Sexist swearing and slurs: Responses to gender-directed insults


Swearing is a part of everyday life for many, but its functions, and the reasons why certain words are deemed “taboo”, may not be immediately apparent. In particular, the use of slurs serves the functions of policing socially undesirable behaviors, and bringing groups of people together. A subset of swear words can be described as being directed specifically towards one gender, and are mainly used to police behaviors that do not conform to a society’s ideas of masculinity or femininity. Slurs directed towards, and judged most offensive by women comment on sexual, or aggressive behavior, whereas slurs directed towards, and judged most offensive by men imply that they are being too soft or “womanly”. These categories follow patriarchal views on gender roles. The perception of gender-directed swear words can be described by the Affective Language Communication Model (Van Berkum, in prep), which incorporates a speaker’s stance and intention into the listener’s interpretation and response. In order to assess if the degree of offensiveness is internalized by a listener, an EEG study is proposed. It is hypothesized that gender-congruent slurs will elicit larger responses than gender-incongruent slurs, and that one’s level of acceptance of society’s gender expectations could affect perceived offensiveness.

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