Oh, boy! Here come the italics and the quotation marks!!
Identity politics have become hugely popular as has the practice of name-calling. I like using the term “name-calling” because, for me, it encapsulates the schoolyard feel of the practice. Liar, liar, pants on fire! Butt-head! Fatty! Sound familiar? What about: RadFems, evangelicals, TERFs, Drumpf supporters, neo-liberals??
“Yeah but that’s what they are!” And we probably used the same argument for calling somebody “butt-head” on the playground. I get it. People we don’t agree with get on our nerves.
I must admit, I’ve been lured into name-calling more than once. With all of my pent up frustration about the state of my life and how it’s reflected in the larger culture, I’ve been known to hurl some pretty nasty insults. Honestly though, I’m tired of it. I just read yet another article in which a woman uses the term “hysterical” and my eyes just about rolled right out of their sockets.
I’m fascinated by word-origins and word usage. The term “hysterical” comes from the word for “womb” and essentially means “wandering womb.” This, and other early psychological terms were coined to describe women who were crazy/acting up/unhappy with their situation. Historically, terms like “hysterical” and “neurotic” are used to dismiss another person’s reaction to events and circumstances the dominant group believes they need to accept, mainly women’s. Currently, the term is used by both sexes to dismiss another’s reaction as not worthy of one’s time and consideration.
The thing I don’t like about this practice and the reason I won’t use word’s like “hysterical” is because it puts the misunderstood person at fault for the speaker’s misunderstanding. If I don’t understand somebody else’s behavior, I try to own that and express it honestly. Instead of calling somebody “crazy,” I’ll use a term like “desperate.” Sometimes I’ll just say, “I don’t understand this person’s behavior and I don’t want to.”
“Why all the fuss?….You’re too sensitive……too P.C.” I FUCKING HATE THAT TERM! “P.C.” ostensibly means, “I’m upset I can’t be insensitive anymore” or “I’m upset that now I have to be held accountable for my own bigotry.” Yep! It’s the 21st century and we’re FINALLY getting around to calling people on their shit! Upset? Form a support group!
I think we take for granted the impact language has. We use it and consume it every day, we would have difficulty living without it, and yet we dismiss any responsibility for its impact when it finally lands with someone else. If language and words are so arbitrary, why do we use them? Why has controlling who may and who may not learn how to read and write been one of the primary tools of oppression used to control people for hundreds of years? Why is it so important that we protect our right to free speech?
I think most people already know that the reason we value free speech is the same reason we hurl insults, the same reason we don’t want to admit our words might have an impact on others and ourselves. Because they’re powerful. Words change the speaker and the listener.
I am not immune to any of this. I can be downright hateful when I want to be. I’m a lover of language and keep a fully-stocked artillery of words and phrases, ready to be unleashed on unsuspecting victims. I frequently use the terms “misogynist” and “racist” to express my feelings of contempt for those who discriminate against people based on sex or the color of their skin/name/appearance. I like these terms because their specific. Only a few people are truly offended by them and those people are usually the ones that I want to feel offended.
While I may hold disdain for other groups, I don’t like using terms like right-wing, evangelical, Bible-thumping. Nor will I use terms that have been hurled at me before like bitch or slut. Yes, I’ve been called a slut and it was used by my boyfriend at the time because I didn’t think my history of sexual partners was any of his damn business. I consider these terms beneath me. I try not to use them and if I do, it’s usually in a moment of desperation and indicative of my inability to articulate my own feelings.
My point is, just consider it–consider how the language you use affects you and others. Does it momentarily pump you up to use certain terms? Why? Do they keep you pumped up? Do they ever let you down? Are you communicating exactly what you want to? A lot of times we use short, degrading terms and phrases because we can’t find the words to express our own feelings of rage, fear and frustration. I know a lot of people won’t want to think about it; they’re too tired, too busy, too whatever to consider the impact of the language they use in their lives. But if you’ve just finished reading this, you just did. Thank you.