I think I may be spending too much time on what my husband calls “those weird places you hang out on the internet.” He’s not talking about Ravelry (although there are definitely parts of it that would qualify), but there are some sites I frequent which, while I don’t get quite the same rage-on as I used to, I think may have sensitized my Offended Radar a bit. Which surprises me, since I didn’t even think the damn thing had batteries.
I was listening to a podcast on the way home, as usual. This was one that I haven’t heard very much of because it’s monthly, and I don’t tend to go back and download old episodes of a podcast unless the subject looks incredibly interesting. (This is why I have one or two episodes of 15 different podcasts, and 50 of Stuff You Should Know. Not that fiber isn’t interesting, but those shows tend to be more entertaining than informative for me.) It ended with a whimsical little jingle, in which a husband gets increasingly upset about the housework that is being neglected by his wife’s incessant knitting.
Now, because I’m reasonable, I initially thought it was amusing, but because I spend so much time rolling my eyes at people who seriously think every man is a potential rapist and every cisgendered person is a scumbag, a tiny little whisper floated through my brain: “this is problematic.” The wife is not performing her traditional gender role, and instead of doing some of these chores himself, the husband is considering leaving her. Were the husband a knitter, would the complaints be the same? Sure, there are men who lose themselves in their hobbies, but their wives tend to be more upset that they feel emotionally abandoned. I can’t imagine a golf widow singing about how the sink is full of dishes.
Obviously the hypothetical couple could have an agreement worked out as to who is responsible for what when it comes to housework, as many couples do. But if so, that should have been specified, because at face value, this could be construed as offensive. And this example isn’t the only time lately that I’ve had the experience of looking at it through the lens of the perpetually offended, it’s just the most recent and memorable. (Also of note, I did hear someone use the phrase “rape closet” to describe a small, scary room, and my second thought was “she shouldn’t just throw that word around, she could trigger someone.” My first thought was “I’m not going anywhere near that closet.”)
Again, I’m reasonable and easygoing, and I can accept that some things are truly harmless (not “microaggressions”) and that the song isn’t an instance of the crushing force of “the patriarchy” (or that the podcaster’s approval and use of it constituted “internalized misogyny”). But the fact that any of this crossed my mind at all made me think about my position on SJWs. Have I let them burrow into my head? Have I gone too far into their mindset just trying to argue against them, and in so doing, become just like them? (I’m not actually terribly worried about that. I abandoned a podcast not too long ago because the host, apropos of nothing, let slip some fat logic. Fat Acceptance SJWs are kind of the tagalong little sibling of the online social justice movement, and probably the one I have the least patience for. I don’t have to travel too far to see from that perspective because I spent most of my adult life doing so.)
I still think that screaming vitriol online isn’t a valid form of activism, and turns far more people away from the cause than onto it. In my case, because I tend to side with underdogs, it sometimes makes me take the opposing side, and I find myself playing devil’s advocate time and again just because I so absolutely detest a pile-on.
But it’s also made me think that maybe I do need to more carefully consider the things I say, and the perspectives of the audience. It’s a useful exercise both because it’s nice not to get people pissed off at you, and it gives me a sort of frame of reference; being someone who doesn’t see myself as oppressed by much of anything, and doesn’t get offended by language, sometimes I think I could cross a line without realizing it.
However, I think that one of the underlying motivations for this is that I just don’t want the internet to unload a lynch mob on me, and fear is not exactly the best way to inspire people to change. So at the end of the day, something was accomplished (not using language that might hurt someone’s feelings), but does that justify the means? How much do we want to stifle free expression in order to avoid hurt feelings, especially when the source of the hurt is not malice, just carelessness or ignorance? Sure, some people are incredible assholes who only want to cause a negative reaction, but most people aren’t, and treating them as if they are, accomplishes nothing.
And hey, even if they are incredible assholes just looking for a reaction, I still say the right to have their say far outweighs our desire not to be offended. An example I’ve used before is Westboro’s terrible rhetoric: they’re loathsome and hateful, and quite vocal and adamant about it. But the bottom line is that their words are just words. Standing there with signs causes far less harm than people who vote against marriage equality, financially support businesses who support anti-gay causes and groups, or physically harm LGBT people. Focus your activism on actions, not words.
All the SJWs have really done, in my case, is give me another way to get lost inside my head. Since I’m perfectly capable of doing that entirely on my own, I’m not exactly jumping to send them a card. (What kind of card would Hallmark suggest for this occasion, anyway? Thank You for making me question every single thing I think, say, and do? Good Job for making me consider every possible scenario and perspective? I’m Sorry for having pre-judged you as shrill and lazy?)
I have been told that because I champion open expression above emotions, I am a troglodyte who just wants to throw around N-words and R-words and F-words with impunity. I don’t. (Well, I guess it depends on which F-word. I wouldn’t use the one that gets hurled at gay men, but in the right company, I’ll pepper in a “fuck” or three.) I just can’t really get het up about someone else using them, and I don’t see the point in getting worked up over something as ephemeral as language. “Idiot” begat “retarded” begat “intellectually disabled.” Even the euphemisms eventually become the insults, and I don’t see the point in crucifying those who can’t keep up.
It all makes me miss George Carlin very, very much.