Should you be sorry for swearing?

Updated: May 21, 2019

Why does it bother women in non-traditional work roles when men say sorry for swearing?

Most women I know couldn't give less of a flying duck (sorry) when someone swears*.

What tends to niggle is when the demonstration of profanity is shortly followed by, "Sorry, I didn't mean to swear in front of a lady".

Now, of course, the swearer is merely complying with social conventions that they have in all likelihood been brought up to observe. To them, offering an apology is the polite and necessary thing to do. I very much doubt that harm is ever intended or malice ever lurking. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but in the main, we are talking about the average half decent fellow trying to navigate around a woman where he didn't expect to see one.

So if no harm is intended is there a problem at all?

Well yes and no, there's not a problem per se. It's not like anyone is going to die or be mortally injured, I very much doubt it would even put much of a dent in someone's day, but that doesn't mean its ok.

Let's apply the same thinking to dropping litter. What does it matter if I drop the odd packet of crisps, probably not much? However, if everyone starts doing it before we know it we have sea turtles with straws up their noses and national heroes reminding us of our failure as a species.

You see its not the one instance that's a problem; it's where that instance fits in with all the other instances. The bigger picture of all the little ways which words and language are used, intentionally or not, to keep us in our place, and remind us of what society expects of us.

When you apologise to a woman for swearing in front of her you are inadvertently reminding her that you see her as a woman first and an equal** second. That she is out of place, that this is a man's world. Even though you might be attempting to welcome her into it, the implication is very much that she is a guest. That she is temporary.

Now, of course, I imagine many people will think this is a load of old cobblers, and it would be if this were the only example. But when we put the whole picture together of ill-fitting work wear, lack of women in senior roles, the gender pay gap, the equal pay gap, the all but absence of women in the trades etc etc etc etc. we start to see that something bigger is happening.

When you apologise for swearing, it's a reminder of women's status in the workplace, and quite simply, we don't need reminding.

*If you do, fair play, we are all different and that's a beautiful thing.

** Originally had Engineer here (instead of equal), change recommended by the most excellent Katy Harris, Director of Preconstruction at Seddon

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