"The common erotic project of destroying women makes it possible for men to unite into a brotherhood; this project is the only firm and trustworthy groundwork for cooperation among males and all male bonding is based on it." -- Andrea Dworkin
I work at a company that provides its employees with free breakfast and lunch five days out of the week. (Dinner, too, at some of the other offices.) We have a free gym on-site. We get free yoga and meditation classes to ease the stress of getting paid generously to sit at a desk all day (though we also get expensive sit/stand adjustable desks for those who think that sitting will shorten their lives -- not as a disability accommodation, but for everybody) and we don't even have to wipe our own asses, because most of the toilets have built-in push-button-operated bidets.[*] We have on-site haircuts and massages. You can drop off your laundry and dry-cleaning at work and it'll magically re-appear clean. If the coffee from the automated machines in the kitchen on every floor isn't good enough for you, a barista at the free in-office coffee counter will make your drink to order. If you want to take a break and play arcade games, shoot pool, or practice the piano, you can do all those things without leaving the office; our comfort is considered important and valuable because it's supposed that the more comfortable we are, the more work we'll produce.
None of those things are enough for some people, though, without freedom of expression. Specifically, the freedom to create internal URLs with the word "fuck" in them. Somebody was, apparently, asked not to do that, and now everybody else is in a tizzy about this heinous abridgment of their free speech. Of course, it's not like they're going to be thrown in jail for saying "fuck", and nobody is telling us we can't say "fuck" at work at all, just that perhaps it might be a better idea to not use "fuck" in URL shortcuts. We could quit and go work for a startup, but then we might have to leave the office to eat lunch.
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)
I like getting fucked. I can't talk about that at work, though, and I doubt anybody would argue that I should be free to talk about it at work. I don't have the freedom to talk about fucking as a source of pleasure, but I do have the freedom to talk about fucking as violence, as something that I could do to you. Of course, nobody says that either, we talk about how this or that piece of code is fucked up or about how it's fucking annoying that the kitchens on every floor only have healthy snacks. If something is annoying, then we know it's even more annoying if it's fucking annoying, because "fucking" is an intensifier because we all know being fucked is a terrible fate. Something that's broken is "fucked up" because to be fucked is to be damaged, to lose the asset of your virginity if you're a cis woman, or to lose your masculinity if you're a cis man. While (nominally) you can't directly threaten to fuck a co-worker, but every time someone perceived as a man says it, we're reminded of what he could do to us.
To be a man is to fuck, and to be fucked is to not be a man, or at least, not a man who's doing masculinity the right way. We're reminded of this with every "fuck that" or "fucked up." To be a man is to fuck, but of course you don't get the chance to prove to very many people that you are capable of fucking, so by saying it you get to remind people: "I could fuck you. If you fuck with me, then I'll fuck you up." One of the many ways in which cis men are fragile is that they react to being asked not to say "fuck", even if it's in an extremely limited context, as if they've had their manhood taken away, because if you could only prove that you are a man in front of people you fuck, who would know you're a man? If we stopped using "fuck" as a negative, then people might get the idea that being fucked could be a nice thing, and then cis men would have to find other ways to dominate everybody else.
Women get to join the party too, these days, but to be seen as a woman is to be seen as potentially fuckable; what terrifies heterosexual cis men is the norm that women are assumed to live with. So while you can say "fuck", while you can use the same words the men use, you can't do it without reminding them of your vulnerability. For men who are perceived as trans or queer, it's a reminder of our pitiful fate, to be born this way or to be in thrall to our uncontrollably peculiar sexual desires. We don't gain power by using the word, we just pledge our allegiance to heterosexual cis male power. And white heterosexual cis men react about as well to being asked not to say "fuck" as patriotic Americans react to people who don't want to pledge allegiance to the flag. "Fuck" is liturgy in the secular religion that worships heterosexual, cis, male sexual potency.
I mentioned that I like getting fucked. Every time I say "fuck you" or "that's fucked", I betray myself. It's something that's all but unavoidable if I'm going to fit in. Heterosexual cis men, at least those who don't like getting fucked, don't have to make this choice. They can bring their whole selves to work. I can't bring my whole self anywhere: if I say "fuck", I'm conceding that liking dicks in my ass makes me less of a man. If I don't say it, I'll still be judged as less of a man for my supposed prudishness. The same men who are so attached to their free speech rights would be pretty quick to curtail mine if I talked about what it's like to be a man who has a vagina -- and who likes getting fucked in it -- in front of them, or about what getting fucked in the ass feels like. They get to define the limits of acceptable discourse. Reminding us that they can fuck us is allowed, but reminding them that they, too, could be fucked is not.
One of the things I like to see the most when I watch gay porn is a man who's obviously aroused just by getting fucked in the ass -- knowing that he's not turned on in that moment by anyone doing anything to his cock, just by being penetrated. I think I like seeing that so much because of the alchemy of taking a scenario that terrifies so many het men -- the fear not of being fucked per se, but that they might enjoy it -- is so powerful. And because it reminds me that being fucked defines what it means to be a man more so than fucking does -- fucking is an obligation to prove one's masculinity, while being fucked is an illicit thrill. Does any of this make you uncomfortable to think about? It makes me uncomfortable when people use my sexuality as a threat, a joke, or a warning.
To use "fuck" as an expletive is to participate in a social order that prioritizes hetero cis men's comfort over everybody else's safety. It's to reassure hetero cis men of their power while simultaneously agreeing that their mortal terror of getting fucked is reasonable. To reserve "fuck" for expressions of consensual pleasure, rather than for describing violence or disorder, is to refuse to reassure scared men that they'll always be the fucker, never the fuckee. The use of "fuck" as a swear is part of what keeps fucking as an action violent -- what keeps it something that I do to you instead of something two people do together. Like a barking dog, every man who uses it in this way is signifying both that he's in mortal fear, and that he's dangerous. If a woman says it, it's amusing, since she's presumed to pose no threat. But every "fuck" a man utters is a reminder of what he could do to you, or at least wants you to think he could do to you. Every "fuck" is a threat.
Why else would men get so angry if it's suggested to them that maybe -- at least when constructing shortcut URLs -- they could use some other word? Because there is no other word that carries the power that "fuck" does. If the worst thing that can happen to a man is to lose his masculinity, and if being fucked renders you less-than-a-man, then that's the worst thing you can threaten a man with. No wonder men don't want to give it up so easily. What would they have left? Actually doing it to somebody has consequences, sometimes, anyway. Just threatening to do it doesn't.
If it sounds like I'm conflating fucking with raping, then so is everybody else who uses the word. Andrea Dworkin and other feminists have been mischaracterized as saying that all heterosexual sex is rape -- but the ones who really believe that are hetero cis men, who talk about fucking as if it's something that nobody in their right mind would want done to them. To explain why women might appear to choose to be fucked, they need to say that women consent to it in order to get pregnant or to control men or to get a man to share some money or power. To explain why queer men might seem to choose to be fucked, they need the "born this way" narrative: poor things, we can't help it. To claim power as a man is to claim that sex is intrinsically an act of violence and aggression, and that you will always be the aggressor, never the victim. Our language gives us no other tools to do so.
People care about free speech because their words affect other people -- if they didn't, there would be no reason to care. By saying "fuck" you can evoke all kinds of unconscious fear, insecurity, desire, and accompanying shame. If you can make somebody feel those feelings, then you have power over them. Words can have a lot of power. I don't know if I will ever remove this word from my vocabulary. After all, "fuck" also serves to convey strong emotions or to express and reinforce social bonds. But maybe there are ways to express feelings or get closer to each other without evoking an ever-present specter of violence. I don't really want to participate in social structures that make me inferior because I like to get fucked by men and because I'm a man who has a vagina. But that's exactly what I do when I enact the ritual of renewing "fuck"'s negative connotations. "Fuck" works for cementing social bonds precisely because of what Dworkin wrote about how men bond -- it works so well for that that women can participate in the bonding too, if only as second-class citizens. And it works for expressing feelings because fear of emasculation is one of the strongest feelings men are allowed to have.
I doubt I'll stop saying "fuck" overnight, and maybe I won't at all. I'm much more comfortable using it in an overtly sexual context than at work anyway -- sex is always going to be messy, full of power imbalances, and hard to disentangle from violence, and maybe it always will be. I don't have the patience to save myself for the day when sex becomes completely unproblematic. But unlike in a workplace, sexual situations entered into with consent tend to encourage vulnerability rather than suppress it. (For that matter, unlike work, sex can be consented to.) I would really like "fuck" to be a sexual word, which is to say that I would like sex to be about sex, rather than being a proxy for all of our less thrilling and more petty desires for power and control.
So I don't think I need to be perfectly consistent or pure to say that I want to see the day when liking to get fucked has no more moral or political significance than liking to ride a bicycle or raise tropical fish. And if that day comes, I doubt we'll still be using "fuck" as a dirty word, as an insult, or as a threat.
[*] Paragraph edited for clarity about a tangential point.
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