cultural censorship – The Orion
Language is our best tool. This is how we communicate and express ourselves, yet we hesitate when we have to listen or say sex, menstruation, incest, masturbation, vagina, penis and other similar words.
When I was in high school, I was always involved in some kind of extracurricular. I was in the school band, in the leadership community, and on a dance team. One day while I was backstage at a dance show, I was trying to convince my friend to watch “Game of Thrones”.
I was doing my best to make the point that they would want to watch the show because of the fantasy aspects, like the dragons and the white walkers, to help show them a world of wonder. However, before I could continue, they whispered that they weren’t comfortable with the theme and concept of incest woven throughout the story.
I was surprised by their confessions. My teenage mind at the time tried to defend one of my favorite shows by saying that incest, while immoral, wasn’t a dirty concept. It is firmly rooted in the history and culture of our country. It still exists in many parts of the world; whether you consider the origin of our species from a religious or evolutionary point of view, we all come from the same organisms.
This then sparked a debate about the origins of incest, and of course that meant we had said the word “incest” a lot. A rule behind the scenes was that if someone said something that interrupted the positive atmosphere, we had the right to ask that person to stop talking about it. In accordance with this rule, one of my other friends, in a very muffled and frustrated tone, said that I interrupted the atmosphere by saying the word “incest”.
Again, I was surprised by this common mentality that words like “incest” were considered dirty or outrageous.
This led me to consider other words that our culture considers vulgar or taboo. The perceived nature of certain words like sex, menstruation, masturbation, penis, and vagina became more apparent to me as I tried to talk to students on campus. Some students I attempted to speak to were hesitant or even gave up interviews after hearing the words I was specifically asking about.
Yarely Contreras, a sophomore and liberal studies major at Chico State, said thinking about saying those words “naturally feels awkward” and that mentality is “a very cultural thing” that hasn’t lots of explanations behind why people are so uncomfortable saying those words.
Timothy Jay, professor of psychology at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, in a 2009 review that explains how and why taboo words are used so much, said: “At the institutional level, taboos on certain forms of speech emanate from authorities who have power to restrict speech and can act as arbiters of harmful speech.
Jay elaborates further by writing that some examples of “arbiters” are the courts, religious leaders, educators, and media managers. All of these play an important role in our society and culture.
The Federal Communication Commission, which monitors communications such as radio and television nationally and internationally, vaguely describes how it defines obscene, indecent, and profane language. The FCC says that for content to be considered obscene — or language that isn’t protected by the First Amendment — it must meet the standards of a “three-pronged test.”
The test says content cannot encourage sexual interest, show or depict sexual behavior in an offensive way and must “lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value”.
Words such as sex, vagina and penis have scientific value. The words themselves and the context in which we use them are what Luke Richardson, a (pre-medical) psychology student at Chico State, says is “plain biology.”
As a result, they’re used in TV shows and movies that don’t have a mature or restricted rating. However, we still hear these words sparingly on screen and in our daily lives.
Leah Schultz, a junior and biology major at Chico State, said, “As kids, we’re conditioned to consider these things. [taboo words] as private they are shunned to try to protect the children.
Our culture has adopted a more conservative ideology regarding sex and sexual organs as well as immoral acts such as incest due to historical and religious principles. Parents will be more inclined to want to protect their children from sexual themes that include the identification of penis or vagina or the notion of sex or incest.
Jay expands on this idea in his journal of how children might possibly learn these words and their culturally “taboo” nature.
“Indeed, we learn not to use them when we are being punished by caregivers,” Jay said. “Surprisingly, no one has clearly established how a child acquires taboo words.”
A child may be more likely to hear these terms in a variety of circumstances as media becomes more widely available to the general population in forms such as portable devices and streaming. However, if a parent catches their child looking at something that contains these words, social norms suggest that they should try to steer the child away from it.
The more these words are stigmatized and restricted by caregivers, the more uncomfortable it is to speak them. Therefore, the frequency of use and exposure plays a role in assigning the idea of vulgarity to words like penis, vagina, and sex.
In a 2016 review, which describes the impact of the frequency and intensity of taboo words in everyday language, Patricia Rosenburg, Sverker Sikström and Danilo Garcia, professors and researchers in religion and psychology, stated: “Indeed , an individual’s affectivity is related to how often taboo words are used.
The trio addresses the discomfort of speaking taboo words from the perspective that the more frequently we hear or speak taboo words, the more comfortable we become with them. So if these words are avoided all together, people are more likely to feel uncomfortable around someone saying the words.
Ty Whittington-Brown, a senior and psychology student at Chico State, said the comfort of pronouncing these terms varies depending on context and environment.
He said that if it was just a daily conversation around a topic concerning words, he wouldn’t be uncomfortable saying them.
“In an uncomfortable environment, I would use the words as comic relief to open up a conversation,” Whittington-Brown said.
There are many reasons why our culture censors words like sex, menstruation, penis, vagina, etc. Despite the FCC’s “three-pronged test,” lawmakers’ debates over First Amendment restraints, and parents’ attempts to protect their children, those words are still being heard, learned, and repeated.
If we do our best to define these words as body parts, as Richardson said, and remove the negative stigma behind their use, we could potentially break down the walls our culture builds around appreciation of the human body. and human nature.
We could help encourage the use of terms such as sex, menstruation, incest, masturbation, penis and vagina in the appropriate contexts, at the right time and in the right place, without flinching unconsciously or speaking in low voices.
Ariana Powell can be reached at [email protected]