Friday, May 01, 2009

Words Hurt - Blogging Against Disablism Day 2009

Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day 2009. I was unsure what my contribution should be and had been considering a blog about what phrases like 'managing' or 'coping' really entail in relation to living with a disability. However, after events of this week a subject presented itself.

On Wednesday I wrote a blog about disablist language. I misread a phrase in a blog on Liberal Conspiracy and wrote my own blog to say I found the language offensive and disappointing, especially on a site supposed to promote liberal values. I did misread the phrase, we all make mistakes and misinterpret things, particularly with the written word. As it lacks the inflections and nuances of spoken words, the background which gives them meaning is more difficult to discern on a page. The phrase had been written as 'brain drain mongers' and instead of the intended meaning of monger as in fishmonger or warmonger I misread the phrase to read 'braindrain mongers'-as in only someone as stupid as a 'monger'* would think that. Like I say, I misread it. Easy done, I offered my apologies to the author of the post, but he was neither offended or upset, why should he be?

He was in the minority though as lots of people were very upset. With me. For having the temerity to suggest that language has the power to hurt. The furious comments under the original blog were deeply depressing as although I'd made a mistake when I misread the phrase, the commenters proved the point I was trying to make. That generally people simply do not consider language which is offensive or derogatory to disabled people in the same way they recognise the power of offensive or derogatory language when it comes to race, gender, religion or sexuality.

I was lambasted for making such a 'retarded' comment, held up as an example of everything wrong with political correctness, mocked for my evidently New Labour sink comprehensive education** and various other comments in that vein. I was particularly bemused by the comments relating to making such language illegal or banning words. Some of the commenters headed over to this blog to make sure I knew exactly how stupid I was, and that I had wilfully and deliberately misinterpreted the words.

One commenter made the point that all I had done was to express my disappointment with words which one human being had used which had been hurtful towards another. No more, no less. I didn't call for anything to be banned, legislated or made illegal. I didn't mention political correctness or suggest any form of legal resolution to such issues. I simply stated my disappointment. I'd like to thank the author of that comment as (s)he just got it. They got the point that language can hurt, can be oppressive or derogatory and that it is important to choose our words carefully. They saw that it's important not because of rules or regulations but because it's simply one human being saying to another 'your words hurt and harm me'.

*When I was growing up 'monger' was a commonly used derogatory expression for someone with Down's Syndrome. It's still a word frequently used in the area I live to describe something or someone as particularly stupid.
**Amusingly as my entire education was
at a grammar school during the previous Tory govt


Robert said...

I stayed out of it because it's also a problem with the area you live in Monger to me means nothing, retard means a lot more, being Bound to a wheelchair means nothing to me , where as crippled annoys me. I remember telling a story about the manager at the local council office, I was waiting in line waiting my turn to be seen, when the manager a lady was hot under the collar about the long line of people waiting, she shouted can somebody see to the cripple, then she scream,ed can somebody please see to the bloody cripple, and I shouted back yes for god sake somebody sort out the cripple, and then looked around and said hold on lady the cripple has gone. The line started to laugh and she went as red as a beetroot apologies for saying what she did.

I then of course have to put up with people slapping me on the head and them asking my wife how is he to day, few look out this normal sets me off into swear mode.

The other one is the person who bends down and then say how are you to day your looking much better, how the f*ck do you know you have never seen me before.

I have of course mellowed now and if somebody slaps me on the head they have a hand full of styling cream, and if somebody bends down to speak to me they get run over.

Words are just words it's the meaning that is placed behind those words thats the problem they way they are said.

Madison Rose said...

My peer group, people in their 20s still do use the word "mong" as in "what a mong" or "you monger." It's usually just friends teasing each other, and we know it's considered offensive and we wouldn't use it in a public forum. I read the Benefit Scrounging Scum post before the Liberal Conspiracy article, so I'm not sure how likely I'd be to make the same mistake as you, Bendy.

I respect the views of people who get cheesed off about all the words we can't use these days, but why can't they express those views without making personal attacks? What happened to civilised debate? the internet is kinda depressing sometimes :/

BenefitScroungingScum said...

Robert: Wow, what an offensive woman. You're right, of course the point is the meaning behind the words not the word itself. I actually prefer cripple as for me it's a more accurate description than disabled is, but it's never going to be acceptable for it to be used in that context.
To me what is so depressing is that people wanted to attack me for being stupid rather than considering whether there might be a point about such derogatory language, mistake not withstanding.

Madison: Exactly! The point is, it was just a mistake, there was no wider agenda. I agree with you, the most depressing part of this is how quickly people chose to attack me personally rather than engage in any kind of rational debate. As I'm not perfect I retain the right to make mistakes any and all of the time!

Wheelie Catholic said...

I, too, prefer a rational debate rather than personal attacks with web communication, but this is a great example of how things can spiral out of control -which Ive seen on blogs a few times when discussing disability issues (and other things too).

LceeL said...

There is little you could do or say which would make me love you less. If I could, I would carry you anywhere you needed to go. If I could, I would give you the benefit of my strong body in any way that you needed it. If I could, I would make sure you had the means to live your life with as much dignity and as little pain as possible. If I could. But I can't. All I can do is let you know that I care and I am appalled at the temerity of folk who would treat you with anything less than total respect and understanding. The obviously do not know you, know your mind, nor do they truly care. Ignore them. They are SO far beneath you.

Constable said...

All of us make stupid mistakes at times mate.

You should not be lambasted for making them, just read the post in question and the replies were poor.

I understand the terminology of the word "mong" too!


Never That Easy said...

It's ridiculous how quickly a comment like that can get personalized: the fact that you can't say that something offended you personally without getting attacked is just wrong. I never would've been upset by this word - it's not commonly used as an insult where I live, I guess - but I've been offended at the use of the word retard many times, and am glad if it bothered you that you spoke up. Regardless of how the others reacted.

Attila The Mom said...

Good on you for stepping forward even if you had been mistaken. Too many people don't.

Language IS powerful. Those who think it isn't are either deluding themselves or guilty of thinking words like "retard" or "f*cktard" aren't equally as offensive as using the "n" word.

Thanks so much for writing today! said...

Great post. Of course words hurt. I recently wrote a post at Same Difference that you might like, called What's In A Word, on something very similar.

Devonshire Dumpling said...

Language can hurt. I refuse to ever state that I am disabled. I just advise people that I am not disabled but that I am honestly simply "disadvantaged" and I complete all forms that I receive accordingly.

frogpondsrock said...

Oh sweety so many horrid comments posted by the ever heroic anonymous... (((hugs to you)))

Spanners said...

I agree, it's not the language or the words. It's what people mean by them.

I remember a couple of years ago, I was at a meeting and someone said we needed to get into groups to 'brainstorm'. One lady objected to the use of the phrase because it is offensive to people with epilepsy.

A couple of my colleagues who knew my condition looked round to me and I commented that as an epileptic, I was fine with it but I was not fine at being treated like a 4 year old by her attitude.

If someone delibarately tries to say nasty things about me, I might get cross. If I hear one teenager say that their friend "had an eppy", meaning got cross or something, it has no bearing on what I have and is completelt irrelevant.

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Achelois said...

All I can say is, having just read some of the extremely personal and vindictive comments on that site directed at you. Do people get pleasure from being so nasty? Perhaps in the comfort of their own homes cyber-bullies feel strong in reality they are the saddest of people I think. Its hard not to be hurt but BG its a good job it is the internet and those of us who admire, respect and love you would be causing a riot if those that have picked on you so childishy were in the room. Don't let the b%^£%^&ds get you down, bullies, nasty mean spirited people who should be ignored. You on the other hand are the opposite, sensitive, caring and giving. They have made themselves look very bad indeed.
Take care BGxoxoxoxo

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

I live in your area but hadn't heard the word monger used that way before. But then again, I'm foreign. You're absolutely right about language and its power. Those comments only reinforce your point.