Note: This is my syndicated column.
Well, we know the rest of that old saying isn’t true. Words hurt. Sometimes a lot, depending on who says them.
In every society children are taught social rules for what kinds of speech are appropriate, when and with whom. Rules backed by sanctions ranging from dirty looks to social ostracism, or in extreme cases an educational beat down.
These days though, speech is policed on many university campuses by speech codes – and “policed” is no idle metaphor for speech deemed “offensive.”
Recently my attention was drawn to this website “Microaggressions” http://www.microaggressions.com/
According to the creators, “Microaggressions are the subtle ways in which body and verbal language convey oppressive ideology about power or privilege against marginalized identities.”
The site solicits contributions from people with “marginalized identities” about ways people have conveyed their oppressive ideologies.
Already I’m not liking this. But maybe that’s because I get antsy when people start talking about offensive speech in ways that seem to indicate a need for legal remedy rather than say, a punch in the nose.
But have a look at the site by all means. There’s a mix of valid, invalid, too-easily offended, and some that infuriate you with how thoughtlessly cruel people can be.
A random sample:
*”Entered an informal backgammon tournament (8 players, all men but me) and won my first round. Was told by another player that I was “good…for a woman.” My vanquished opponent called him out on that – and noted that it was likely the attitude why more women don’t play.”
Valid, irritating, what an idiot. Note that the idiot was called on it though.
*”I go to a McDonalds for lunch break, alone. I sit down at an empty table next to an elderly man, who immediately comments, “What a pretty little thing, I wonder if she’s waiting for her man to come along.” Made me feel like my only purpose is to be some man’s ornament.”
Annoying, but can we give the geezer a break? He’s from another age, probably lonely and trying to start a conversation with an attractive lady. Overreacting.
*”’I wish I could bring my dog out to eat with me!’ Teenage girl and mother to me at a Chinese restaurant; I’m a 23 year old male with a service dog.”
Overreacting, get over it, they were trying to be nice. Perhaps a bit clumsily.
*”I was walking behind a male coworker when he stopped in his tracks and began backing up into me, dancing, while singing “Big Booty Bitches.” I’m a woman. Made me uncomfortable, angry, demeaned.”
In a more civilized age any gentleman within range would have offered to thrash this boor. Regrettably in this age you can get into lots of trouble for that – but a job complaint is definitely in order.
*”’If she wears those shorts out there, it’s her own fault if she gets into ‘trouble.’ My grandmother referring to my shorts on a cruise in Turkey. Apparently if I wear short shorts out, I’m asking to be raped. I’m 18. Made me feel upset, exposed, scared.”
GRANNY IS RIGHT YOU TWIT! Do not go to another country, with a radically different culture, and expect them to abide by YOUR rules.
*”’My first words to her were what any father would say to their own daughter: What were you thinking walking alone like that!’ The director of Campus Security in a lecture to first-years. The girl she was talking about was sexually assaulted when she was walking back to campus at night. 300 students, no one objected.”
No, those would not be my first words to my daughter. They’re true, and will eventually have to be said, but there is a time and a place for everything.
*”’Well, there are many meanings of the word [rape] other than what you’re talking about.’
Comment made by my MFA program director when I asked her not to use the word ‘rape’ casually in class, after sharing that I am a survivor of sexual assault. Earlier that day she had referred to something jokingly as ‘internet rape,’ and I was so triggered that I had to leave class and cry in the hallway.”
Heartbreaking. What a clueless idiot the instructor was.
*”The learn-to-speak-German tapes I’ve been listening to will ask me to “Say ______ in German” and then will ask me to say the same thing “as if you were a woman” (because some aspects of the grammar are gendered and would be different depending on the speaker). But I already am a woman.”
It’s called “grammar.” Take it up with the Germans if it offends you.