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profanity 2Rebecca Mallory

What’s the big deal with using four-letter words, swearing, etc? And who the heck (is that bad??) gets to decide what swearing is anyway? At age 7, I remember doing dishes with my older sister, Jean, who coaxed me into yelling “fanny!” at the top of my lungs for which I received a tasty bar of gold Dial soap as punishment. Isn’t that a little extreme and old-fashioned to think that way? Of course it would be, if fanny was still the current “F” word! Well, it’s not and you’d better beware, even in this seemingly “anything goes” world.

Television years ago

I’m old enough to remember television when it was totally taboo to use anything close to foul language. Wally Cleaver could barely get out a “Golly gee, Beav!” before Ward would don his elbow-patched sweater and lecture poor Wally on the perils of a potty mouth. Married couples such as Lucy and Ricky were NEVER even shown in the same bed let alone profaning! They could smoke in bed though, as long as they were twin beds. Go figure! Yup… I’ve seen the evolution of “hear and see no evil” on TV. Now foul language has become so accepted in the media that there are only a select few words that are still banned. Even those can be mouthed but sort of “bleeped”. The shock value is so exciting, right? And funny, right?? And it makes the person saying it look so smart, right? I beg to differ.


My husband and I are happily at home this week after traveling quite a bit for his work. It’s been fun and relaxing enjoying beautiful resorts around the country, but I admit, the language got a little wearing. He and I often discuss how stupid bad language makes people sound. Especially the universal “big one” that was unfortunately uttered by poor Ralphie on “A Christmas Story”.

True side story – about a year ago I was helping my daughter finish a sewing project. I said, “If this binding is a little short, you can fudge it to make it fit because cotton is stretchy.” Her eyes got huge as she gasped, “MOTHER!”  Because of Ralphie, she thought “fudge” was a bad word. Not kidding. And it took me a lot of talking to convince her otherwise. But… I digress.

A lot of people at these business conferences used the actual word Ralphie did.  To be honest, it was annoying. Yea, yea, we’re all adults and I should just get used to it. However, it turns out that I’m not alone in this archaic thinking. If you or someone you know has a potty mouth and might be meeting with clients, applying for a job or raise, or whatever, read on. Bottom line, you have a choice in the words you use. Why jeopardize your character or reputation in this way, hoping that the person to whom you’re speaking thinks you’re cool? You never know who might be offended and judge your entire character on those simple choices. Fair? Maybe not, but why risk it?  Following are examples of  people’s perceptions of offensive language.


Language at the Office

As I poked around online to see if anyone shared my views on swearing, I came across a website called “CareerBuilder” that recently conducted a nationwide survey on swearing in the office and the results were interesting. They found that half of the workers surveyed swear in the office and of those who swear,

  • 95% swear in front of their coworkers
  • 45% in front of their bosses
  • 17% in front of senior leaders
  • 7% in front of clients

The impression you leave on your employer

  • 81 percent believe that the use of curse words brings the employee’s professionalism into question
  • 71% are concerned with the lack of control
  • 68% with the lack of maturity
  • 54% thought swearing made an employee appear less intelligent

Wow! How about those stats? Could you have lost that job, account, or relationship just because of poor word choice? Still think it doesn’t matter?  You just go ahead and think it. You certainly have the freedom to choose, but you cannot choose how people will judge you. Most people won’t say anything at all to you for fear of  looking foolish or behind the times but your credibility may have taken a nose-dive in the character department.

One high-powered executive’s story.  

“I was in a mandatory producers meeting once where my boss, whom I really like, was doing a Powerpoint presentation and using the “F” word like nails on a chalkboard. Most of those present would respond with an obligatory or cursory chuckle. After the meeting, it just kept bugging me. Not so much that I was offended at that word, even though I was. It was more that I didn’t want my company to be associated with such low-life and offensive speech. I shot him a polite email expressing my feelings and that I thought it was highly inappropriate in a business setting. After I pressed send I was a little panicked. I did not want to appear pious or “holier than thou”. Later that afternoon he came into my office and shut the door. I braced myself for a barrage of obscenities. What he said shocked me. He apologized profusely. He made it office policy to ban or at least curtail foul language in the office. What?! I was so relieved that he felt that way. He was truly embarrassed. He just figured that everyone was totally ok with it.” Isn’t it just a better policy to avoid offensive language than always having to make excuses or clean up the mess later?

How about in the privacy of your own home?

Does bad language affect children? Rabbi Shmuley Boteach says that, “Hearing bad words defiles a child’s core humanity—it makes them coarse and vulgar,” he says, “Language is the bridge that connects our minds and hearts with the outside world. Using vulgar expressions coarsens our soul, vulgarizes our spirit and builds a rickety and unreliable bridge.” Kids are like sponges. They hear, see, and repeat everything you do. It’s how they learn. If you think it’s cute when little Johnny repeats your profanity, you’d better be willing to deal with the repercussions when he gets sent to the office at school or is not allowed to play with the neighbor kids because he’s a bad influence.

I taught high school English for many years and heard shocking things from students. Many times their behavior could be explained in less than five minutes at a parent-teacher conference. Don’t we want the best from our children? Do they really need to start their innocent lives with a foul language albatross around their necks?  Here’s some great advice from Rabbi Shmuley Boteach:
What to do if you’re a parent who uses bad language:

  • Don’t. Never use bad language in front of children—no excuses.
  • Don’t permit double-standards. “Let children know that there is only one standard for bad language for parents and children in the family—clean, refined language.” It won’t work if children aren’t allowed to say bad words but you as the parent are.
  • Talk about it. If you do use bad language, you must immediately call a family meeting. “Tell the children why you used the word, why it is still wrong and why there is no excuse for using it,” he says. Make clear that there is no allowance for that kind of behavior in the home, even for parents.
  • Apologize. “Say how sorry you are.” It’s important to apologize to model the correct remedy for bad language.

What to do if your children use bad language:

    • Stop. “Immediately stop what you’re doing and go reprimand them.” If you’re driving, pull over to the side of the road; if you’re on the phone, get off. Immediate action will show the gravity and enormity of the offense, he says.
    • Enact consequences. There must be immediate repercussions and some form of punishment to let the child know you’re serious. “Spell out exactly what will happen if they do it again”.
    • Get an apology. Even after a punishment, you must make the child apologize. The child should be able to say what they did wrong and ask to be forgiven.
  • Follow through. Keep your word about the child’s punishment.

Even Vladimir Putin has banned foul language in Russia. Not the pillar of righteousness on whom I would hinge my beliefs, but even he sees it as a detriment to society. According to CNN this week,

You make a film with obscene language in Russia, you won’t even be able to show it in a theater. Books, CDs and DVDs that contain profanity will have to be distributed in a sealed package with a visible warning label.Violators are subject to fine of $70, while potty-mouthed officials can be dinged to the tune of $40 and businesses that are guilty can face fines of up to $1,400. The new law, scheduled to go into effect on July 1, echoes the prohibition against blasphemy found in the Ten Commandments (“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”) and will provide another example in which Russia’s public policy conforms more closely to biblical standards than Christian America.”

The problem with Vlad’s Communistic approach is that it’s forced through the government. People don’t have a choice. Fortunately, American form of government, being a republic, allows freedom of speech. At least we did yesterday. Haven’t checked the news this morning yet! So it’s up to us as contributing members of a free society to come to the brilliant conclusion that we should clean up our own act, don’t subject others to our offensive language and live decent lives. Again, why risk it? There are beautiful, intelligent and meaningful ways to express yourself (other than Ralphie-esque words) that will definitely guarantee your coolness, funniness, smartness and totally awesomeness. So America! Have a blankety blank fabulous day!