Mary Marcus: Swearing, Girl Scout cookies, and gender inequality

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I really liked Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech about equal pay for women. She reminded me of Jane Fonda in the old days, using the Oscars as a platform for her political agenda. And that’s a good thing. If the US falls behind the other civilized nations in happiness, health care, child care, and literacy, to mention a few, we still make some of the best movies, and people all over the world watch the Oscars.

Gender inequality really is a big issue.

It’s something I think about especially this time of year when the Girl Scouts are out selling those horrible cookies nobody should be eating. I was a scout myself before I was kicked out of the troop for swearing. I don’t remember the repercussions. My father was already dead, and my mother had a lot to worry about with three kids, her own failing health, and a shrinking bank balance. Maybe she just shrugged it off when the scout leader called her and told her I had a “potty mouth.” That’s not why I don’t like Girl Scout cookies. I don’t like them because the ingredients are awful. If you’re going to eat sugar at least do so in a more salubrious manner, and give girls something better to do than stand on street corners or go door to door selling crap that makes one fat and sluggish.

I bet no boy was ever kicked out of scouts for having a potty mouth. The expression “potty mouth” is really filthy, isn’t it? Isn’t saying the “F” word a lot cleaner than saying, “You have a potty mouth.” UGH!

My first experience with gender inequality had already happened by the time I was five or six. My brother and I were sitting on this grassy slope in front of the house spitting and swearing. We were having a wonderful time seeing who could lay the wad the farthest and who could devise the most complicated litany of swear words. It all came to a halt when I felt this iron fist on my shoulder and my mother dragged me back to the house and into the little powder room with the tiny sink and actually washed my mouth out with Ivory soap. To my brother she did nothing. Boys got to say what they wanted to say with no nasty consequences. I was too young to understand that this was the way the world treated little girls across the board, even in free, open places. I just thought that, as usual, my brother was getting the preferential treatment.

I didn’t complain. But I didn’t stop swearing either. In fact, I probably started swearing more. And then a few years later I went to convent school. Girls who go to convent school are known to be wild and to swear.

When I read recently that people who swear have higher IQ’s, I felt vindicated, though how in the world can someone measure intelligence in that way? Does that mean repression lowers IQ? Are people who aren’t swearing also censoring their inner vocabulary? What if you are so well trained, you can’t be angry and hostile in the privacy of your own mind? I think this is why girls are taught – more than boys – not to be angry, not to show their hostile feelings, not to swear as boys do. Girls, all the studies show, start out much smarter than boys, but by high school, even now, girls test lower, certainly in math and the sciences. This is, I sense, somehow linked to the swearing issue.

At any rate, the notion of people censoring little girls makes me f’ing nuts!

Mary Marcus

Mary Marcus is the author of The New Me and her next novel Lavina will be out soon. You can stay up-to-date on her blog posts at her website.

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On March 3, 2015
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