Saturday, April 24, 2010

I'm Politically Correct. And I Like It.

Why should I fear being called politically correct, when most people cannot even articulate what it means to them?

I talk to a lot of people about sexism, being that I am rather opinionated and will fuck you up (engage you in respectful conversation) if you are out of line. When I talk to people about sexism, many of those people say that the sexist things they just said/did aren't sexist because:

-They are a lady too

-They have lady friends, or even a ladyfriend

-They are nice to their moms

-They didn't mean it like that

And when we continue with the conversation:

-I am just being too politically correct.

But here's where it all breaks down for me. When I ask, "What does politically correct mean?" a lot of people have no answer for me. Answers I have heard are things like, "afraid to offend anybody" and "too wimpy to laugh at jokes”. Generally, their definition of politically correct (nebulous as it is) involves weakness, deference to others, and fear. But, in any group of people, I can usually count on being one of the most politically correct people there. I am also one of the most likely to express a strong opinion and feel comfortable engaging with someone who disagrees. And this is not something that comes from weakness, this comes from a strength of conviction.

To me, political correctness means acknowledging that everyone is vulnerable to emotional harm, and that for many people this emotional harm comes from the attitudes of society. And societies learn attitudes from language, teach attitudes with language, and form language from attitudes. It's all there. When I call out a friend, family member or colleague for making a sexist, homophobic, etc. remark, I don't want to silence them. I don't want them to stop talking. I do want them to think about what they say. I want them to understand that saying sexist things makes sexists think their ideas are okay too. Using homophobic slurs makes people think gay-bashing is okay. When I call someone on it, I do it with the idea that we will talk about it, talk about language, and figure out what it means to use language like that. I would never want someone to stop talking (Okay, I wouldn’t mind of Glenn Beck stopped talking). I want people to talk to one another more, and examine their own ideas more. It is when I encourage people to examine their views of the world that I get called “Too PC”. From what I have seen, examining your ideas and views is challenging! Rare! People are loath to change their views! People don’t want to confront their privilege!

Being politically correct means saying that a lot of things are NOT okay. Being called politically correct is a tactic often used to silence me, it's a tactic which is supposed to make me look like a weak individual, one who is filled with fear. But I’m not filled with fear. I’m filled with idealism. I’m filled with an idea of the world that simply doesn’t have the time or space to put up with sexism and homophobia, ableism and racism, ageism and all of that shit. I’m filled with the hope that we can overcome it and treat everybody the right way. And that is a deference to others – a deference that respects their humanity, and expresses my respect for all people. Political correctness isn’t weakness. It’s standing up for my belief in equality, standing up for my belief in democracy and for my belief in free-thinking people. When I am being politically correct, I am being true to my core. And being true to yourself is far from weak.


Amanda said...

I like this article. Admittedly, I'm one of those who think that political correctness has been taken too far, but your view on it makes alot of sense and I see where you're coming from. Definitely food for thought and I'm looking forward to reading more of your blog! (-@mystressmanda)

Lyndsay said...

Hi Amanda, thanks for being the first commenter on my shiny new blog. I will admit that I am suspect of the phrase, "political correctness gone too far," because generally people say this to me when they're fresh out of relevant arguments. For this post, your use makes sense because it's exactly what we're talking about.

What would political correctness going too far look like to you?

To the people who visit our house, it is often that we ask them not to call things 'gay' or 'retarded' or use slurs like 'jewed'. Unless you're actually talking about someone who is gay, or is a jew, it's irrelevant. They often retort with "political correctness gone too far!"

To my boyfriend, it's using the term lame. I read a few blogs by individuals with disabilities, some of whom identify as lame. My dad is, by definition, lame. I love my dad and I respect these bloggers, so why would I call something I dislike lame?

So for you, when does political correctness go too far?
Why is that a bad thing?

Amanda said...

During my freshman year of college, I referred to something as "queer." What I was referring to was a strange incident that had happened recently in the dorm. I'd learned "queer" as a word that meant odd, and I'd never applied it to the homosexual community, mainly because I didn't think any of my gay friends were odd. But I was told about it in this instance and not in polite terms. The way I used the word had nothing to do with anyone, or any group of people, and it wasn't used with any sort of malice. So to be called a moron for using such an offensive word was, to me, taking PC too far.

Your example of the term "lame" is a good one. I would have never thought of that word as being offensive, but in the environment I was raised in, lame wasn't used in reference to someone with a disability. Terms like handicapped and disabled were used, and now some see those terms as offensive.

It may also be how political correctness is handled that I take issue with. If I offend someone, I'd like them to call me on it, but I'd like to talk about why it's offensive to them so I can learn from my mistakes.

Throwing out verbal slurs is one thing, but I think there's some gray area. Do you think it's possible to have a set of rules that everyone can follow? Or is it more just a matter of being conscious of what is said and how it will effect others?

Lyndsay said...

"a matter of being conscious of what is said and how it will effect others" is exactly how I'd define myself as politically correct.

I'm sorry that people snapped at you. There's not much excuse for being rude to someone, but I can also understand because of the amount of homophobia (and transphobia, for the queer community) that people put up with every single day would make someone snappish. But that's not taking PC too far, that's just doing PC the wrong way in that one situation.

My political correctness requires serious engagement, though. If I am flippant or sarcastic, how will the other person know how much it matters to me? I need to make it clear that it's a big deal and it is deserving of their respect.

jenna84 said...

I am really glad I came across this post. I really like how you say that being politically correct is about engaging people to THINK about what they're saying. So much hate-filled rhetoric comes with little thought or contemplation. You're right that being PC isn't about silencing people, it's about asking them to speak more consciously - and I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

"I’m filled with an idea of the world that simply doesn’t have the time or space to put up with sexism and homophobia, ableism and racism, ageism and all of that shit." ...couldn't have said it better myself :) Thanks for a great read. I will definitely be following your blog in the future.

@jennapettinato (twitter).