29 January, 2010

A Note On Language.

Please note my use of gender-neutral language in the following post. I will write about this at length in the future.

A few days ago, I had a brief conversation with a prominent vegan blogger. As a fan of his blog, and a longtime RSS feed-follower, I was disappointed when I came across a post concerning Canada's Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea having been hit in the face with a pie by an animal rights activist associated with PETA (link to a news report; I will not identify said blogger). In the post, the author described the practice of pie-throwing as 'lame'. I contacted them, explaining my position:

I feel as though the animal rights field is rife with discrimination such as misogyny, ageism, and ableism. Your inclusion of this word falls into the latter category. I don't believe you intended to cause harm, but use of ableist words such as 'lame', no matter how widely-used, does just that. It is my sincere request that you retract the word from the post, and refrain from using it in the future.

In the e-mail, I linked to Meloukia's fantastic takedown of the word 'lame' on FWD/Forward, as it explained my position far more eloquently than I might.

The reply I received was somewhat disheartening. It basically thanked me for my e-mail, and noted that they had read the post I'd linked to, along with indicating that they had done a little research on the origins of the word 'lame'. The author said that they 'didn't know what to tell' me other than that they disagreed, and doubted that we would 'reach agreement on this topic'. The reply finished with the expression that they hoped this would not lose me as a reader.

And that was it.

There was no reason given as to why this writer disagreed with me on the topic. They didn't seem to be familiar with the ableist nature of the word, so perhaps this might have been the first time that someone had called them out on it. The author is, as I mentioned above, somewhat prolific; although I couldn't assume that they are able-bodied, a customary Google search said nothing to the contrary.

Irregardless, though, of whether they are able-bodied or differently-abled, I disagree with their position. My position is as such: we do not live in a vacuum. One cannot divorce a word of its context at will, or ignore it because it is convenient. I constantly hear people trying to minimize the damage harmful words do, and the pain that they cause when attempting to justify their language. These people may try to argue that their 'right' to use these words trumps the valid suffering that these people experience. They may try to say that they're just words, and couldn't possibly do any harm, and that our 'political correctness craze' is going too far. I couldn't disagree more.

Words matter. That's the reason why I'm writing, and it's why you're reading.

By using misogynistic, sexist, ableist, transphobic, homophobic, ageist or speciesist language, you are, in effect, enabling such discrimination and perpetuating the system of elitism the western world operates on. As this is a blog that inspects and criticizes the kyriarchy, I will not permit them. Their usage runs entirely contrary to my values. If you disagree with my viewpoint, I welcome conversation on the issue. However, please note that unwarranted use of this language, particularly in a pejorative manner, will not be tolerated here. I intend for this place to act as a safe space, insofar as is possible, and this is the foundation upon which that space will be constructed.


Adelaide Dupont said...

I respect your standpoint.

Words are words, and words are thoughts and feelings and other things.

I also read this blog because animals matter and women matter.

Probably more than words do.

What alternative word would you use/recommend for an act such as pie-throwing? We'd all have our own.

Probably "ill-advised" is fairly neutral, but it discriminates against health and judgement.

Ladystachette said...

You basically sum it up with: "Words are words, and words are thoughts and feelings and other things." Yes. I believe that language is incredibly reflective of the society that uses it, which explains the use of harmful language as derogatory vernacular in western society when one considers the etymology of said words.

I would call most likely call this act of pie-throwing (and any others in the name of activism, particularly animal rights) counterproductive, as it does absolutely nothing for our cause. Stunts such as these are the ones that make the mainstream media, but unfortunately they paint animal rights activists as extremists who are not to be considered seriously.

You make a good point about the term 'ill-advised'; I hadn't yet thought of that. Which is, of course, an instance of how deeply ableism is rooted in our culture and language.

I think it's also important to note that this incident alone highlights the point of this blog quite well. Being hit in the face with a pie is, frankly, assault. There's also the factor of humiliation, which is, I'd imagine, what the woman who threw the pie was attempting to achieve, and what PETA was celebrating. I'd argue that this is a serious invasion of bodily space. I don't see how animal rights activists can expect the majority to take our position seriously when we deny others their personhood.

Thank you for your comment, Adelaide! I really value your presence here, and hope you continue to read and comment in the future.

Adelaide Dupont said...

Invasion is never nice.

Nor intrusion, nor assault.

Those words have quite specific legal, and more general, psychological meanings.

They all really HURT and bring PAIN to people.

And to deny someone's hurt and pain ...

We go down a very slippery slope indeed.

And sometimes there may not be words to express that pain, or explain how we are hurt.

Ladystachette said...

Absolutely! And that's what I think it's all about, really: what's the point in our work if we cannot minimize our own and others' hurt and pain? By denying that we are ourselves hurting them, we are perpetuating that cycle. It's the antithesis of what this blog is about.

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