Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Top American Taboos (And Why I Think They're Stupid)

No one should ever say or do a taboo, not unless they want to face social ridicule. Taboos are those naughty things a good person would never say. Never think about and never mention in any good conversation, no matter what the nature of the conversation is about. Americans have a particularly interesting set of taboos instilled by our Puritan ancestors that for some reason still exist today. Recently, however, Senator Lisa Brown of Michigan broke all of these taboos by uttering the word "vagina" when she was speaking about laws regarding new abortion restrictions. Clearly, it is amazing that she had the nerve to say such an ugly word in a professional setting. After all, the word "vagina" is far from the clinical and professional word for female anatomy. Though this happened a couple of days ago, the buzz seems to be even greater than ever so I find the conversation quite relevant.

Lisa Brown struck the nerve of the Senate by hitting on all of the greatest American taboos. Strike number one: the word "vagina" alone conjures the idea of sex (even if not in a sexual context, such as in this case), which clearly is a dirty curse word. Strike number two: She was challenging their ideas on abortion (which is a controversial subject enough in the great U.S.A) which they claim to have moral outrage over because of their religion. Strike number three: In her entire speech (as a woman), she was voicing her opinions on politics. Clearly, since her speech hit it out of the ball park with all of the taboos, she was regarded with a reaction like the ones below. Because of this juvenile reaction, she was eventually banned from speaking on the floor of the Senate along with her friend who proposed restrictions on vasectomies alongside abortions. 

she just say


Okay, so why are these taboos stupid? Or at least why is it stupid to make these topics as taboo as they are? That's a good question. Let's work our way down from the kind of taboo which is least offensive to mention to the one most offensive to talk about. 

4) Cursing 
Cursing, both in words and gestures, is one of the most profane acts that one can do in the course of a conversation. God forbid, one does it in the presence of a child! Never mind the child is A) not a child but a teenager who already curses or B) a kid who has heard it already. Cursing is the ultimate rite of passage for a kid, who most likely is already tentatively expanding their curse word vocabulary already. Because cursing is considered so terrible, that only makes kids want to say curse words more. Wow. What an odd concept! Now, I will agree that cursing has a time and a place. In more formal setting, cursing shouldn't be permitted because a more formal set of language should be expected and used. The reason small children shouldn't be cursing is that they probably would have a hard time distinguishing the time and place to curse, as many adults do.  However, the occasional slip-up (common in frequent potty mouths like myself) should be forgiven. If cursing probably was minimized in its sheer horror, kids probably wouldn't curse as much or at least would curse at appropriate times. As long as the said curse word is not used to degrade or harm anyone, it pretty much has as much value as any other word does. Keep in mind that one can degrade and harm people without the use of "curse words" as people do all of the time. 

Disclaimer: I know Lisa Brown didn't curse, but in the eyes of the Senate she did. Thus, this taboo is included. 

3) Politics
Politics is also considered the big taboo in a conversation. Mostly, politics is considered taboo because people have such strong opinions regarding it causing fights to break out because of it (certainly the case when two particular uncles happen to be in the same room, one a strong conservative and one a strong liberal). While this is understandable, this is simply a classic case of people needing to grow up, put aside their differences and talk like actual adults. Another thing to consider is that the general public seems to be quite ignorant on actual politics and simply has emotion rather than facts on their side, and most people do not like being proven wrong or ignorant. Most of all, religion (see below) often decided people's political opinions especially in the case of social issues. This particular taboo is quite a shame in my opinion, because I consider myself quite informed on politics and would love to talk more about it to adults who know what they're talking about. 

Note: Controversial social issues like abortion and gay marriage fall under this category.

2) Religion
If politics is an emotional topic to talk about, religion is a million times worse. As a certain person explained to me (who happens to be a very devout Jew), "Religion is pretty much how people think. It is their entire worldview. To change that would be to change everything they know." In her case, her religion provides her a community, a sense of self-worth and her sense of morality (or so she thinks. I happen to believe she lives a life based on morality quite different than what is stated in the Torah/ Old Testament, which is actually quite disturbing). Religion, of course, is just an idea that deserves as much scrutiny as any other idea. It does not deserve to be put on a pedestal. However, because people base so much off of it in the U.S., it cannot be challenged. Again, this is also quite a shame because every idea deserves to be challenged and checked for holes (especially when it's pretty much leading our country and our politics to a point bordering on theocracy in certain states). Despite my problems with it, I actually happen to find it quite interesting and I love having theological discussions with religious people who won't shove it down my throat (alas, this is even harder to find than adults who know what they're talking about when it comes to politics). 

1) Sex
At least, in certain contexts, I can talk about religion and politics though they are both topics I must tread delicately. Sex, however, is something that cannot be talked about or mentioned even in the presence of dignified adults. Hell, nothing even having anything remotely connected to sex can be discussed or imagined including nudity or the mention of "private parts". Of course, there is a loophole to this. Because sex is so dirty and bad, that only makes most people want to talk about it more and think about it more. In our culture, it can be discussed but only if it is hinted at or put in profane and degrading terms. Because of this, many might call our culture sex-saturated, but I think that this is ultimately because we are taught that we must want sex but we ultimately must be ashamed of that urge and recognize its sheer disgusting quality. Rather than recognizing it as a basic and necessary bodily function that we should enjoy and understand when ready and able, we have to slink around it while secretly obsessing over it. Also, there is an incredible difference in the way in which female sexuality is dealt with versus male sexuality and the sexism of this can be clearly noted in cases like Vaginagate. Ultimately though, it is only in America would one find more parents willing to let their young child play violent video games and watch violent, gory films than watch movies with even the slightest sexual innuendo (which would probably go over their heads anyway). Hence we produce a culture of boys who shout "penis" in an attempt at sounding bad-ass and men who shrink away at the word "vagina".  

Clearly, most of these taboos are ridiculous and treated out of hand. Hopefully, Vaginagate will expose how silly most of it is.  None of these topics should be considered dirty and unapproachable, but rather topics to be handled by mature adults who will not giggle or shout. The year is 2012, and it's not the seventeenth century. Grow up. 


  1. Beautiful, forceful, witty, sarcastic, and to-the-point post. Great job! I heard about that ridiculous vagina situation--it makes me really mad. I cannot believe the gall of those Michigan Republicans, and in particular the idiot who barred Ms. Brown and a colleauge from speaking for "violating the decorum of the house." The actual words she used were, "I'm flattered that you're all so interested in my vagina, but no means no." She spoke, of course, in reference to the anti-abortion laws you mentioned above. She used, as you pointed out, the medical, professional word for female genitalia. It's hard to understand why the Republican legislators responded so forcefully, and so angrily. As Senator Brown pointed out, "If you can't say vagina, we shouldn't be legislating vaginas."

  2. I love your wit in this post. Thanks for the laugh (and the eyeroll - not directed at you, of course!).