I've gotten myself into trouble over at Shakespeare's Sister. I was somewhat careless in my choice of words in this comment thread, and instead of making my point, I more or less impugned Sis' character for taking offense too easily. I feel like my input in that conversation has become counterproductive, so I just want to toy with some of my thoughts here.
Anyway, the issue is about the use of feminine terms as abusive. John Aravosis, on AMERICAblog (in a post that keeps changing locations so there's no point linking to it; see the sidebar for the mainpage), made the comment that Pat Roberts was acting like a "big girl" by saying that you have no civil liberties if you're dead (contrast Patrick Henry's impassioned: "As for me, give me liberty, or give me death!").
Now, this is an insensitive comment; Aravosis' response was even more outrageous. He starting deleting comments and banning people for the slightest offenses. Insofar as people were carping on something that was incidental to the point he was trying to make, it's understandable that he would be upset. However, he ended up acting like an ass, so I won't defend him.
The more general issue that I've spoken to concerns the notion of offensiveness. Why are some people offended by words that others (in roughly the same group or situation) take in stride? My thinking is that it's a mixture of one side being blind to obvious offenses, the other side creating offenses where there was no such intention, and a whole slew of cases somewhere in the middle.
Trying to argue a Stoic point, I suggested that it would be a good thing if individuals had some control over what offended them, so they could better choose their battles. This doesn't mean inaction. I'm not saying every offense should be written off as innocent. But I am asking, what does it add to become very angry at a slight? Wouldn't it be better if we had more control over our responses (at least upon reflection; initial reactions are often out of our power), all the while still fighting for the end of eradicating sexism and so forth?
I worry that people on the left have a nasty habit of being humor police and interpreting things uncharitably. Aravosis is a progressive. He should just have apologized, but are those who pressed the issue when they saw it upset him totally blameless? He obviously agrees with the end of gender equality, so why waste so much energy on showing him the error of his ways?
Personal responsibility is often invoked as an excuse for doing nothing to help others who should "take care of themselves". Nonetheless, to the extent that we can exercise such responsibility we are better people for it. We will be happier if we can learn not to get so angry with the world even as we make efforts to improve it. It may serve as a powerful motivator, but after a certain point, anger is just counterproductive.
In times like this, when it's easy to feel powerless, sometimes anger is our only recourse. Anger is appropriate in response to real evils. But who do we sway if we start bitching at people on our side for little slips of the tongue?
Part of the issue is also that I doubt the situation is as bad as some make it out to be. Women and other oppressed groups have made substantial strides forward. I worry that carping on little things could lead to an adverse reaction that threatens some of the victories these movements have attained.
If I call Democratic senators pussies, or Dubya a retard, I don't intend to disparage all individuals possessing female genitalia or the mentally disabled. (But, come to think of it, perhaps urging civility in people's responses to crude insults is hypocritical.)
Anyway, I'm quite possibly wrong about all this, but I don't like the self-certainty of those eager to see themselves as victims. Is the plight of women honestly so awful in the US today? If so, is semantics really a large part of this unfortunate situation?
But what do I know? My solution to most problems is that people should take more antidepressants. (This, in jest.)