For much of my life, I, like most women, "behaved myself" in public. I don't think I'd ever written a curse word on a public forum. Ever. Post 9/11, I penned an impassioned email about my experience and included a $#@%. It was important. No, really. Even my very old-fashioned father let it slide without comment. He copied and forwarded my piece, despite his discomfort, because he thought it was important. Not the cuss, but the thoughts and sentiments behind and alongside it.
It turns out that it was important. To me. That email became the first page of an eventual 413 page manuscript now being readied for publication, ten years after. (Please hum Alvin Lee's "I'm Going Home." If you're too young to know it, revel in your youth, and then, kindly, YouTube it.). It was the first time I'd said what was really on my mind, without censor, or fear of the consequences. It wasn't the word so much, as the freedom writing it allowed. When I uncensored my language, I freed my thinking.
All my life I tried to be what I thought everyone wanted me to be. As an actress, a comic, a writer, a woman. How'd that work out for me? Well, you haven't heard of me, have you?
About four years ago, I joined Facebook. I'd avoided My Space and Friendster and the whole social networking scene. I was married. What'd I need that %$#^ for? (There are times when only a cuss'l do.) At first I only friended my friends, and rarely posted or commented. Slowly I began to discover that I could connect directly with just about anyone. As my friends list grew, so did my 'balls," as it were. (Am I allowed to use that word here?) Turns out I can be pretty snarky and amazingly, some people actually like it. Who knew? One day, without thinking, a $#@% popped out in a status update. It made my heart race. Did I dare? Could I? Should I? I did. The response was immediate and overwhelming. The thread garnered over 100 comments and friend requests poured in. All for a $%#@? Nah, couldn't be. I decided to try it again with another status. Holy Batword! Same result. Now, mind you, it wasn't just the word. The status was kinda funny. Really. You'll have to take my word for it, I guess, because I'd never been very funny before. Not even when I did improv and stand-up. Because I played it safe. Always. Suddenly, all bets were off. I was writing exactly as I was thinking. And it turned out, fearlessness (or recklessness, as it were) starting bringing the peeps to my yard.
Why a $%#@? Why now? I can remember reading "You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again" in the early 90's. Julia Phillips' constant use of the F-word made me cringe. I decided it wasn't so much what she had to say that was going to cost her a meal at The Ivy, as the words she was using to say it.
And sure, George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, and Richard Pryor did it, long ago. But, they were boys. Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Erica Jong knocked open the doors for women, but it was more about the content of what they were saying, than the language they used. Then Sarah Silverman came along and kicked those doors down with her $#@%'s and *&^%'s. I didn't like it at first. It made me uncomfortable ... very uncomfortable ... until I stumbled upon understanding.
Recently a successful female comedian, one I greatly admire and respect, responded to a #FF ("Follow Friday") I had given her on Twitter. I'd used the "s" word in a whimsical (oh yes it was) way. She responded publicly with, "That language does not impress boys." I was shocked. Was she kidding? Was it possible that this brilliant woman really tempered her words to please men? My response was, "Impressing boys is not my motivation in this scene." I brushed it off with humor, but it cut to the quick.
This whole "freedom of expression" thing has become a kind of crusade for me to desensitize sensibilities. Including my own. I swear constantly on Facebook and Twitter, and sometimes wince when I hit "send," but do it anyway. It seems like a pretty silly "cause." But, it's more than the words. It's the freedom to say the things that really matter to me, what I think, what I feel, without censor. Sarah Silverman made it possible for me. Maybe if I do so in kind for someone else, then they'll tell two friends, and they'll tell two friends, and so on.
My hope is that one day people won't judge women's language any differently than they do men's. Not that we'll be swearing all over the place (except me, I will, just because). We'll feel free to say what we have to say, using whatever words we choose. And, if men don't like it, they can just go $#@% themselves. Most of them won't be listening anyway.