Quicklink: Harmful Communication Series

Melissa McEwan at Shakesville has written two posts in this series so far, the third is coming shortly. And unlike many other quicklinks, this time I recommend that you do read the comments.

Much of this ties in with discussions here over the years regarding fauxpologies and how non-malicious intent does not negate the effect of denigrating content, even (especially?) when one is “just joking”, and how those challenged for their content often try to defend themselves by casting their challengers as simply not understanding them properly, as if miscommunication is more the fault of the listener instead of a shortcoming (in that particular moment, at least) of the speaker: all those ways of deflecting accountability for using language which is harmful to others. It’s also when we tend to see those especially-familiar-to-feminists accusations of being oversensitive, looking to find fault, just looking to get offended etc, being unreasonable, and especially being unfair in holding friends/family to equal standards as we hold strangers no matter how much they might say “but you know that I don’t mean that about you” (i.e. “just those other people who share a lot of qualities that you do”).

It’s some very useful reading to do just before those festive family gatherings.



Categories: ethics & philosophy, language, Sociology

Tags: , , , , ,

3 replies

  1. *sigh*
    To be honest, this year I’m just going to ignore it if I hear someone making homophobic/racist/etc comments, because even calling it out in a manner that is light-hearted and friendly makes the situation worse, not better. It doesn’t matter how well you explain why intent isn’t magic or why “you shouldn’t feel that way” is a problem. In my experience, trying to counteract people saying *ist stuff only makes the problem worse — they realise that it annoys you, and therefore make a deliberate effort to engage in that behaviour more, rather than less. And then you get the blame for ruining the event.
    I know it makes me a bad ally, but I can’t do it anymore.

  2. I saw the realisation dawning in the eyes of my slim colleague this week as she went on and on about how fat she was looking (she’s 3 months pregnant). I just listened, making ‘nothing to worry about’ noises until she suddenly looked at my very large body sitting next to hers and said ‘Oh – I didn’t mean [that being fat is the worst!]’ and fell silent.
    I am so happy that I am reasonably at peace (on good days) with my size and I DON’T think being fat is the worst, so I just hoped she might think before she speaks like that again.
    I don’t have the same zen when my mother plays the ‘I’m just worried about you’ card, but… babysteps.

  3. Just a disclaimer regarding my previous comment — the people with whom I’ll be spending Christmas are generally very pro-equality for all people, and they’re generally disgusted by bigotry, etc. But there are a few areas in which they’re not terribly self-reflexive, and I suspect they react badly to the idea that they sometimes do *ist things, because they are broadly committed to the ideal that such things are wrong. I don’t want to make out that they’re horrible people or anything, because they’re not.
    Edited to fix my wording, and also to make comment anon

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