If we are serious about the brick-by-brick dismantling of the rape culture, we need to get rid of the f-bomb. I am no delicate-eared prude shrinking in horror at a naughty word. I have worked happily in mills, fields, and onion warehouses where f-words flowed freely. Nor am I a bigot wanting censorship. I am an English teacher. However, it seems clear to me, startlingly obvious, that the f-bomb joins violence and sex, violation and sexual intercourse.
I know that we now use the word in many non-sexual ways, but there is no denying that saying f-you is a way of joining sex with power and humiliation. We can add many variations of this: f-off, over, and up. Our culture uses this word for actual sex when we want to emphasize the purely animal or physical act of intercourse. It is sex done to someone, not with someone. It avoids the connotations of the phrase “making love” and linguistically avoids the entangling associations of commitment, covenant, and consent.
My argument isn’t that the word magically creates a rape culture, but that it normalizes a view of sex robbed of respect and relationship. It is by no means the biggest brick in the rape culture. It is, however, a blind spot in many who are vocal against sexual harassment. All the revelations about Harvey Weinstein and the many others accused of harassment make clear we need a change in our whole culture. But cultures are made of the words we use and the meaning they carry.
We have all become aware that battling racism means ridding our language of ethnic slurs. We do not say of the n-word, “It is just a word. Get over it!” The f-bomb is a slur against what should always be regarded as something sacred: the union of a man and a woman. In the Christian narrative all of history ends with the Church-–the Bride of Christ being united with Jesus—the Bridegroom. It is called the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Paul says that the relationship between a husband and wife is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the Church. It makes sense that the filthiest word we have is a defilement of one the holiest things God offers.
Christians, therefore, should not use the f-bomb to prove they are edgy, relevant, or liberated from legalism. We certainly don’t want to be caught quibbling over words while ignoring real acts of sexual assault and violence. Nor do we want to whine about someone using the n-word and ignore a young black man being shot in the street. We can and should do both: reject the language of violence and the acts of violence.
Destroying a rape-culture involves much more than banning the F-bomb. It means ridding ourselves of double-standards of conduct for men and women. It means never blaming the victim, enabling a bully, or turning a blind eye to harassment. But to change a culture, we need to change the language—we need to make our language about sex sacred. Or at the very least we need language that places sex in the context of love, consent, and respect. We need to ban the bomb.