Monday, October 29, 2007

Saying the F word in class

In M. Buttefly, David Henry Hwang shows how stereotypes/fantasies about race, gender, and sex conflate with stereotypes/fantasies about nationality, culture, and imperialism. Today in lit class, I wished to highlight how flawed sexual attitudes/beliefs leads to flawed politics/foreign policy in the play. The key passage is Song's speech on "international rape mentality:"

"The West thinks of itself as masculine--big guns, big industry, big money--so the East is feminine-- [...] Her mouth says no, but her eyes say yes. The West believes the East, deep down, wants to be dominated--because a woman can't think for herself. [...] You expect Oriental countries to submit to your guns, and you expect Oriental women to be submissive to your men."

To illustrate the point, I noted how in our everday language, we often use terms for sex, violent sex, or rape to express something bad happening to us. I gave three examples: "I'm screwed," "You're really fucking me over," and "I'm not going to just bend over and take it." It made sense, contextually, to use the F word itself, as we were explicitly discussing language. To illustrate how common expressions we use include disturbing allusions, it did not seem useful to avoid the word itself.

Later in comp class, we were discussing advertising. We talked about advertising pushing limits, and a student brought up an ad that used words/letters to sound like swear words (to shock, get attention, etc.). I referred to one commercial that used a word and said it sounds like "fucking." In this case, the context made the usage less necessary, yet realizing I had said it earlier made me feel there was no reason to skirt the subject when teaching adults. There was a reason to say it, but it was entirely possible to discuss the matter without actually saying the word.

It's not that I see a reason as a teacher (or as a person) to use the word often, and I'm not up in front of class just flinging profanity about--when discussing it explicitly, in context, it seems acceptable. I've said other swear words in normal lecture/discussion in class ("hell" and "shit" come out very rarely), but the F word seems something different (which is what inspires me to write about it here.

Anyway, it appears I've become the stereotype I always aspired to be: the liberal long-haired anti-war vegetarian professor that says "fuck" in class.


  1. On the first day of College Writing 1 my professor walked in, wrote "fuck" on the chalk board, and started talking about how dynamic of a word it is.

    This was my very first English class, freshman year. "This is college?!"

  2. I need some more coffee to REALLY comprehend this stuff-- it's been waaay too long!!

    As for "fuck", a versitle word and I KNEW I was in college (and hence felt QUITE wonderful) when my college prof swore openly in class. Not a great deal, but it was clear that I wasn't in Kansas anymore.