But sexism isn't the only problem that otherwise progressive and liberal (and even feminist) bloggers have when it comes to words they choose to use. There are many times when reading over an otherwise excellent feminist dialogue I come across offensive and oppressive language. I've seen feminist women insulting those they don't like (or agree with) by calling them "fat," for example.
The most common example, however, is using the word "retarded" to describe a person, opinion or behavior. I just don't get it. How can the same people who will condemn the use of sexist language (because the understand the inherent harm in using such language) then turn around and use oppressive language themselves?
I know that back in the 80's, "retarded" (or some version of the word) came into fashion to describe something (or someone) that somone found to be "stupid." I was fortunate (for lack of a better word) in that I never picked up that habit. For one thing, my mother was a Special Ed. teacher, and anyone who dared utter that word in my house got a very long lecture on the subject. It was easier to just avoid getting into the habit. But the other reason is that I, myself, worked with people with disabilities (both mentally and physically). When I was 15 or 16 I took a training course to be a "Special Sitter," wherein I was specially trained to "babysit" people with mental and/or physical disabilities -- not on a long-term basis, just for a night here and there when the parents wanted to have an evening out for themselves, that sort of thing. I was given the opportunity to get to know a wide variety of adults and children with various disabilities. Through my experiences, I learned that these adults and children weren't much different than me or my friends (although, some of them were a hell of a lot nicer, quite frankly). The thought of using a word like "retarded" as an insult was abhorant to me.
There are generally three types of people who use the word "retarded" (for something other than referring to a mentally retarded person):
- The person who uses the word out of habit, but then catches him/herself and apologizes. This person makes an effort to not use the word and genuinely feels bad when s/he slips. I can completely understand this type of person. I still find myself doing this with words like "gyp" or "lame," although much less often as time goes on. I have no hard feelings toward this person, because I do think they are genuinely trying to make a change in their language.
- The person who uses the word out of habit, but then makes some comment about knowing it's not "PC" (oftentimes rolling their eyes while they say this). This person generally has no intention of ever changing their habits, regardless of the fact that they know it's offensive. I probably have the least amount of respect for this person. This person knows it's offensive, they just don't care. Really, why even bother with the half-assed apology? Just admit that you don't give a shit about using oppressive language and be done with it.
- The person who simply refuses to acknowledge or recognize the oppressive nature of the term. OK, sure, better than recognizing the oppressive nauture of the word and still using it anyway. But, come on... How is this any better than using the word "pussy" or "girl" as an insult?