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May 29, 2015

Vulgarity is defined a few ways by a few sets of people, but let’s say a vulgar person is someone who speaks like this:


All the damn time. (Colloquialisms optional.)

Vulgarity is a prominent feature of parties and gatherings, and there’s always one guy who takes it to extraordinary levels. Sometimes, he can be the life and soul of the party, other times totally exhausting. Usually both, within the space of an hour. Maximum. I say guy, because it is usually guys.

It’s not that women aren’t crass and vulgar. My giddy aunt, they are. It just generally lacks that aggressiveness and volume that makes it impossible to ignore. Plus it’s is more prevalent with alcohol and mainly shows itself in groups that women feel most comfortable in, which depending on the woman is often single-sex groups. And me. Possibly because I can talk wombs and periods without flinching, I infiltrate all-women groups without anyone noticing / minding, which is how I know the darkest secrets of women alone…

Let’s just say, Celia shits. Long and stinkily.

I’m sorry to observe that women don’t feel anything like as comfortable in mixed sex groups as men do. Men do behave a bit differently in single-sex groups than in mixed ones, but I maintain not differently enough; sexist comments towards men occur more in women only or female majority groups than in mixed ones, and long may it stay the case, if these comments absolutely must exist. But in a thumping parties where the grape is flowing and the men match the women in numbers, they’ll be one or two who won’t think twice about saying something cringeworthingly sexist about women. That thing, whatever it is, will usually be vulgar; it will relate, with dispassionate graphicness, to sex.

I believe the reason is that this vulgarity is a form of not very funny sexual joke, and sexual jokes make their way into parties everywhere in the world. That men make them more and the extent to which they concern the opposite sex suggests a supreme unawareness or lack of concern about the audience, or perhaps a sense of entitlement about one’s right to make those jokes, based on the fact that in all male groups one is never called out on it. In mixed sex groups, it takes a firm woman indeed to raise an objection, and it is sometimes taken as an unwarranted party pooper however reasonable the concern.

Most people with any social sense alter their vulgarity level to fit the people around them. The amount of willy in the room usually affects the vulgarity level and there will quite often be one person in the room who doesn’t know how to respond to people any other way than by vulgarity. And it will get steadily worse as they realise how out of sync with everyone else they are and feel more and more awkward. It will also get worse with encouragement. That encouragement may come from men, it may come from women, it may come from cringing faces and a lack of direct discouragement, since we know from the glorious internet that some people live to shock and disgust other people. If they get a reaction, they keep on, if they don’t, they sometimes get worse. It’s a funny old thing.

The only tactic I’ve seen work in stopping the constant flow of vulgarity is a mass shaming posse, whereby a group of people following the lead of one woman turned the whole thing on its head and made out like the man talking had some kind of uncontrollable sex addiction for which he must seek help. It was meant as an almost-joke, but since I suspect some truthfulness to the assertion, it seems like too mean and extreme a way to get a person to stop talking. If only he had any sense of self-regulation.

When this doesn’t happen, the whole situation gets steadily naughtier until more or less everyone is caught up in it, including the very people you could never imagine being able to agree, agreeing with ludicrous statements, like “sluts like chat-ups lines” or “yeah women who don’t shave are manky”. Now, in what universe is it in a woman’s best interest to agree with that nonsense?

Humans, those funny old social creatures. They’ll agree with anything if it puts them in good social stead with the dominant character in the room. So, they will definitely adjust their vulgarity level to fit in. Going back to the anecdote above, I think what happened is that, by her force of nature, the woman managed to establish herself as the more dominant character than her friend Mr Vulgar. And because we’re humans and we have a pecking order, we all gathered around behind her and joined in with the joke. That worked in no small part I’m sure because over half of us there felt privately that this man was a bit of a tool, but didn’t say anything for fear of looking like that prude in the corner no one likes. Yes, prude and virgin shaming can be powerful tools of social pressure, on both men and women.

Not to say that women hate vulgarity and never join in with it unless pressured, and are being weak minded when they do. There are a lot of women who react with nothing short of delight to degrees of vulgarity, especially if they’re very man-comfortable because they have brothers or frequently hang out in groups of men. Unisex sporty people, Rock / Punk / Metal people and video game people, to name a few. In other words, you can get away with a lot of vulgarity that people will tolerate and in some cases even like. Everyone likes to be reminded of home. Unless home is a screaming mess of plates smashing into walls.

But, just because someone aligns themselves to the tone of the room, that doesn’t mean they’re happy about it. Vulgarity can be creepy, it can be inappropriate, it can be bullying and it can be sexist. It’s a type of conformity and thus, peer pressure. So, ultra vulgarity is definitely something to watch out for, and if you aren’t terminally vulgar, keep on top of it. Not least because positive reinforcement encourages terminally vulgar people who are probably only vulgar in the first place because they are socially nervous.

My advice to men is to adjust your vulgarity level to the women in the room, and not the men, particularly if there’s a majority of men – which their occasionally will be, by the laws of chance. Since women are not usually as aggressive with their vulgarity as men, think of the most vulgar woman you can find in the room as medium level. There will always be one person in the corner who purses their lips like Aunt Petunia; don’t worry about them too much, they’ll have to come round sooner or later if they want to live normally. And don’t go on at them about being a prude or a virgin.


From → Gender Politics

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