The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal - On The Myth Of “Being Inoffensive”
April 18th, 2014
12:36 pm

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On The Myth Of “Being Inoffensive”

Yesterday, I wrote about how it takes some training to learn to shrug off insults, and said this:

“Speak carefully. Try to be kind. And don’t be a dick unless it’s your last choice.”

To which one commenter replied:

“Rather than attempt to tailor speech to be inoffensive (which is a neverending race to the bottom), we should be equipping people with the tools to handle a world where people disagree with them.”

I’m sorry – when did I say inoffensive? Christ, I offend people all the time.

I wrote “Dear Daughter: I Hope You Have Some Fucking Awesome Sex,” which was read by millions. It offended tons of conservatives, took parents off-guard, shocked hundreds of religious groups.

Did I set out to not offend them? No.

I wrote All Women And Never Men: A Rant On A Polyamory I Dislike, about the one-penis policy and how it’s usually (though not invariably, I hesitate to add) sexism and selfishness wrapped into a package that a lot of women ultimately come to regret. I still get angry letters on that one.

I wrote Can I Buy You A Coffee? and its follow-up essay, which talked about how colossally rude it is to hit on women and then pretend you were just trying to do them a favor. Pissed off a lot of guys on that one. Men’s Rights Advocates aren’t too fond of me, either.

And look through my archives! I’ve said lots of things that have deeply offended my liberal buddies, my conservative buddies, my religious buddies, my atheist pals. You’ll find thousands of comments from people who not just disagreed, but were actively enraged at what I had to say.

And you know what?

I chose to offend them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve written tons of essays where I fucked up and said something inadvertently offensive, mainly because I didn’t understand transgender issues, or kink-related issues, or some subtle form of politics. And I’ve written lots more essays where I meant to say, “Hey, I’m in favor of this” and wrote it so badly that I appeared to be me criticizing that, and that’s my piss-poor words rising up to rightfully bite me.

But with each of my better essays, I thought carefully: Who will this offend? And I quickly devised a list of the sorts of people who I thought this would piss off…

…and I was okay with it.

If some conservative father who never wants his daughter to have sex gets pissed off, then I’ve accepted that as a cost of doing business. If some douchey pick-up artist takes offense when I tell him how he’s manipulating women, sorry, but it’s what I believe.

If some couple who’ve been perfectly happy in their one-penis policy is mad because they’re different from all of those other OPP people, well, I feel a little bad, but I couldn’t figure out a way to get ‘em out of the line of fire.

If I use the phrase “Girl Drink Drunk” to discuss my love of flavored vodka, I’ll undoubtedly annoy a couple of my feminist friends who don’t like the genderification of drinks – and, more importantly, don’t love classic Kids in the Hall sketches the way I do. But I pondered that, weighed their annoyance as comparatively light versus my amusement at the term, and chose to offend a little.

But note in each of those cases: I’m usually aware of what I’m doing, and making a conscious choice. (And if enough of my friends really get bent out of shape about the Girl Drink Drunk bit, then maybe I recalculate the equation. Maybe I don’t. Times change.)

So no. I’m not trying to erase all offense from the universe. I’m trying to say that I make decisions, weighing my free speech versus how upset someone’s going to get versus how legitimate I feel their offense is, and making a judgment call. In others, I say things more nicely to cushion the blow.  In some cases, I don’t say things because I think it’d hurt people’s feelings for no good reason.

(NOTE: You may not be able to avoid hurting people’s feelings when you’re speaking the truth as you see it.  But when you start hoping to hurt people’s feelings as part of an essay? That’s when you’ve become a dick.)

And there are times I just go off on those I’ve decided I don’t give a rat’s ass about.  Point is, I offend all the fucking time. It’s impossible to do comedy without offending. It’s impossible to make legitimate changes without offending.

I just try to offend as part of a greater plan, is all.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/395920.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(31 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

Comments
 
From:anonymousalex
Date:April 18th, 2014 05:06 pm (UTC)
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Erm, is there some secret comment section that we anonymous people aren't privy to? Because that comment you're replying to? Couldn't find it.

-Alex
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From:fallconsmate
Date:April 18th, 2014 05:43 pm (UTC)
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small reminder that Ferrett posts at livejournal, dreamwidth, and his Real Blog and the comment could have popped up at any of those places. plus, there's aways twitter and the book of faces to consider, too. :)
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From:theferrett
Date:April 18th, 2014 05:45 pm (UTC)
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LJ, my blog, often FetLife, occasionally Good Men Project, and Dreamwidth means my comments are widely strewn. This was from FL.
From:anonymousalex
Date:April 18th, 2014 05:50 pm (UTC)
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Ah, I checked all of them except that one.

-Alex
From:anonymousalex
Date:April 18th, 2014 07:36 pm (UTC)
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P.S.: Dang, there's a lot of comments over there.

-Alex
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From:fallconsmate
Date:April 18th, 2014 05:41 pm (UTC)
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there is NOTHING wrong with being courteous. hell, if you're a southern woman, you learn both how to be courteous and how to backstab someone to the point where they're thanking you for planting that knife between their shoulderblades in the SAME sip of oversweetened iced tea.

or how to smile at someone and say "well, bless your heart" and make them think that it's an endearment...while it's really an insult. child's play! but truy being RUDE at other people is just uncalled for.

and it's why i know that when i hit a certain point of mental vindictiveness due to lack of sleep and other people being rude with their own love of their car stereos? then it's time to shut the hell up before i am deliberately hurtful to someone i love. i'm a freaking adult (mostly). i should be able to keep my tongue silent between my teeth long enough to consider what words are going to come out of my lips.

that doesn't mean i'm not sharp at times, nor that i do not understand how to be rude...but i can be those things without deliberately going for the HURTFUL things that cut to the bones. the end. (why is that so hard to understand to some folx?)
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From:finding_helena
Date:April 18th, 2014 07:15 pm (UTC)
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It’s impossible to do comedy without offending. It’s impossible to make legitimate changes without offending.

Frequently I think it's impossible to do ANYTHING without offending or at least potentially offending. I am in favor of doing one's best to not offend, but it only goes so far.
From:evilcleo
Date:April 18th, 2014 09:49 pm (UTC)
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I find the same problem. Most people don't try to offend people but people are either so politically correct or insanely sensitive, you can never win. Someone even had to post a discussion "what's your feelings about the word plus sized? Should I use full figured instead?" She was a businesswoman so I could understand her concern but frankly, no matter how many fancy words you use, it implies the exact same thing. Courting to every single customer's preference is just an endless battle because everyone will have a different opinion.
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From:kilbia
Date:April 18th, 2014 10:05 pm (UTC)
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One of my memorable dick-moves was walking my 250-lb self up to a little wisp of a saleswoman and asking her where the "fat chick" section was.

I was pleased with myself at the time, being witty and subverting the desire to use euphemisms to describe those sizes of clothing. But it was a dick-move because the main reason I used the phrase "fat chick" was that I wanted to flummox the salespeople. I enjoyed watching her stammer for a few seconds before coming up with an answer. Which was not good behaviour on my part.
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From:bunny42
Date:April 18th, 2014 11:30 pm (UTC)
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Don't be so hard on yourself. I find what you did refreshing. If she'd been good at her job she would have chuckled with you, and pointed you to the "women's" dept. Which in itself could be considered inappropriate if you wanted to be insulted. Are littler people, say, petites, somehow not women? There's no end to the ways people can find to be affronted.
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From:funwithrage
Date:April 21st, 2014 03:47 pm (UTC)
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No, if you're deliberately fucking with people who make minimum wage, I'm pretty sure that's a dick move.
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From:kilbia
Date:April 21st, 2014 10:34 pm (UTC)
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^^^^^ - and why I feel bad about it now.
From:evilcleo
Date:April 19th, 2014 12:02 am (UTC)
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Well, that wasn't exactly the word I'd use but I admire your confidence and acceptance that you are plus-sized. I have never held a retail job but I'm sure there are customers who resent being referred to the plus-sized section despite the obvious observation they won't fit into normal sizes. Unless you are buying them for someone else, why would they show you clothes you can't fit into?
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From:deep_blue_see
Date:April 19th, 2014 12:24 pm (UTC)
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Well, I'm sure there are customers who would resent being told that their size is not referred to "normal". :-)
From:evilcleo
Date:April 20th, 2014 04:02 am (UTC)
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Not the best word in hindsight, you're right. Should have said "petite".
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From:mariadkins
Date:April 19th, 2014 05:14 am (UTC)
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personally, i've thought from the very beginning that this whole "PC culture" is bullshit. like i tell people, i'm not sight impaired or have "poor vision", truth is, i'm fucking blind. and if that's offensive to other people, too bad. it's my reality, and i prefer calling a spade a spade. if people can't handle that much honesty, there are other ponds to paddle in.
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From:bunny42
Date:April 19th, 2014 01:48 pm (UTC)
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Yup, yup, yup! I couldn't agree with you more. My favorite is personhole cover. I mean, really? Really??
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From:mariadkins
Date:April 19th, 2014 02:18 pm (UTC)
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omg i'd forgotten all about personhole cover ...
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From:jeffpalmatier
Date:April 19th, 2014 05:17 pm (UTC)
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Apparently the motivation behind this bizarre use of language is to make a nicey-nicey doily to place over the ugly reality of existence. What's ironic is that the people who laugh at Victorians for doing that are doing it themselves and they don't see the connection or the hypocrisy.
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From:mariadkins
Date:April 20th, 2014 04:33 am (UTC)
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oh i concur. 100%.
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From:jeffpalmatier
Date:April 19th, 2014 05:19 pm (UTC)
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I sometimes don't agree with you but I don't remember ever being offended by something you said. At the very least, I know that you mean well and don't want to do something to hurt anybody, but sometimes you have people who want to think the worst of you and get self-righteously angry.
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From:mariadkins
Date:April 20th, 2014 04:33 am (UTC)
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and there's always that one person in the crowd who's always ready to be pissed off over something.
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From:the_xtina
Date:April 20th, 2014 11:07 pm (UTC)
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Boy howdy I'm super-glad this comment thread turned into "those fucking SJWs", I tell ya.
From:anonymousalex
Date:April 21st, 2014 02:13 am (UTC)
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Thank you for introducing me to a new TLA.

-Alex
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From:bunny42
Date:April 21st, 2014 04:26 pm (UTC)
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Thank you, for the same reason! I love the irony of TLA.

Edited at 2014-04-21 04:26 pm (UTC)
From:anonymousalex
Date:April 21st, 2014 05:06 pm (UTC)
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I'm afraid you lost me, there.

-Alex
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From:bunny42
Date:April 21st, 2014 06:28 pm (UTC)
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Ooooh, I meant TLA being a TLA. Sorry.
From:anonymousalex
Date:April 21st, 2014 07:57 pm (UTC)
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Ah. I probably would've figured that out if I had been more awake when I read it.

-Alex
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From:the_xtina
Date:April 23rd, 2014 04:37 pm (UTC)
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I love TLAs, they remind me of GNU. :)
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From:funwithrage
Date:April 21st, 2014 03:46 pm (UTC)
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It's at least convenient for noting whose comments I can skim over in the future, because damn. It's sort of impressive how fast "At least try not to be offensive to significant numbers of people" turned into "someone will be offended no matter what so don't even bother and also have I mentioned how LIIIIIFE IS PAAAAAAIN?"

Wow.
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From:the_xtina
Date:April 23rd, 2014 04:36 pm (UTC)
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That's very true! Hooray, usefulness extracted.
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