recently, the same article showed up on my Facebook feed a few times. The click-bait title was something about being offended by others being offended. I suspected the content of the article, so the first time, I skipped it. It showed up again. And this time I gave in.
This isn’t my first time at the “PC” is bullshit rodeo.
Being “PC,” requires that an individual recognize two things: first, that language shapes how people experience reality. Yes, that’s right – language shapes reality. If you are just going to be a jerk and retort with something asinine like, “so if I say I can fly, then I can fly,” you may as well just go now. You aren’t actually interested in dialog, and thus, I have no interest in you continuing to read this post (or any of my posts for that matter). The words we use shape our feelings and perceptions of the word around us. Therefore, constantly referring to a group of people with demeaning terms, creates the feeling that those people are less. Second, one must recognize that there are unequal power structures within American society. People, using language, perpetuate these power systems – often without even knowing they are perpetuating these systems.
So being PC isn’t about being the language police, or the tired “lacking a sense of humor” gripe. It’s about recognizing these two facts and actively working to dismantle these power structures. So when for example, two actors make a “joke” that a fictional character is a “slut” and a “whore,” I don’t lack a sense of humor when I say that isn’t funny. Thee are two influential men who reinforced a number of toxic ideas. First, is that women are only valued through their sexual purity. I would like to assume that the issues created by this type of this thinking would be self-evident, but I expect to many they are not. Women are not considered full people. They worth is often determined by their perceived sexual purity. Sexually “promiscuous” women are seen as less. They are less worthy of concern, less worthy of protection, and less worthy as people. Only “good girls” have value.
Second, the status of the speakers reinforces the acceptability of calling real women sluts and whores. This is especially troubling as the context was about who Black Widow may be romantically attached to in the next Avengers film. The question was about whether she was going to involved with Bruce Banner. The very quick, almost automatic, “she’s a whore” smacks of what real women are treated to when they turn down a man’s attention. She didn’t want to go out with me, therefore she’s a whore. Again, it’s language that devalues the woman. I’m going to shelve the entire how sex workers are treated, viewed, and talked about for another post.
Yes, language matters.
The article that got me thinking about this posited that people concerned with being PC, as if it is a state of being, are more interested in policing language than in helping anyone. Here’s the problem this creates a false dichotomy. That only one or the other exists. Changing language changes people’s perceptions. If we stop using dehumanizing or exclusionary language, we start humanizing and including people. That is by definition helping everyone. It may not be the kind of help that the author of the article seems to privilege (what the author thought was actually helpful was never made clear). I’m not going to try to evaluate the values of various types of help.
I’m sure there are some people who enjoy policing language. There are those who enjoy using language to to demean others. The exclusionary language mentioned in the article sounds like that (which is not PC either). When language is used to exclude, whether it is using man as the generic for all people or purposefully using dense jargon, that language is a problem.
So when people say language doesn’t matter,when they roll their eyes, or say that being politically correct means someone lacks a sense of humor – What I hear is that the complainer is fine with groups being dehumanized and demeaned. That the speaker has no issue with, and is actually working to help maintain, the power structures that oppress some and give advantages and privileges to others.
The groups that have the most to gain by maintaining the status quo have done an exceptional job in using language. By creating a strawman of political correctness, they have made the efforts of many into a joke. They have successfully convinced many who do care that language doesn’t matter. I find that the saddest part of this entire conversation.