Monday, 17 October 2011

Occupations, Safe Spaces and The Privilege Denying Left

TRIGGER WARNING: The nature of this post means that it will contain very triggering language for all minority groups.

A Story on Occupations

I spent last Saturday at Occupy Bristol, a camp set up on College Green as part of the wider occupation movement that has spread across the globe. I don't think that this camp will change the world, but what I did find to be an extremely positive part of the occupation was that many people from different strands of the left were able to get together and discuss thoughts, issues and ideas, and to share their knowledge. I became part of a group comprised of myself, an old-guard radical feminist and two male socialists who talked about everything under the sun for about six hours. It was wonderful, people would join and leave the discussion, contributing their own experiences and opinions and it was a very nice place to be.

But something else happened that night. The occupiers had discussed whether or not it would be appropriate to have a fire. Obviously, people wanted to be warm, and people wanted to have a nice atmosphere, but the land we were camped on is owned by the cathedral. They had told us they were happy to have us, and supported the movement - asking only that we not make a mess, ruin the grass or play music on the sound-system during services. So, the majority voted against a fire. 

At this point, a group of people who I can only describe as being the protest equivalent of "up the punx" decided that, fuck us, they were going to have a fire and a party and that was that. So the group split (I know, I know), with them taking it upon themselves to move about twenty feet away from the main group and start a fire. 

I got very pissed off at this show, and went over to tell them that their refusal to listen in consensus-based discussions (they had been heckling people telling their personal stories earlier in the day too) was risking jeopardising the whole camp, and that I thought they were being very selfish. They responded by calling me a "bitch" and a "cunt" and shouting me down.

Later that night, I regaled this tale to two men I was talking to, using it to illustrate my point about intersectionality in left movements, and how men will use gendered slurs to silence women. They asked me if I had possibly been over-aggressive with them (gaslighting, much?) and to consider that they were probably just on the defensive. I pointed out that telling everyone in the camp to go fuck themselves, declaring themselves more 'radical' than any of us and then starting a fire was a teeny bit aggressive in itself. I also said that even if they were on the defensive, it does not excuse insulting me as a woman to shut me up. The chaps then told me that they "don't believe" in politically-correct language, and that if a minority group is offended by an insult based on their disadvantaged position in society, that is "their choice to be offended". 


This is my 'are you fucking serious?!' face. I have to use it a lot.

I was a bit gobsmacked at this, and it was left to one of the other blokes I'd been talking to to try and explain to this white, cis, straight, well-educated, healthy young man why what he'd said was so daft that my head was about to explode and cover him in chunks of brain which would then remember what he had said and explode into smaller chunks, which would then continue to explode into smaller and smaller chunks until they were just atoms and that could potentially cause the end of the universe.

I left at that point.

So What?

It is not the first time I have seen attitudes like this, and sadly, I doubt it will be the last. Now, I expect privilege-denying rubbish like this from the right wing because, well, they're the right wing. But I like to think that the left is a bit nicer. So I ask you now: If we have a movement that excludes and alienates certain minority groups that are also being fucked over because we cannot acknowledge our privileges, then what is the fucking point of having a movement at all?


So, let me count the ways in which I am privileged. I am a white, western, cisgendered, healthy person. I pass as straight, and I have an education to university level. This makes me lucky. However, I am also working-class, unable to continue my studies above undergraduate level, unemployed and a woman with mild mental health issues. This is what is known as relative privilege, and we all experience it to some degree. 

Being privileged does not make you a bad person. No one can help how they were born, their upbringing or their opportunities. Refusing to acknowledge your privilege is the problem. Let's talk about some privileges, and how the privilege-denyers on the left have been busy alienating the groups without those privileges.

So, You're White: Recently, the Slutwalk movement has been shrouded by infighting after a white woman turned up at the NYC Slutwalk holding a placard saying "Woman is the nigger of the world". Now, instead of listening to the women of colour who were rightly very offended by this, some slutwalkers have been excusing it and telling them that they shouldn't be offended. Which, in itself is VERY BLOODY OFFENSIVE, as Flavia Dzodan points out very well in "MY FEMINISM WILL BE INTERSECTIONAL OR IT WILL BE BULLSHIT". 

So, You're A Man: This weekend, Occupy LSX invited Julian Assange to speak. You know, the man who's own lawyers admit is a rapist. This has made women who want to be part of the occupations very uncomfortable, and has led them to question whether there is a place for us in the movement

So, You're Cisgendered: What better way to celebrate LGBT Pride than by abusing trans* people?  Or, if you're cisgendered alleged super-feminist Caitlin Moran, why not make jokes about 'trannies' on Twitter then block anyone who tries to tell you it's an offensive term? As Ray Filar points out, You Can't Smash Patriarchy With Transphobia. (By the way, white trans* people, you have some privileges too, and don't forget it.)

So, You're Straight: If I hear you describing something you don't like as 'gay' one more time, I will set you on fire. Consider that a warning.

So, You're Relatively Wealthy: The fastest way to alienate less economically privileged people from your group is by staging demonstrations that only people with certain amounts of disposable income will be able to attend, or feel wanted at. I am looking at you, Fawcett Society. Sady Doyle has written about the left and the class issue here.

So, You've Had A Good Education (aka So You Read Some Books): If someone does not know about Montesquieu's theory of Separation Of Powers, this does not mean that they oppose it, or that I am any better than them because I do know about it. Likewise, sneering at people who have not read the obscure Hungarian anarcho-syndicalist philosopher who wrote about macro-economic models in prehistoric Somalia that you have achieves the precise sum of fuck all. They might believe the exact same things as you, but just not know the academic terms for their beliefs. Try explaining, instead of patronising.

So, You're Able-Bodied: How many of you ever think to make sure the place you want to hold your demo is accessible to those using wheelchairs before someone asks you to? Just saying on your press release that the venue has two stairs or that a ramp can be made available can make the world of difference and let people know that they are wanted at your event.

So, You Have No Mental Health Issues: You know what's hilarious? Calling Melanie Philips 'Mad Mel'! It's funny because she doesn't believe the same things as us and she tortures logic to make a point, so she must be fucking crazy! Yes, bloody hilarious to those of us who actually are crazy. See also: nutter, mentalist, headcase, etc.

So, You Don't Have Learning Difficulties: My late Aunt, Maureen, had Down's Syndrome. She was not 'Down's'. She did not 'suffer from', nor was she a 'victim of' Down's Syndrome. She most absolutely emphatically was not a mong, a mongol, a retard, a spastic, a spacker, a window-licker or any other horrible word like that. She was a person. Here is a guide to language specifically relating to Down's Syndrome. Making jokes using words like that is in such incredibly poor taste that it makes me want to punch a hamster in the face, because even that would be better.

So, You're Thin: While I can offer no links to back this up, I have been told by more than one person that several fat-phobic jokes were made by the comedians at UKUncut's 'Block The Bridge' action. So you can guess how welcome some people felt.

This is obviously just a list of some privileges and some ways I have witnessed people with those privileges alienating those who do not have them.

I Am Not Asking For The Moon On A Stick

All I ask is that people are aware of their privilege and try to make sure that their actions do not harm others. Consider other people. Think before you open your mouth. And seriously, if someone from a minority group tells you that your actions have personally harmed or offended them because they are a member of that group, do not tell them that they should not be offended and that you know better.

COMMENTS POLICY: In exploring this issue, I hope to raise awareness of some sections of the left alienating others. If you do not do these things, then great! I'm not addressing my points to you! So don't leave me comments saying "Oh Ehm Gee! I can't believe you said all anarchists hate blind people!", because I didn't, and your comment will be deleted. Do not derail, for your comment will be deleted. Do not use triggering language without warning, or your comment will be deleted. Do not use insulting language, or your comment will be deleted. And I swear to Mary Wollstonecraft, if you dare to try and deny that any of these issues exist, not only will your comment be deleted, but I will also come to your house and wee on your carpets.


  1. Well said Nat. Well said indeed.

    We all need to take time to check our privilege and we need to listen to each other and make sure what we do is inclusive.

    How dare someone with a heap of privilege say they don't believe in politically correct language? ARGH! That has made me fume!

  2. Utterly fantastic article. I agree with all of this. Everyone on the left should read it.

  3. Good article. The only thing that worries me about it is that in the "So, You've Had A Good Education" bit people may read "try explaining" as "try mansplaining".

  4. Love love love. "I am not asking for the moon on a stick" is a phrase I shall be using in the future!

  5. Great article, really interesting. Everyone, everywhere, should read this.

    I loved your point about the straight males using 'gay' as a synonym for 'bad'. My boyfriend, a straight white male, used to do this and was very surprised (and chastened) when I told him I, as a bisexual, found it offensive. He immediately apologised and hasn't done it since. I guess he simply hadn't thought about what he was saying and the implications it might have on minority groups.

    I doubt this is the attitude of most people on the left, so many not entirely relevant to this article, but hopefully just talking about this will cause more people of all political stripes to consider their language choices more carefully.

  6. Absolutely.

    I think the problem is that so many mainstream left politicians want to build a broad anti-Tory coalition, so they say "ah, feminists. Not Tories" and "ah, LGB rights activists. Not Tories" and so on, so put some token language about not discriminating into their platforms - without any intention of examining their own privilege or kicking non-Tory bigots out of their coalition.

    It's made me extremely suspicious of any "left" movement that claims to be "for everyone" (or for the 99%) but doesn't have an intersectional dismantling of privilege as its basis. Without that they always end up about "Like now, but with me in charge. You'll help me get there because the current lot are so terrible I might be an improvement, won't you?"

    PS. If you've not seen it before, on thin privilege and the left, I recommend as a very clear illustration of the problems there.

  7. Thank you for that link cim, it's a very good post and recommend that everyone read it.

    In other news, someone on Twitter has told me that by not including stories where everything is fine that I'm harming the left and that I should have the 'decency' to 'balance my vitriol'. *headdesk*

  8. I read this blog often but I'd like to say a big thank you for your comments about abusive language towards people with Down's syndrome. My younger sister has it and you wouldn't believe (or, probably you would) the arguments I've had with rational, nice adults who refuse to change the way they speak about people with special needs. Apparently, I'm too sensitive because I'd like those people with special needs not to be continually referred to as 'retards', amongst other things. It makes me so angry I want to scream.

  9. Brilliant post. THANK YOU :-D *reposts everywhere*

  10. "I expect privilege-denying rubbish like this from the right wing because, well, they're the right wing. But I like to think that the left is a bit nicer"

    Hi Nat, thanks for a very useful and interesting post. Well done for having the courage to speak out.

    As a woman in my forties who used (I say, used) to mix in broadly left wing circles and still identifies as broadly left, it saddens me to have to say that my experience of the left is that people are no better or nicer than ordinary folk. Quite the reverse if anything, sorry to say.

    All the revolting language you describe can be covered by the term rudeness. The people using such language are quite simply rude, and they need to learn how to be polite.

    Unfortunately too many on the left seem to think that they own the moral high ground. Too many see themselves as "the vanguard of the revolution", more radical than thou, so they can badmouth everyone else in the ways you describe.

    But try pointing any of this out, as you have, and there will be people trying to intimidate you into silence.

    Look at any of the revolutions of the past and there are people trying to take control. There are plenty around who are so convinced that they are morally right and superior to everyone else that they can justify any treatment of others in a weaker position. Plenty who, given the power, will literally put up against the wall and shoot anyone who goes against their ideas and diktats.

    Frightening but true.

    I'll never forget being told by a self-described anarchist back in the 80s that he was against the police and prisons, so did not think women who've been raped should expect any action to be taken.

    All this is why I don't bother with most left wing circles these days because too many there just witter feebly on about "not being judgemental" and won't do anything to stop rude behaviour.

    In contrast, in most social circles such rude and aggressive people are generally rejected pretty quickly, or made to learn how to behave politely.

    PS Based on past experience, I expect to receive snide, rude and/or abusive comments in response to what I've written here.

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  12. " The chaps then told me that they "don't believe" in politically-correct language. "
    I don't believe in "political correctness", in the same way I don't believe in the Loch Ness Monster.

    But the main thing I wanted to pick up on is language. A lot of it fits in with what you were saying about education. In academia people make assumptions about what languages you know. It's very common to assume anyone with an education will know French. At Oxbridge or anywhere dominated by public-school Old Boys, the assumption is that everyone knows a little Latin if not Greek if not both. This doesn't just disadvantage people without a second language, but also people with a less mainstream one. Get as fluent as you want in Medieval Russian, if you don't get the Grauniad French someone casually drops into their sentences, you're an idiot.

    And not just foreign languages, it applies to dialect and class too. Part of what Britain terms "education" is learning to stop saying "fink", "caff" and "love" and start saying "think", "café" and "madam". Why I'm a sceptical is that an awful lot of middle-class tossery relates to "we don't say that, we say this", has much less to do with fighting privilege than showing everyone how middle-class you are. And it does very much tie into education and not just bourgeois cultural boot-camp. If you have a child with DS and don't read very well, you might not be aware of debates over language. You might tend use medical terms like "sufferer" or "disease" because that's what your GP says. This isn't privilege speaking, it's lack of it.

    You've also completely missed out so you're a native speaker: If the conversation isin your native language, you're at a big advantage. I've met Belgians who didn't realise that "chez Paki" wasn't what we call the offie, because they were Belgian. Maybe you're angry at a Frenchman for misgendering you, or with a German who said "a coloured", without realising 'ça' (roughly 'it'/'that' but also for people) isn't dehumanising in French and that German debates on race settled on 'gefärbt' (coloured) and deemed 'schwarz' (black) offensive.

    And obviously the two intersect. Speaking a second language can be a privilege, like the ability to travel abroad. But if your movement includes migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, trafficked women, first-language privilege is clearly an issue.

    Sometimes they conflict: if you've expressed an important nuance through grammar, a native speaker will get it without thinking. Your average German though, won't know the difference between what you did and what you have been doing, and if they do, it took years of hard work. On the other hand, your 22-letter Latin monster might be fine for foreigners because it's an international word, but an English person without that PhD might not get quite what a kyriarchy is.

    Your post is about using the right language, so it really is worth pointing out that knowing that language is also a privilege.

  13. a) women are not a minority group

    b) there are many contexts in which women are 'privileged' over men, but I am not going to list them because I don't want you to wee on my carpets

    c) those people who made the fire sound like arseholes and I think you were strong to stand up to them.

  14. On the "So, You're Relatively Wealthy" section. Without meaning to sound like a petulant class warrior, I am quite seriously irritated by those who attend such demonstrations or occupations in a mere matter of trendy posturing.

  15. Wonderful post. I'm not optimistic enough to expect anything revolutionary from the Occupy movement, but it would mark real progress if, instead of being a talking shop for the relatively privileged left, the organisers made it their top priority to foster a conversation that promotes and represents the views of the most marginalised. The movement has an opportunity to draw real strength from the breadth of the 99%, but it must privilege those voices least privileged under capitalism.

    To add to some of the points on language, Jessica Yee's written this post about the colonial implications of the word 'occupy':
    There does seem to have been brief discussion of the word in the minutes from the first General Assembly, but I think it's important that we have the colonialism conversation, and actually take time to reflect on the word 'occupy' and its implications, especially since the government is conducting occupations of all sorts the world over at the moment.

  16. @Alex Thanks for calling me up on this. I think it's important that people do remember that - as I told you last night, I have lived experience of this - my maternal nana is not a native English speaker and always had trouble with how to refer to my DS aunt (on my father's side). Flavia, who I mentioned in the post, mentions this and discusses it in her latest post for TigerBeatdown:

    for what it's worth, Flavia and I discussed our seemingly contradictory posts and agreed that it's basically just best to not piss downwards.

    @Elly We spoke last night, and I think you know that although women do not form a minority of the population, they are treated as a 'special interest' group. Again, thank you for your point c). I like it when we can be constructive with each other. As for point b), there's a link to a post on relative privilege in the OP, which also discusses situational privilege. I think that's the kind of privilege that women enjoy over men (i.e. it happens in certain, proscribed circumstances but the status quo is the opposite).

    @Tom That post by Yee is great. Thank you for linking to it. It is a very important conversation for the movement to have, especially Occupy Wall Street.

  17. I wish people would stop saying they "don't believe in political correctness" as I find it difficult to derive any meaning from that statement.

    Does it mean that you don't think that political correctness is a good thing? Why not?

    Does it mean that you think political correctness is an unattainable goal?

    Does it mean that you are actively against phrases and words that are termed politically correct and instead choose to use alternatives which may cause offence?

    Does it mean that you believe political correctness is too nebulous and ill defined a concept to live by?

    Does it mean you believe that political correctness is just a tool used to shut down or sideline debate on serious issues and as such should be abandoned?

    Or do you mean something else?

    As far as I understand it political correctness is simply trying to prevent a disparity between what people say and what they mean. For example, if you use a gendered or racial slur against someone do you mean to insult that person alone, or is your intention to insult or degrade that entire gender or race? You can argue that when you use the slur it has a different meaning to how it is being interpreted but that is generally not a very convincing argument (unless language barriers apply) especially if you continue to use the term after being informed of how it is interpreted (see Ricky Gervais searching out alternative definitions of "mong" for an example of this).

    It baffles me that people would be against this when it is termed "political correctness" and has potential to offend someone. If they respond as staunchly if someone asked them to replace an ambiguous word or phrase in something they have written then how do they ever get anything done?

  18. I don't believe in political correctness because it's blatantly obvious it doesn't exist. It's a thing idiot right-wingers made up to scare their children into eating their vegetables.

  19. @Alex How can something not exist and also have been created? I mean, it's a concept and all concepts are created. I'm still not sure what you mean.

  20. @Alex @Spudman101 - yes political correctness does exist. This post includes a list of the 'correct' political stance to take in relation to 'privilege' and 'minority groups'.

    According to the author of the post, my belief that women are not a 'minority group' and do not have a 'special interest' or a 'disadvantage' in relation to men, is deemed 'incorrect'.

    This is political correctness.

  21. Sorry, that should have been:
    I mean, it's a concept and all concepts are made up.

  22. @Elly Do you mean that you understand political correctness to be, effectively, a list of particular political views which are deemed 'correct'? If that is the case then I do not endorse political correctness. However, I understood political correctness to be more an issue with communication than restricting people to accepting certain political stances.

    For example, if someone intentionally makes a racist statement then I would not count that as a PC issue, I would say that person is racist. Alternatively, if someone made a statement that I interpreted as racist but they argued that it was not racist because my interpretation was different from their meaning then it becomes a political correctness issue.

  23. Spudman: I mean in the sense of being a weird hybrid of left-wing straw man and catch-all term for failing to kick the disadvantaged sufficiently. I have never seen "politically correct" advocated, straight-faced, by a left-winger.

    Elly: Having your beliefs deemed "incorrect" is just an occupational hazard if you get into these "argument" things. I wouldn't take it too personally.

  24. Alex you always deliberately misunderstand what I say. For the Lulz.

  25. well spudman I think 'PC' comes into play when people decide what is definitely uniquivecally racist, for example. That to me IS political correctness.

    Take the recent Ricky Gervais twitterspat. He is fighting for his right to use the word 'mong'in jokes. The twitterati are saying he is absolutely definitely being offensive to anyone with any kind of disability or impairment. If you argue with that stance you are just as bad as Gervais.

    I don't have a strong opinion about the issue here. But if I go against the 'PC' line I will know about it.

  26. Elly, here's something I wrote as a comment on this piece defending Gervais:

    "Feelings about words are shaped by our lived experiences of those words. You have no lived experience of Down's Syndrome or, at a guess, any other facet of your body or live which means you are disadvantaged.

    When I was growing up, my aunt with Down's Syndrome lived with us (NB: She did not 'suffer from' it, it was just a part of her). You did not see people shout 'mong' and 'spaz' at her in the street. I did. You did not see her cry after being told she wasn't wanted at a local group because of her DS. I did. You did not see the abuse she got every day because of those awful words. And because of this, you have no fucking right whatsoever to tell me that I should not be offended by Ricky Gervais telling 403000 people like you that it's 'not a problem'.

    Discrimination is based on making a group seem 'other' or 'not like us'. Insults based on something people can't help, whether it's a medical issue, or sexuality, or gender or whatever tell the person who is in that group that they are the worst thing it would be possible for someone to be.

    Language is based on common understanding. It is why we standardise it by use of alphabets, etc. Neither Ricky Gervais or you can arbitrarily decide to change the meaning of the word. 'Mong' is still a horrible word used to perpetuate discrimination against people with disabilities.

    There's a post here about use of the word 'retard' which I think expresses what I want to say better than I could:

    "I'm sorry, I like you, but you don't get to decide who is offended by a term like "retard". You don't get to decide if that awful word and the associations that accompany it are acceptable in a public discourse, about politics or anything else. You don't get to decide if the families who face that kind of crap EVERY FUCKING DAY need to get over ourselves. You don't get to decide that context makes it okay to use a word that gets thrown around in reference to kids who can't even defend themselves as an insult to anyone. You don't get to decide that my child and tens of thousands like her are acceptable as punchlines. If you don't understand why YOU don't get to make that decision, then I simply don't know what to say. It's not about politics or freedom of speech. It's about being a goddamn decent human being."

    Now, if loving my aunt and not wanting my friend's child with DS to grow up in a world where this abuse is acceptable because arseholes like you don't understand how nasty it is makes me a fascist, I'm off to fire up the tanks and pay a visit to Poland."

    I know there are some people with disabilities who will not be offended by this word, and that's great for them, but it doesn't mean that those who are offended by it shouldn't be.

  27. yes. some people are offended by some words.

    But what we are doing is then taking that 'offence' and turning it into rules about what can be said and what can't.

    I don't like Gervais. I loved the Office. Apart from that I think he is a nob. But I don't make his crap jokes into a huge political issue.

    I've said it before - i get called 'troll' and 'it' and 'rape apologist'. I don't like these words used against me. but I am not going to start telling people they are not allowed to use them. You call me a 'troll' yourself Nat. It offends me. But my offence doesn't count.

  28. Thanks for the post and I agree with where you're coming from. Also sorry to hear you had an unpleasant confrontation in a place that should have been free from this sort of abusive behaviour.

    I think it's worth drawing the distinction between two related things here. The first is the down right rudeness of the first group - this is the sort of thing that, at a political event, needs to be deal with collectively including the willingness to physicaly escort them from the area if they insist on being disruptive.

    The second is the political discussion about sexist language which can be very frustrating when people don't see the point your making but it's worth continuing the discussion (or just accept you've not convinced them this time).

    My concern about the way this discussion of 'privelige' is often articulated (including here) that it steers towards policing language in a way that arts graduates who are familiar with debates on the left find reasonably easy to negotiate but is difficult for others - in particular new comers to the movement and people without the same kind of eduucation (including those graduates who are trained in other disciplines).

    Obviously as a person with a sociology degree I'm keen that me and my comrades are put in charge of what langage is and is not acceptible, but it may not be for the best in the long run.

    Rules like 'don't be sexist', 'be polite', 'when you have a political disagreement don't get personal', 'respect each other' are easy for everyone to understand and are actually more to the point than lists of rules heavily laden with academic language that perhaps less than 1% of the world uses.

    I'm very keen that fighting for a better world is not confined to people who are comfortable with middle class, academic jargon and that means we need to find more everyday ways of discussing politics. Well, as imperfect people, we at least we need to try.

  29. Elly, I have never called you 'it' and I hate that people do that to you. If I've called you a rape apologist or a troll it's because what you were doing looked an awful lot like rape apologising or trolling. FWIW, I don't call you a troll any more and I promise that I won't.

  30. Jim - YES. I fully agree with you. There's one rule I try to live my life by which seems to cover all situations where I interact with others and doesn't require any technical expertise: Don't be an arse (some may say I fail miserably, but I try!)

  31. @Elly It seems to me that Ricky Gervais is defending the use of the word 'mong' as an insult, rather than the right to use it in jokes. Also, I believe that the offence was from the insult deriving from an insulting term for someone with Down's Syndrome. After being informed of this Gervais implied that he had not meant to use DS as an insult (by finding a definition of the word without reference to DS in it) but then increased his usage of the word and encouraged others to use it. These 2 actions seem incongruous to me.

    Also, abandoning the concept of political correctness due to not liking the way people use it doesn't make sense to me. It would be like abandoning the theory of evolution because it was used to justify eugenics (slightly more extreme example, I know).

    Finally, the examples of insults that were used against don't act to disregard you due to your gender, race, sexuality, etc. and they don't use a reference to a particular gender, race, sexuality, etc. as an insult so they fall outside of PC. That said, I'm not saying I approve of the use of those (or any other insults) for people with different views from myself (especially the use of 'it' to dehumanise and thereby disregard people).

  32. well spudman you are being very 'PC' in telling me what insults are counted within the reaches of PC and what ones aren't.

    For your information both 'troll' and 'it' are dehumanising. They take away 'gender' and resort to calling the person in effect, a 'thing'.

    But I am not PC! I deal with the insults thrown at me. I also speak up when I don't like language used against people. For example Susan Sarandon recently called the pope a 'Nazi' which I think is unfair and wrong.

    But I don't go round laying down the law about which insults are the ones that are backed up by 'power' and 'privilege' as that is a matter for debate.

  33. @Elly I agree that most, if not all, insults are dehumanising, I only picked out 'it' as it was the one from the list that offended me the most, I did not mean to imply that I agree with the use of any other insult.

    Everything I said was my own opinion and I am not the King of PC who gets to decide what falls under PC and what doesn't and it was wrong of me to make that definite statement. What I was trying to do was draw a line between personal insults and insults against groups of people (minorities or not) which is not always very easy.

    I think that it is laudable that you speak up when you hear language you don't like used against people. It just seems to me that when some people do the same thing it gets labelled as PC and is treated with disdain.

  34. I'm going to print this out and post in anonymously through a lot of people I know's doors. Especially this

    "Being privileged does not make you a bad person. No one can help how they were born, their upbringing or their opportunities. Refusing to acknowledge your privilege is the problem."

    Hearts xxx

  35. 'I think that it is laudable that you speak up when you hear language you don't like used against people. It just seems to me that when some people do the same thing it gets labelled as PC and is treated with disdain. '

    That's an interesting point. I do get treated with disdain, especially by feminists, and especially when I defend men against insults to do with them being men.

    BUT I still see what you are saying, and I don't like right-wingers just shouting 'PC gone mad' when someone uses some of the arguments Nat has elucidated.

    Hmmm, I am going to think about this one...

  36. ALSO- re the 'you've read some books'. I have been to many many protests in my time, and they all for the most part have included bods handing out leaflets, and an SWP selling stuff somewhere. I have NEVER been given a leaflet that conforms to DDA guidelines about font or colour contrast. How hard can it be not to include a serif and to bump your writing up to a 14? Really?
    And don't even get me started on reading level. A third of the adults in this country do not have functional literacy skills of level 3 or above. That means they cannot, when pressed, find a plumber in a phone book. And then you've got supposedly repected activists taking the piss out of right wing tweeters for being 'illiterate'. Well MAYBE if there was one publication in this entire country that was left leaning that was also accessible to people with a reading level of Level 3 (11 years old is the now defunct way of describing this-massively othering and patronising that that is) then people wouldn't get all their information from right wing sources and would maybe understand and learn from what you were saying.
    Not everyone has had the same educational experience, and that needs to be respected by the Left.

  37. @BookElf:
    Fair point. At a slight tangent, have you ever tried teaching an article from The Sun, famous for its reading age of 18 months or whatever, to fully-grown learners of English as a foreign language? It's a steep, steep learning curve.

  38. @Alex
    Oh Gods... I couldn't even!
    Hey? Wanna explode with anger!

  39. Heheh. I made them find examples of extreme positive and negative language. In an article on the EU and the metric system. Then write parodies. They did very well.

    But what's level 3 for a native speaker is Upper-Intermediate/Advanced in a second language. Ease of reading is a very varied thing.

  40. The grading of what's something for somebody and something for somebody else varies massively I find. Basically- stop using seventeen syllable words in a size 10 times roman font that's been photocopyed to an inch of its life on bright white paper, SWP!

  41. I expect the SWP are unintelligble on purpose. If we understood them we might not all carry their placards so mindlessly.

  42. I love this post! Everything you have said is spot-on. I think you are awesome, and I'm glad I found your blog!

    (Also, more people should "swear to Mary Wollstonecraft" because she is my deity and really should be for all women.)

  43. Found this blog post after reading sian's one, I agree completely that use of offensive language like that towards you was unacceptable. As was the fact that it went largely unchallenged, and others at the occupation refused to confront the privledge and hierarchy inherent in such things.
    However (anyone see that coming?) I was there during the day on saturday and unless i'm very mistaken the 'punks' heckling during people telling thier stories were not the same people as those who went off to start a campfire and shout at you. Please don't lump us all into the same group!
    NB; we heckeled 1) a guy trying to speak out against oppression of north africans whilst wearing a ghadaffi flag. 2) someone who announced that none of us would be resisting arrested or eviction -with absolutly no mandate to do so, or previous disscussion on that.

    Also in reference to not responding to consensus based decisions; a majority vote is obviously not a consensus. When following the majority of consensus decision making processes if one group can't reach a compormise with another and both feel too strongly to 'stand aside' and let the decision pass the result is one group leaves or splits. As such they followed the process to the letter.

    Not that this excuses offensive/sexist language, which hopefully will be challenged in future in line with the safer spaces policy the space now has. Which was largely compiled by a punk and former heckler.

  44. 1831, thanks for your comment. I saw heckling going on by that group that were not the instances you mentioned, and I see a vast difference between 'challenging' people (as I believe you did and were within your rights to do so) and 'heckling' people (i.e. shouting them down while they are trying to speak).

    I have reflected on my use of the word 'consensus' and that was the wrong word. However, I still feel that the group were wrong to go so against the group that their actions could have resulted in the immediate end of the camp and group. I still maintain that they were selfish and their actions at the time potentially jeapordised the future of Occupy Bristol, which I am happy to hear is still going and which I hope to return to when I get back to Bristol on Sunday.

    As a punk who is very outspoken, I find it kind of funny that you think I'm against these groups :) (check the definition of 'up the punx' I linked to to see why I used that phrase - it wasn't because some of them were punks!)

    With regard to the 'safer spaces' policy though, more than one woman that I know has complained about sexist behaviour at the site. I am trying to follow these complaints up now so I can find out exactly what was said and decide whether I can continue to lend my support to a movement if I'm supposed to just 'put up and shut up' for the 'greater good' (see a - the men I spoke to later in the night and b - Sian's blog).

    I will talk about these allegations further when I have fully consulted with the other people complaining.

  45. Excellent post. It behooves me when we (often inevitably) take our privileges for granted in many walks of life.

    I do however think there is something of a grey area in the use of politically incorrect insults. For instance, we can easily agree that terms like "retard" or "gay" are unfair for those with DS or who are homosexual, but should we take the same precautions with terms like "wanker" or "bastard"? The two suggest that onanism and illigitimacy are negative, yet they do not receive seem to cause the same degree of offensiveness as other unPC terms. So what I am asking is, is there a point in which a rude word can become acceptable, even when it is based on discriminative ideologies?

  46. I just realised I've totally misunderstood the word "Behooves". *Head desks and replaces "behooves" with "bothers"*

  47. Man in a Hat:
    It's an interesting point. I'd probably say from your example that yes, they can and do become acceptable, when those discriminative ideologies disappear.

    Being illegitimate and/or a masturbater are no longer things that will set you back in the slightest in modern society (as far as I know, being neither). They're not even things the vast majority of the population even consider at all negative any more, so the insults are entirely divorced from their actual etymology - even 'wanker' where the literal meaning is pretty clear.

    I like this for three reasons: firstly, it shows how intelligent people genuinely are when it comes to the nuances of metaphor and irony. Secondly, it shows that both discriminatory ideologies and the language that fits in with them can be ended relatively quickly.

    But my main reason for liking it is that it's a lovely incentive for the self-righteous politically-incorrect brigade, like saying "OK Ricky, utterly and permanently eliminate prejudice against disabled people without exception, and as soon as that's done you can say 'spacker' to your thick little heart's content". Everybody's happy!

  48. An interesting post. I've been trying to follow the occupy stuff when I've got a minute and this is a useful indicator of the cross-section of activists currently involved in the occupations, so thanks.

    As the whole 'occupy x' movement is still in its early days and apparently quite fluid in its make-up it'll be interesting to see how people's attitudes change as time passes and people like yourself get involved in the arguments, I think(/hope). Solidarity in action being a great cure for prejudice and all that...

  49. Please excuse the profanities, they are for illustration only.

    I think there is a difference in using offensive language aimed at someone in particular with the intention of causing offence or upset, such as calling someone a "Bitch/Whore/Cunt/Bastard/Dick/Etc." and when a person uses terms in sweeping statements or in everyday lingo, which some people happen to find offensive, even though it is not aimed or intended to offend.

    Some real life examples of the latter.

    I am a heterosexual male - Yes I sometimes say the word "Gay" but I use it synonymously with "Stupid" or "Annoying" - usually about a situation or inanimate object.

    I have several homosexual friends - Yes they sometimes say the word "Gay" but use it synonymously with "Stupid" or "Annoying" - usually about a situation or inanimate object.

    While we are all aware of the politically incorrect manner of these terms, frankly we don't care. In fact, as a parody that some people may care that we are using non-directed language which has evolved to now become synonymous with other words... we sometimes say "Ohh em gee... that is so damned Hetro!" - again, to be synonymous with something we find stupid or annoying.

    While non of us intend any offence towards anyone, nor do we promiscuously bound these terms about in a loud/brash manner, when we are aware that other gay/straight people are around... We refuse to be bound by the idea that we should hold our tongues for the fact that someone somewhere may get offended.

    The silly buggers who damned you, and called you harsh words are idiots. Such directed offensive language has no excuses.

    However, language is an evolving thing. The meaning of words changes. Gay once meant "Happy", though it still retains that meaning, it is very rare now. If someone said that I was looking very 'gay' today does that mean I should be offended at the notion that I am mistaken for a homosexual? Or should I realise that dependant on the context in which the sentence is uttered, there is no offence intended or meant in such terms.

    Another account of the evolution of language. One of my dear friends was born in the North-West of England to a White mother and an Indian father. I have known her since we were both 8, and she referred to herself as "Half-cast" - We are now nearly 25 years on from those days, and she still uses that term about herself. Is she wrong to not be offended in using this term to describe her own ethnicity? Should she be forced to jump on the political bandwagon, afraid she may cause offence to some other 'half-cast' while not seeing any wrong in it herself? Or even worse, should I become offended on her behalf, as well as every other, because she has failed to adopt the 21st century ethnic labelling policy?

    I do agree with most of what you have written here, and that the people mentioned were out of order. Abusing your privileged position by slurring someone less fortunate than you is ignorant and immature.

    However, I refuse to pander to the sensitive nature of society regarding the specific use of certain terms. Especially when I can clearly draw the distinction between language used as a tool to intentionally cause harm/offence and aimed a particular people/groups - and the use of various terms which merely are banded about, used in various contexts and have no ill-intention behind them, nor are they aimed at specific groups. The former I clearly disagree with using, while the latter just pangs of an oversensitive crowd, who have oversensitive ears and probably heard something which they were never meant to hear anyway, and overreacting in an overzealous way which makes me dislike the word over, as that is now being overused in this sentence.

  50. Chris:

    'I am a heterosexual male - Yes I sometimes say the word "Gay" but I use it synonymously with "Stupid" or "Annoying" - usually about a situation or inanimate object. '

    I'm sorry, it doesn't matter if your gay friends do it too, using gay as a synonym for bad is HOMOPHOBIC.

  51. "However, I refuse to pander to the sensitive nature of society regarding the specific use of certain terms."
    It's not about sensitivity to words, it's about how ideologies - like that it's wrong to be homosexual, or that a particular bit of a woman is her only useful function, or that black people are best referred to with a diminutive - are very, very damaging to parts of society much weaker than you. Yes, there is an argument to be had about how much simply using those terms reinforces those ideologies, but it's way more than some uppity minority getting annoyed at what you called them.

    "Especially when I can clearly draw the distinction between language used as a tool to intentionally cause harm/offence and aimed a particular people/groups - and the use of various terms which merely are banded about, used in various contexts and have no ill-intention behind them, nor are they aimed at specific groups."
    That's a lie though, isn't it? Because you can't. Language is consensus-based. The reason 'gay' also means 'shite' isn't because you personally hate gays - that's largely irrelevant. It's because, at one point, enough people hated gays enough for that usage to catch on. What's damaging (though we could argue about exactly how damaging) isn't how angry you are at men who do sex together at the particular moment when you use the word, it's the fact that they're understood as synonyms. Since meaning is determined by usage, by using the same word for both homosexual and bollocks, you're perpetuating this.

    This über-sensitive "society" who you refuse to pander to - you're aware who it is that's so sensitive, right? So when people ask you politely to stop calling them particular words beginning with 'n' or 't' or 'f', or when they say they'd prefer you didn't use a word that refers to them as a synonym for bollocks or idiot, there's only so much you can claim not to hate them if you then ignore that request.

  52. A very difficult subject to write about without offending anyone and still get your points over .
    You have done a great job of that .
    Oh you did offend the right wing tho.
    I probably make mistakes in this area often , and we all need to learn how to speak better , this article helps.

  53. "However, I refuse to pander to the sensitive nature of society regarding the specific use of certain terms."

    My, aren't you the brave and the bold.

    Someone of privilege like yourself suggesting everyone else should just ignore the pain you DON'T EVEN FEEL is a sure sign you ned to work on your self awareness.

    I see you as a man in a pub car park, kicking an already bleeding victim of an assault, arguing you were only kicking him ironically, as a comment on the brutal beating that had just occurred.

    If you don't like that analogy, perhaps think about why I was moved to post it.

    The fact that you frame your defence of hatespeech as a stance against oppression of language is just ridiculous; you are taking the path of least resistance, and doing so despite the negative effect it has on other people.

  54. "I'm sorry, it doesn't matter if your gay friends do it too, using gay as a synonym for bad is HOMOPHOBIC." -- sian and crooked rib

    As long as he restricts the use of that word to occasions where he is with his friends (or insider people who understand that it is meant as a generic term for stupid, rather than a gay reference), I don't think it is such a problem. My friend Nate, who is probably black (he doesn't even know), regularly calls me (not black) a coon. Now he and I find this in-joke hilarious, but I can appreciate it potentially causing a lot of upset to onlookers. So I refrain from calling him a hunky, and he avoids complaining about "miscegenated football teams" whilst others are around. We understand that they are only stupid jokes, but we can't presume that others will be okay with our antics.

    So keep the esoteric terminology to the in-crowd, and things should be okay. In closed circles, a slur can lose its original meaning. But that may not make its use acceptable in wider society.

  55. I sort of get it. When you and Nate call each other shit, in that context between you two "coon" doesn't mean "black person I despise" but "hey man, I love you". That's definitely a different issue.

    But you might as well argue that because "darky" means "presents" in Czech, the use of racial slurs in English isn't a problem.

  56. Wait... did someone really say that "ça" can be used for a person in French ?
    Yeah, go for it, try a "c'est joli" to someone, you might just get slapped. :D