Saturday, November 21, 2015

12 Historical Women Who Collectively Gave a Grand Total of Zero F*cks

Herein is a tale in which a devoted dad seeks to share stories of an inspirational nature with his darling daughters while simultaneously worrying about the rough language with which such stories are sometimes told--all before finally realizing that what these women did to earn their places in history was far braver than sweating over a lousy f-bomb--or 12, or 120.

My good friend HJ circulated this fantastic post about a dozen history-making women. Follow the link if you dare, and two things immediately become apparent.

  • One, the piece was written by another HJ (Buzzfeed's Hannah Jewell). 
  • And secondly. Ms. Jewell makes extensive use of a graphic, four-letter Anglo-Saxon expletive describing a carnal act. 
Well, I do declare!

First of all, I offer a simple warning that if you visit the above cited Buzzfeed article you are going to read many instances of a word that you won't find in the pages of PhilosFX. For the sake of propriety, I have masked every instance of the potentially offensive word on this page, th*sly, to wit:

"These are just some of the women who, historically speaking, didn’t give a single f*ck."
                            --Hannah Jewell, BuzzFeed Staff, UK, January 5, 2015

Upon reading the article, my first instinct was to share the link to stories of exemplary women with my two (adult!) daughters. My second instinct, which followed immediately on the heels of the first, was to clean up the language before sharing the selected stories. You know, copy the text and "sanitize" it for PG-rated republication. I don't want to appear to condone the NSFW (language) tone.

Now, truth be told, I have been known to swear on occasion and I am not opposed to "colorful" language to include the well-placed f-bomb. However, there are only so many times a dad can drop the f-bomb in communications with his daughters before he loses all credibility. Rather than apologize for the language, I reasoned, why not just republish the story, with the expletives surgically deleted? Would the stories be any less compelling?

Illustrative case in point:

This bio has been redacted to protect your delicate sensibilities--or maybe just mine?

And then I remembered a relevant bit of personal history. When I was roughly my daughters' current age, a young 20-something, I read Do It! by Jerry Rubin, in which the author opines that there is only one word left in all of the English language that has retained its original power. Exactly one word. We use the word in moments of abandon. We do not use it when we are concerned about offending someone, or whether our reputation might be tarnished. We use it when we absolutely positively do not care about social mores or conventions.

Or, truth be told, for some of us the f-bomb is every other syllable because either we are lazy or we are knuckle-dragging morons with no functioning vocabulary and we need a recurring filler word. But for the sake of this discussion, let us distinguish between the deliberate, provocative choice and the ignorant, thoughtless habit. 

The stories of how these twelve women changed the course of humanity inspired me. The women were clever, yes, and courageous. Moreover, they were defiant. In fact, their defiance is the common link connecting them through time. These women were absolutely unwilling to be constrained by the patriarchal notion of a "woman's place." And it was this dimension of defiance that began to erode the bastion of  morality I had constructed around the offensive language. Can anyone come up with a phrase that more accurately captures defiance than, "I don't give a f*ck!"?

You cannot give a f*ck if you have no f*cks to give

But, when you write the f-word politely, bloodlessly, it has no power. F*ck is a punch with no impact. F*uck is a joke that elicits a smile but not a belly laugh. There is zero "zing" in an adulterated f*ck. The word-picture neither arrests nor offends. It conforms. It does what it is told. In other words, it is the exact opposite of how these 12 women lived.

Ooof! I get it! 

Do I want my daughters to be inspired by powerful examples of historical women who blasted through social barriers to achieve greatness? Yes, absolutely! And do I simultaneously care about the language and tone I personally employ? Of course. Therefore, I share these stories in two ways. Take your pick--or better yet, if you are an inquisitive adult, do both and compare.

  • When and if you are inclined to read Hannah Jewell's original Buzzfeed version, it's waiting for you HERE. and/or
  • You may avoid the expletives by seeing the names published below. I have rearranged them in chronological order and linked them to their (clean) Wikipedia biographies. 

9. Murasaki Shikibu (973–1025…ish)

11. Nzinga Mbandi (1583–1663)

5. Ada Lovelace (1815–1852)

4. Sojourner Truth (1797–1883)

1. Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell (1821–1910)

10. Nellie Bly (1864–1922)

2. Annie Smith Peck (1850–1935)

6. Beatrice Potter Webb (1858–1943)

7. Lilian Bland (1878–1971)

3. Mary Lou Williams (1910–1981)

8. Ethel L. Payne (1911–1991)

12. Hedy Lamarr (1914–2000)

I refuse to apologize for the language in the author's article, choosing instead to merely alert you to it and let you decide. Furthermore, I defend her writerly right to deliberately select and employ the word or words which convey her thoughts most completely.  

That said, you will not find the f-bomb here on PhilosFX. I am similarly disinclined to drop one in conversation with my daughters (or my parents, for that matter). The bottom line for me is that I respect language. I understand why some words are banned, yet I defend an author's right to employ even banned words when the situation calls for all the blood and guts our language can muster.

Go forth, and do great things!

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