F-U-C-K. (I can’t believe I just wrote that) Excuse my language, but now that I have your attention, I would like to talk about Figiel’s use of bad words and the dirty language she employs throughout They Who Do Not Grieve. Obviously, as I just illustrated, bad language draws the reader into what is written. Our eyes are drawn to these words because we are taught that they are wrong to use, especially in a public forum like this or, for Figiel, a novel. So why are these bad words so effective in Figiel’s writing? I don’t think she is just trying to peak the reader’s interest like I might have done but, rather, I think she is showing something about the nature of bad words and effect they have on people.
Think about the first time you cursed. It’s a strange experience. The first time I ever said the F-word was on a dare from a friend as his mother drove us home from middle school. After someone else said I didn’t have the guts to do it, I let out a glorious shout in the form of “The Big One” as his mom later recalled it to my mother. Still, as I said the word, it was as if I was no longer myself. It was as if, I was kind of dipping into another world or becoming another person. I shocked myself.
I think, for Figiel, the use of bad language mirrors this idea that both Malu and Alofa are unsure of their own identities; that just as reading the dirty language in the novel may take the reader out of his/her sphere of comfort and into that other collective world/person we become in cursing (or in acting inappropriate), Malu and Alofa are caught in between, searching for their own identities as they attempt to reconcile their perception of what it means to be a woman and what it means to be “a slut, a cunt, a whore” (p. 187).
Also, I believe Figiel, in attempting to reconcile this perception, is trying to put an end to the double standards words like “slut” have. Figiel is showing how the harshness of such words, first used by men to degrade women, have been adopted by women, and, in doing so, begun destroying the solidarity of women. Of course Malu and Alofa have difficulty understanding what is meant by true womanhood because the women above them hold such resentment and disdain for one another.
I think, ultimately, Figiel is trying to turn all those bad words into a form of female empowerment. In the chapter, “Bird-dog-woman”, Figiel turns the idea of the woman as dog and as subordinate to men on its head. The “Bird-dog-woman” literally rips the face off the idea of the degraded woman and reigns over a kingdom where “women and girls did whatever they wanted” and where they control “their own destinies” (p. 187). In the end, it is the “Bird-dog-woman” that Malu and Alofa both strive for and become, giving hope to future generations of women who won’t have to be so uncertain of their own womanhood.