The Other “F” Word

My new computer is awesome, but Mavericks is a little annoying. Plus I found out the hard way that we needed a new modem. I was not online for over a day (it was almost 2 days, but H fixed it). New modem will be here tomorrow, supposedly. But that’s not what I wanted to post about today.

I was talking to someone on FB about why people chose not to identify as a feminist. I don’t. I wouldn’t deny being a feminist if someone asked me. But when I’m making an “About me” section somewhere, that’s never something I claim to be.

To my mind, being a feminist means you believe in equality of opportunity and access for everyone, regardless of gender. But really, the last three words are superfluous. Equality of opportunity and access for everyone is a simple concept, and one that should be the default setting for all human beings. If you aren’t doing that, if you believe some people don’t deserve the opportunities and access that you have–that’s what needs a label. That kind of malarky should be stated upfront to anyone who has to interact with you in any meaningful way.

But then…
Many outspoken feminists think it’s their right and duty to police the language, humor, and perspective of anyone who doesn’t see every issue exactly as they do. I have super strong feelings that context and intent should be part of every process by which we gauge the speech of others. But I hear a lot that if anyone’s feelings are hurt, context and intent don’t matter. I would hate to be mistaken for someone who longs to restrict the words of others, or who infers hate where none is intended. I don’t think policing language is helpful or that it’s a road to equality.

Discussing language is vital, and it’s everyone’s right to make people aware if their language is hurtful. People who do that should be respected, not mocked. At the same time, there’s a difference between language that is hateful and hurtful, and language that is clumsy and careless. While both can hurt, only one is intentional. Accusing and ostracizing, judging and lecturing–that’s not the way to have the kind of conversation that actually inspires change. If it’s worth it to say something, that something should be educational, informative, and kind.

Of course people also have a responsibility not to abuse language, or to use language they know damn well is hurtful or offensive to someone within earshot. Save racism, sexism, homophobia, and every other bigotry until you’re alone with your fellow bigots. Choosing to use words intended to demean, insult, minimize, or marginalize others makes you an asshole. Yes, you get freedom of speech, asshole. That’s why I have the freedom to tell you what an asshole you are.

I love language, and it pisses me off that there are people who use it to hurt others. It pisses me off that people think attempts to control language will impact the hate that inspires it. Given all the amazing things words can do, it’s a shame how some will insist on using them for destructive purposes.