*Trigger warning – this post discusses language misuse detrimental to women*
I rarely encounter direct sexism (that I notice – different story) in my day to day life. I read about sexism, I comment on sexism in the media, but rarely do I end up calling-out sexism from someone in my day-to-day life. If that makes sense. I’m very, incredibly and wonderfully lucky in that my partners, their partners, my family and my friends are all non-sexist. We’re not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but there is little in the way of direct sexism in my life.
Enter Michael Barnett, a blogger and commentator, and a member of the National LBGTIQ Rights list (Australia) that I’m on. He has a blog, and is currently upset with a female member of the (Melbourne?) Jewish community who has been posting homophobic comments in various forums. He announced his latest blog post on the National LBGTIQ Rights list with:
More deluded rantings from this homophobic Jewish bitch. She really needs to see a vet.
I told Michael that I was upset with the language he’d used to describe the woman he was upset with, and told him that there were plenty of other ways to refer to someone without equating them to an animal or belonging.
Michael, to my surprise (I really don’t know him) refused to apologise stating:
No apologies. Please channel your offence at the viles (sic) homophobes.
I informed Michael that I can be offended at both homophobic behaviour (and individuals) AND people who are sexist and that I would indeed like an apology from him as well as an undertaking to modify his language use. At this point another member of the mailing list pointed out that homophobia and sexism were as vile as each other.
Michael decided at this point to deflect responsibility for his language use onto the individual he was upset with and also to tell me that I was not offended.
I won’t tolerate homophobic rants from vile bitches like [name redacted]*. If you are offended by what I write, I suggest you have a tete-a-tete with [name redacted] and politely ask her to stop writing the offensive material that I don’t like that drives me to write the material you find offensive.
Please don’t get all high and mighty on me. You are not offended. You are being precious. [name redacted] is the problem, not my writings.
So I should redirect my offence to the individual that has upset him, even though Michael’s choice of words, something he is responsible for, was the cause of my offence. I was flabbergasted that someone could even dare to suggest such a thing, and on a relatively public forum at that. I pointed out to Michael that he was responsible for his language use regardless of the actions of another person, and no matter how much that other person upset him – especially as he was reporting on it later.
I also told him that he could not tell me that I was not offended and that he was mansplaining my offence away and that did not make me suddenly not offended. I reminded Michael that sexism was as bad as homophobia and that his refusal to apologise or to agree to modify his language was increasing my offence. I asked him to be a better person than the person who had upset him and to apologise.
[name redacted] fits the definition of bitch “A woman considered to be spiteful or overbearing.”
I am not sexist.
I call homophobic rabbis cunts. They fit the definition “Used as a disparaging term for a person one dislikes or finds extremely disagreeable.”
This is not about you.
And that’s where he got it it incredible wrong, and I walked away (because I could not be arsed spending the energy and time it would take to educate this individual). Michael’s language use is sexist and his refusal to acknowledge that his language was inappropriate and harmful makes him sexist in my opinion.
I am incredibly grateful to those on the mailing lists (some of my comments were cross-posted – or replies were cross posted) that stood up and agreed with me. Many of them were more eloquent than I was able to be at that time, pointing out that language is an important tool and using appropriate language is essential in fighting for human rights. Thank you to those who stood up against sexism.
Some of the best comments (names withheld) were:
One would have to query why one should be so apparently determined to repeatedly to show such little respect and put off-side, those who share the battle and grief the result of these homophobic individuals?
Bayne Macgregor said:
It is every politically active persons responsibility to be aware of some of the basic ways language is part of politics and emotion. You don’t need a degree in linguistics to see that conservatives have made one of their main tools the control of language and the emotional meaning-association. Why the heck do you think people started using the word Gay instead of terms like Homosexual, Faggot, Poofta, Fairy, Fairy-Maggot or Pus-Person?
Now if you want to insult this person go ahead! But do so with terms that are not enforcing any other discrimination.So it would be in your interest and everyone elses if you explore the great cultural heritage of cretive insults and find some that do not reinforce any sexism, ablism, racism, transphobia or any other such problem which we as human-rights activists specialising in the GLBTIQ area need to be aware of and supportive of the fight against.
Michael, you’ve failed to grasp the meaning of the word “offended”.
Offence is in the eye of the beholder, not defined by the offender. Consequently, when someone tells you that they are offended by your language or your behaviour, they are right. You as the offender are in no position to claim that, “You are not offended. You are being precious.”
Further, when someone tells you that they are offended by your behaviour and you refuse to change it, you are indicating that you hold their views and their feelings in complete contempt.
* I’m not naming the individual that Michael is offended with, even though I have read some of her comments on a blog and found them homophobic, because right now she is not the issue.