‘A Woman’s Tongue’: Representations of Gender and Swearing in Australian Legal and Media Discourse

Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Publication Type:
Journal Article
The Australian Feminist Law Journal, 2020, 41, (1), pp. 1-25
Issue Date:
Full metadata record
This article considers historical and contemporary representations of the relationship between gender and swearing in Australian obscene language trials. An examination of language ideologies articulated in media and legal discourse in nineteenth and early twentieth century Australia reveals how swearing by women was often depicted as unladylike, and swearing in the presence of women, considered undesirable. Commonly-articulated ideas about gender and swearing prevalent in this period have become naturalised over time, so that they form part of judicial ‘common sense’ in contemporary offensive language jurisprudence. In addition, the idea that swear words are especially offensive when uttered in the presence of women has functioned to legitimise the criminal punishment of swear words used by Indigenous women towards police. The article argues that there is a need to recognise the presence of gendered language ideologies in discourse, including the role they play in maintaining hierarchies and obscuring cultural differences.
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