Epithets

I’ve been engaging in yet another round of trying to challenge the dopy sexism that is so common in internet discussion, as if someone had declared the internet a boys-only domain. This time the dopy sexism was in comments at Richard Dawkins’s site, in a thread on that dreadful article by Nancy Graham Holm. Someone called her a stupid bitch and I said I hate her article as much as anyone but can’t we say how bad it is without resorting to sexist epithets? Stupidly, I always expect elbow-jogs of that kind to be 1) self-evident and 2) sufficient, so I’m always surprised when instead I get a big indignant idiotic argument. I got one this time, which derailed the thread, which was bad of me. I spent too much time yesterday trying to explain that epithets are fraught and that it’s stupid to try to defend them.

I said, and I still think, that one learns this at about age 6. You don’t call people names, with various obvious exceptions – trusted friends can do that in jest, etc etc (and even then things can go awry). You don’t call people names, and if you do call people names and someone objects, you don’t waste your breath and everyone’s time by explaining why it’s okay to call people names. As a general rule, it really isn’t all that okay to call people names. The presumption is with the badness of calling people names, not with the okayness of it. About two thirds of the humour of The Office has to do with this fact – with Michael (I’m talking US version here) constantly using epithets in a would-be hipster way, because he’s so down with the homies, while everyone for miles around looks at him in horror.

I also always think it’s enough to point out that the people doing the bitching and cunting would never say ‘that stupid nigger’ – but in fact yesterday it wasn’t enough at all; I got at least one guy insisting that it’s completely different. If there’s anything that makes my blood boil more than all this cunting and bitching, it’s that – it’s telling women essentially that they are not treated as inferiors.

So I spent too much time yesterday, and got absolutely nowhere, and ended up feeling frustrated at getting nowhere and regretful at wasting the time (someone is wrong on the internet!) and stupid for having derailed the thread. After I went away and did other, blameless things, the creeps I’d been arguing with filled another page with even nastier things – which stopped with comic abruptness after Richard commented at some length to say he wished threads wouldn’t derail into irrelevant flame wars but also that no as a matter of fact he’s not a fan of casual sexism, thanks, and he would much rather not have it on his site.

So there you go. I think those pathetic dweebs really did think that Richard was just fine with hipster sexism, and now they know better. Richard would like RDF to be a shining beacon to others in not being ‘one of those sites’ that treat epithets as rebellious ‘n’ cool.

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