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Beppie has recently finished her PhD in English Literature, and hopes to do a lot more blogging now that she's no longer officially a student. In her spare time, Beppie enjoys Doctor Who, photography, writing, and small doses of trashy sci-fi/fantasy.

32 Responses

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  1. blue milk
    blue milk at | *

    A really thought-provoking post Beppie. I love your term for this complexity – “the squishy bits” and the way that you have emphasized that sometimes we won’t find one true answer and that this kind of unresolved complexity is ok, and also that where there is no definitive answer sensitivity is required from all participants.

    I also love that you brought this topic to a big feminist blog for attention, I think in many ways most of us have found this notion too difficult to tackle and yet it could really do with some discussion.

    There are lots of words I have dropped since learning about various offences and priveleges – starting with ‘spaz’ when I was about 12 and a doctor friend explained how wrong that was – all the way up to last week when a friend told me to stop using “Indigenous” because actually most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people hate the term.

    But ‘crazy’ I have looked at again and again and I have kept the word. I feel an ownership of that word because of certain aspects of my family life and childhood that I choose not to discuss and I like that the word is used so widely across contexts, that it describes so many experiences and characteristics (both positive and negative) – for me it is disarming.. However, I think I am probably a lot more careful these days about using it because I am so much more aware of those people who find the term objectionable. And I am very glad they took the time to let us know that on the blogosphere so I can be a little more sensitive to them.

  2. Keri
    Keri at |

    “There are lots of words I have dropped since learning about various offences and priveleges”

    Can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to personally reassess my use of language, and try and help others do the same – for example people using the word “retard” to describe someone with whom they don’t ideologically agree, and come up against “if some people like using it, it’s a legitimate use of language”

    Argh, just, argh.

    Another conversation where I thought privilege cut both ways was one I had last night about whether the Doctor who won the Nobel Prize for his work on IVF was justified, since the opiner thought that IVF was “self-indulgent” and a “first-world problem” and couldn’t believe people chose that option.

    Problem is, when it comes from someone who isn’t infertile, that opinion is in and of itself a display of privilege. It’s easy to say “IVF is self-indulgent” when you can be secure in your fertility; it’s easier to say it when you won’t be the cause of depriving your partner of biological children. It’s a privileged position to opine from. You will never be personally tested on it.

    It’s also easy to say “why don’t you just adopt a poor baby without parents” without ever having had to look into it; the cost, the prohibitive rules, the length you wait, the ethical issues of removing a child from it’s culture…..

    Long comment shorter, privilege is a multi-layered beast. Trying to avoid “privilege” is impossible, because you cannot be all things, all problems, all disadvantages. And acknowledging that no position can be applied to all scenarios is a privilege we should all exercise.

  3. Kate
    Kate at |

    I am constantly running up against my assumptions that there is a ‘right’ answer. Usually the right answer is (according to my assumptions) whatever the worst-hard-done-by person says. But that’s 1)a hard thing to quantify 2) a recipe for ‘race to the bottom’ arguments (no, I grew up poor!) and 3) not always right.

    It’s scary, no question. But I’m with you – it’s important to let it be scary sometimes.

  4. Jo Tamar
    Jo Tamar at | *

    Beppie, great post.

  5. Mindy
    Mindy at |

    I’m finding that inquisitive seven year olds have a way of putting their fingers right on the squishy bits and I’m having to say “because I said so”. I’m also finding that I’m not as good on this stuff as I think I am. Sadly I am also still surprising myself with my first reaction of real life situations and real people, often in a bad way.

  6. Chally
    Chally at |


  7. Felicity O
    Felicity O at |

    A great post, Beppie. Both thought-provoking and a little mind-bending. My difficulty is that whenever I’m mindful of this concept of privilege (which, truthfully, is not always) and its impact on how I am heard and perceived, I get bogged down in murky apologism. But I love the ‘squishy bits’… the depth and breadth of conversation and argument that can be had in the squishy realm is fabulous!

  8. Ariane
    Ariane at |

    This is something I’ve found that’s sent me running and hiding from a number of discussions. The idea that because one person lacking in privilege says A is wrong, it Just Is, and that’s that. My mind has always leapt immediately to the person lacking in precisely the same privilege, who says NOT A is wrong. How, then, am I expected to behave? I know that intellectualising has its own problems, but once I’ve found a logical inconsistency, I can’t ignore it.

    On a personal level, it’s cultural appropriation that I find myself utterly bewildered by. While I completely understand certain cut and dried examples, such things as Yoga, and traditional dance leave me very unsure. I do belly dancing, which has been decidedly appropriated and changed by the West, but I’ve always learned in schools run by Egyptian women who think this is cultural evangelism (or something – perhaps just sharing the things about their culture that they love?). I don’t know how to resolve this. I potentially cause harm to those whose hearts bleed at seeing their traditional dance appropriated, or I potentially cause harm to women whose hearts sing teaching their culture and make a living out of it.

    So I dance because I love it, I tend towards a love of the more traditional (and Egyptian) versions of the dance, and I run away from discussions where people declare there is a Right Answer, because I can’t see one.

    Thanks Beppie, awesome post.

  9. Chally
    Chally at |

    @Beppie I think there’s also a big difference between whether people are using “lame” etc etc self-referentially or not; that sets up quite a different dynamic.

    I think that the hyperfocus on correct language, and the very particular way in which conversations run in the ‘sphere – you said a bad word! I’m calling you out! there’s my activism for the day – reflects a superficial engagement, particularly with disability rights. But people seem to take not using a word anymore, or “calling people out” on their usage, as allywork or whatever, and that’s where their engagement stops where they could be focussing on more substantive issues. You know, actually engaging with the underlying factors that make words (potentially) hurtful. It’s a way of paying lip service to being intersectional a lot of the time, I think. And as you say, this kind of focus has not-good impacts on actual disabled people. I’ve had to defend a guest blogger at Feministe who used crazy self-referentially in a context in which her use of it was getting weaponised in a broader attempt to delegitimise what she was saying… using “you said a bad word!” as a trump card seems to me a pretty disrespectful way of approaching disability politics all in all, especially in contexts in which it’s being used to derail other discussions or cast a bad light on every other thing a person is saying. Disabled people as props! What’s been really frustrating for some of us at FWD/Forward is that people tend to link to entries in our Ableist Word Profile series as one of those trump cards in such discussions – which involves ignoring the dotpoints at the top that say things like ‘this series is not about ‘telling people which words they can and cannot use’ or that you ‘don’t necessarily have to agree that a particular profiled word or phrase is ableist’. Speaking of which, this is something that is becoming really interesting for me as a moderator at Feministe: I’m trying to be conscious of this dynamic and point out not that people said bad words!!1! MODPOWERZ!!1! but point out that I found a usage personally hurtful. I think that undercuts the depersonalising, moralising, monolithising narrative.

    Just my two cents on some of my experiences. :)

  10. Ariane
    Ariane at |

    I think there is really only one solution when it comes to labelling Aborigines – teaching ourselves, and more importantly ALL our children, who they are.

    At school, we teach the people’s stories, but not their history or their identity. When we’re learning the states, and the explorers and the rum rebellion, we should also be learning the names of the peoples. In fact, we could ditch explorers entirely – after all, their names are plastered everywhere – but I see no signs telling me I am now entering Eora land.

    If the population at large could take a reasonable punt on a person’s identity based on where they live, and even more importantly, recognise and understand when, for example, someone says she is a Gadigal woman, we’d be a lot closer to being able to treat people with respect. You know, we might call people who they are, instead of some vague general term because we are utterly clueless and find their real identities unfamiliar and confusing.

  11. Ariane
    Ariane at |

    Oh – which means I need to do this, I’m equally clueless, and have been aware for a while that I need to know and understand much more than I do.

  12. Jo Tamar
    Jo Tamar at |

    Ariane and Beppie, you might both be interested in this (NB: pdf).

    And I agree with Ariane:

    we might call people who they are, instead of some vague general term because we are utterly clueless and find their real identities unfamiliar and confusing.

    I’ve been trying to put that into practice for a while.


    As for the other things that have been raised, I’m still trying to actually put a coherent reaction into words, other than “hear, hear!” :)

  13. The Amazing Kim
    The Amazing Kim at |

    I’d love a “squishy bits” series – sounds great.

    all the way up to last week when a friend told me to stop using “Indigenous” because actually most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people hate the term.

    This is something I’ll have to investigate further. I’ve been using “Indigenous Australians” more often recently becuase I didn’t think it carried the same connotation of mono-culturalism as “Aboriginal” tends to amongst white Australians. I will definitely try to seek out more opinions on this.

    I’ve got no authority at all on this subject, but I’ve been using “first Australians”. Sure, it’s problematic but it works ok in the context I usually use it (arguing with members of the White People Hooray Brigade). I’d also like to update my glossary on this subject.

  14. blue milk
    blue milk at | *

    Beppie, when my friend pulled my up on ‘Indigenous’ (very politely, I must add) she also sent me an article to fill in some of the blanks. It was called “Reverend is correct: ‘Indigenous’ must go” by Les Ridgeway Snr, Worlmi Nation Elder and Aboriginal Family Historian . I tried Googling it in order to link here but it is not on-line. I have it in .jpg format and can email you (and anyone else interested) with it?

  15. Keri
    Keri at |

    “While I am quite willing to excise words from my own vocabulary when I learn that they hurt others, I am very uncomfortable in asking others to do the same for a variety of reasons that all involve “squishy bits”.”

    I take the point, and it’s something to think about, but I’m not sure that I’m going to be able to squash the instinct to really, really dislike someone using the word “retard” being used to compare someone like my darling Downs Syndrome uncle and Aunt to someone they despise. I’m not sure there’s much that would make me excuse that.

    Then again, I won’t know until I know.

  16. Beppie
    Beppie at |

    @blue milk I would love a copy of the article.

    @Keri I absolutely agree, and I do try to call out the term ‘retard’ as much as I can, in fact. As I’ve said, there are no hard and fast rules here — it’s just that I do find that the process of calling people out is often very squishy. At
    the same time though there are times and places where calling out IS the best thing to do — and I’m sure there are times when I remain silent although I should not.

  17. Ariane
    Ariane at |

    Thanks for that link, JoTamar, I’ll add it to the collection of bits I found today. It’s kind of depressing how much harder it is to learn and remember these unfamiliar names now than it was when I was a kid. I’m thinking of buying the map of countries and sticking it on a wall here somewhere, to try to make at least the ones local to us familiar so that next time someone takes the time to tell me who they are, I will be able to remember. It’s so shameful that we can grow up in this country and not know this.

  18. mimbles
    mimbles at |

    My mum has a map of the Aboriginal nations up in one of her bedrooms, the kids have always been fascinated by it. Really should get a copy for home too.

  19. mimbles
    mimbles at |

    Will do. I think Mum’s came as a freebie with a newspaper or magazine many moons ago, so that’s no good as a lead!

  20. Jo Tamar
    Jo Tamar at | *

    @ Beppie

    No worries :)

    Now, let’s see if I can get myself in the mod queue again …

    I, too, would love one of those maps. I am ashamed to say that I’ve never thought of asking them before, even though every time I see one I spend as long as I can looking at it.

    In the meantime, I did a bit of a google. This seems like a pretty good online reference. And here are some from the DET which can apparently be printed (they include Sydney, NSW and Australia-wide maps).

    And – AHA – you can purchase a wall map here.

    Postage is $10 for 1-3 items, so if anyone who thinks they might actually see me (hmm, maybe it’s time for another HAT Sydney meet up?) wants to go in together, I’m happy to order a bunch of them. Let me know: my email address is my secondname.firstname [at] good old gmail.

  21. Jo Tamar
    Jo Tamar at | *

    Oh, Ariane, snap :)

  22. Jo Tamar
    Jo Tamar at | *

    I can’t make it that day :( I have family commitments which, ironically enough, revolve around a wedding anniversary.

    But I’m still happy to do a bulk order if someone can meet me (or pick them up from me at work) a few days beforehand.

  23. Rayna Pryce
    Rayna Pryce at |

    @bluemilk – I wouldn’t copy of said article!

    I’m about to teach a group of Yr 10s some Australian history. It’s really important for me, for reasons listed above, to put the experiences of Aboriginal people at the centre of the story, and emphasise their perspectives and their voice. Said as a non-Aboriginal person myself. I grew up knowing so little, and I think it sucks that these experiences and perspectives are so invisible in mainstream Australian culture.

  24. hexy
    hexy at |

    There’s as many people who dislike the word “Aboriginal” as there are who dislike the term “Indigenous”. It’s a pretty big discussion within the community.

    I guess it just indicates that we aren’t a monolithic group, and that it’s always best to ask someone’s preferred terminology.

  25. orlando
    orlando at |

    On this last issue, could I ask where the limits of the term Koori properly fall?

  26. hexy
    hexy at |

    Koori are Aboriginal people who traditionally hail from tribal areas in NSW and Victoria. The actual word roughly translated just means “people”, and it comes from (I think) Awabakal language.

    Indigenous people from areas outside Koori country do not like being called Koori.

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