Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Language Is Never Innocent; Also, Much Capitalization!

So I am one of those ladies who is Friends With My Ex. I seem to notice ladies want to stay friends with their exes more often. Guys tend to avoid exes (when they don't hate them entirely). I'm not sure why- maybe it's because women are encouraged to be introspective and sort out the feelings of "You're Not A Bad Guy And I Like Spending Time With You" from the knowledge that "We Have Issues That Make Dating A Not-Fun Idea". Guys (she says, generalizing away) seem to not be trained to compartmentalize relationships like that. If a woman isn't romantically interested in them [anymore], it's a Total Rejection of his Entire Being. Yada yadda. I have a few ex-boyfriends who got over that and with whom I'm still friendly. And one of the reasons I ended it was because of his amused dismissal of my (highly feminist) worldview. It makes for some interesting discussions, which is what this post is actually about.

My ex-now-friend, referred to as S, thinks of himself as a stand-up guy (don't they all). His actions are (usually) benevolent; if you go by the rule that says Actions are More Important than Words, he's right.
What if you think that the things you say are maybe even more important, because they are the things you're thinking?
He accuses me of being "too PC". He makes racist jokes, and then points out that he has "Black Friends who think [those jokes] are funny as hell". He refers to women as "bitches", and then claims he respects women (because he's not saying it in a mean way, don'tchaknow!). This is the same guy who once called me "easy".
He's an able-bodied, hertero white cis male who *will not* acknowledge his privelege in any way. Every time we have a discussion about feminism/racism, I end up frustrated. Because eventually the subject gets around to language, and his total misunderstanding of The Way Language Works. His claim is that "words don't have power unless we (personally) give them power. If we treat certain words as taboo, that only gives them more power." He's like Randal from Clerks 2, wearing a shirt with "Porch Monkey" on the back with the claim that he's "taking [the phrase] back." At which point Dante loses it and tells him that that's incredibly racist and he can't "take back" a phrase referring to black people if he's not black!
I outlined this comparison to S, who came down on Randal's side. Sheesh.
His idea is that if he personally treats a normally taboo word as if it has no power, eventually other people will pick up on this and do the same, and in time, racial and other slurs will lose their ability to wound. It's a nice idea. It's my opinion that it's also totally unrealistic to think that one, non-famous, whitemaledude has that much influence over how minority slurs are heard. In the meantime, it's also a really good excuse for using those words without thinking about them, or apologizing.

Am I right, or does he have a point? What's an Angry FeministTM to say?