quite exciting!
We have been looking at language and communication recently and today we talked about taboo language.
We (The seminar group) were categorising swear words into degrees of offense. There were some words that people were very happy to say and some that they were incredibly reluctant to say. In the list of words which were considered hugely offensive were 'Cunt' 'slag' and 'whore', in the same list were 'racist terms' and 'homophobic terms'. People were wholly unwilling to actually state what was meant by racist terms but were ok with saying words which I consider offensive to women.
I'm hoping to use my research paper to look at any possible patterns in people's use of and feelings towards taboo language in relation to their feelings about women. (I'll probably go for a ground theory approach because I'm not sure where to start exactly).
I was wondering if anyone had any ideas/advice/good places to start reading and researching into taboo language and feminism. Also do you think this is a good area to look into? I just find it a bit odd that it is ok to say offensive words relating to a certain opressed group but not another. I'm not sure if that suggests that people feel it is not acceptable to be racist but it is to be sexist or if the sexism is so insidious that people don't even realise what they are saying.
(If you are still with me thanks! I hope this makes sense)
I'd say that certain words become more and more unacceptable for people to say as times change. Words regarding race are now not acceptable to say, as times have changed so much that people now know that it's just not right. Words offensive to women, however, haven't quite reached the same level of nonacceptance as women are still seen as a lower species. We're still paid less for the same work, still expected to do most of the childcare, most of the housework etc. Only when equality is reached, will these words be seen as unacceptable.
I have often wondered about this myself. I think that racist/homophobic words are deemed to be so offensive in public because the groups affected made it very clear that these words were unacceptable. Women have had so many issues to fight, that there has never really seemed to be as concerted an effort to paint words affecting women as offensive as they are.
A lot of women also use these words to describe other women, which muddies the waters a bit.
I also think a lot of people genuinely don't think of women as oppressed...maybe in developing countries, but not here. They don't equate the oppression of women with the historic oppression of black people or gay people. SO many times i have heard women say how lucky and how grateful they are to be born in this country (?? Grateful that men treat them like human beings???) compared to women in other countries.
It is also easier for people to see that the n word would be offensive to ALL black people, whereas a word like slut might only be offensive to SOME women, ie. why would lovely, virginal women ever be offended at the word slut when it excludes them??
I also think that people are afraid to say certain words in public through fear of public condemnation but I wonder if they say them in the privacy of their homes. I am sure a lot do.
I think the use of homophobic and racist words which are considered taboo have become that way because men make up at least half of those affected by oppression specific to those groups.
I think that's a really interesting topic, but then I love linguistics.
I'm pretty sure David Crystal must have written something about taboo language. Not really an academic textbook but mor pop science, however probably worth a look at is Steven Pinker's "The Stuff of Thought"
Thanks for all the replies. I think I have Pinker's book somewhere actually, will have to dig it out. I've been looking online and have found a few articles on taboo words, there is some research by offcom that found almost the same ammount of people found slut extremely offensive as felt it wasn't even a swear word so there might be something there.
This may not really be on topic but might provide some food for thought about language and oppression.
I was going to say 'the stuff of thought' too. it has a chapter on taboo words.
For online resources, language log might possibly have some stuff too
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