Crazy. Unmannered. Stupid.
In 2021, a random man hurled these words at me in a fit of anger. We were standing in line at the airport, getting ready to board a plane.
A few minutes before this outburst of rage, he had made advances towards me, asking for my phone number and inviting me to his hotel room upon landing in Abuja, our final destination. I didn’t take kindly to his remarks and promptly told him to "f*ck off."
His demeanor immediately shifted, escalating into shouts and demands for an apology due to my use of vulgar language, all while insisting that he had approached me with kindness. "What she said to me was offensive," he repeated, as others in the queue began to question his raised voice.
Why was my choice of words deemed more inappropriate than his implicit sexual overtones directed at me? Why was I being interrogated when he was clearly the problem?
Soon enough, hushed discussions among some other men in the queue focused on my use of a profane word rather than his inappropriate advances. It seemed irrelevant that he had subjected me to sexual harassment. I thought to myself: why was my choice of words deemed more inappropriate than his implicit sexual overtones directed at me? Why was I being interrogated when he was clearly the problem?
Throughout history, women have been conditioned to remain docile, silent, and polite, even in the face of discrimination and misogyny. We’re expected to avoid actions or statements that are considered vulgar or inappropriate. "Good" women are not supposed to use profanity, issue a forceful "f*ck you," raise their voices, challenge the patriarchy, or exhibit anger. They’re meant to maintain a sense of decorum, and to be forgiving, even when there are violations against their rights.
But not me. At least not anymore. I've chosen a different path - one that defies these conventional norms. I embrace being outspoken, fiery, and unapologetically me.
I can't pinpoint the exact moment I decided to wear these labels proudly, but my realization that gendered communication patterns that dictate women's behaviors are rooted in sexism solidified my stance. Research in this area reveals a double standard: women are systematically molded into submission — don't wear revealing clothes, don't shout, don't be too friendly with men, don't sit with your legs open, master cooking so you can feed your husband when you marry, etc. In contrast, men are granted more leeway in expressing assertiveness. This discrepancy puts women in a box and stifles their sense of agency.
I embrace profanity and let my anger be a weapon against those who hold prejudiced views against women. I use strong language, I shout, I write articles like this, I cry, I file police reports, I attend protests, I document the unique experiences women go through, I support outspoken feminists, and I keep on fighting.
That's why I embrace profanity and let my anger be a weapon against those who hold prejudiced views against women. I use strong language, I shout, I write articles like this, I cry, I file police reports, I attend protests, I document the unique experiences women go through, I support outspoken feminists, and I keep on fighting. I don't always come out on top, and sometimes I feel the pain, but I refuse to quit.
Profanity and defiance are solid tools for challenging and shaking up the patriarchy and its rules. By breaking away from the usual expectations of being polite and calm, we take a stand for our right to express ourselves truthfully and to push against oppressive norms. We can't change the way things are by staying quiet; we have to make it normal for women to express aggression and anger, just like anyone else.
Historically, women writers, activists, and artists have been breaking barriers and capturing attention by using strong language and unconventional tactics to make a point. When the #MeToo movement gained global prominence in 2017, it provided a platform for survivors of sexual abuse, primarily women, to share their stories openly without shame.
And guess what? Profanity, anger, and explicit language became their secret weapons. When women used no-holds-barred language to describe their experiences, it served as a stark reminder of the humiliation and pain they endured. This unfiltered language also shattered the silence that often surrounds these issues, sparking conversations that challenged societal norms and behaviors.
For example, in the case of the former U.S. Gymnastics doctor, Larry Nassar, who was accused of sexually abusing hundreds of young athletes, many of the survivors delivered powerful, impactful statements, especially during his trial. Their statements were filled with anger and explicit descriptions of the abuse they endured. Their approach and testimonies had profound effects, which contributed immensely to Nassar's conviction and subsequent changes in policies within U.S. Gymnastics.
Similarly, in 2018, Market March, a series of protests in response to the pervasive sexual harassment faced by Nigerian women while shopping at markets across the country, happened. During these protests, women did not shy away from expressing their anger and frustration. Their placards bore bold messages, such as "Stop Touching Us" and "Our Bodies Are Not Public Property," with the intention of shocking and awakening society to the harsh realities they encountered. Their in-your-face language and the fury with which they protested ensured that their message could not be dismissed, sparking dialogue across social media and traditional media alike.
Also, their approach enabled them to reclaim public spaces that had long been tainted by harassment. They managed to shift the narrative away from victim-blaming and squarely onto the perpetrators, sending a clear signal that women would no longer tolerate objectification and violation during their everyday market visits.
That’s the power of profanity, and that’s why I'm an advocate.
As women, staying polite and calm in the face of discrimination and prejudice against our kind, as we have been conditioned to, does more harm than good. Staying silent and sweet in the face of inequality is partly why women continue to get the short end of the stick. It's a contributing factor to why we are sexually abused, why we experience workplace discrimination, why we have to deal with medical gaslighting and so on.
Patriarchy has never been polite, so why should we be? More women need to unlearn politeness as we've been conditioned to. The shock and attention that anger and profanity cause are much more powerful: They make people pay attention, they start conversations, they give rise to global movements, and they get policymakers talking.
Patriarchy has never been polite, so why should we be?
A few weeks ago, I echoed some of these thoughts to an acquaintance over coffee. She expressed concern that using anger and strong language to challenge gender inequality might be deemed offensive and could potentially incite violence against those employing this approach. "Yelling things like 'f*ck you' is just rude and doesn't really convey your message," she told me. I understood her good intentions, and I know she meant well.
However, when you consider it, isn't misogyny and all the violence it entails more offensive to society than our anger and words? Sexism is more offensive. Gender discrimination in education is more offensive. Sexual and domestic violence is more offensive. Child marriage is more offensive. The gender pay gap is more offensive.
She went on to say, "If you use anger to protest, you might be in danger. You could get killed." Again, I appreciated her concern, but the truth is, we're already facing danger. Women are already losing their lives due to the patriarchy. In South Africa, a woman is killed every three hours, and many are raped and assaulted before their tragic end. In 2020, around the world, 47,000 women and girls were killed by intimate partners or close family members.
Isn't misogyny and all the violence it entails more offensive to society than our anger and words? Sexism is more offensive. Gender discrimination in education is more offensive. Sexual and domestic violence is more offensive. Child marriage is more offensive. The gender pay gap is more offensive.
In the end, it's necessary to recognize the real impact that profanity and anger can have. When we use them wisely, they become more than just tools for protest — they become roadmaps to real change. They become the unapologetic voices that refuse to be silenced, demanding a world where women get the respect and fairness they deserve.
As we keep pushing for a more gender-equal world, we need to continuously remind ourselves that our anger isn't a problem; it's a catalyst for progress.