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The Carletonian

Sure, I’ll listen to you

<ir="ltr">I began my essay for Carleton with the sentence, “sometimes being uncomfortable is necessary.” While what I meant by this sentence was that having new, sometime frightening experiences was the only way to learn in life, I think it can also be applied to free speech. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that our generation is too sensitive, since I believe basic humanity is often mistaken for sensitivity, I do think a lot can be learned by being uncomfortable. While I know how often this is said, the real world will force us to encounter a variety of different viewpoints, many of which we won’t agree with. Sure, we can choose to hide from them in our protective bubbles of like-minded peers, but this won’t change the fact that they exist. The only thing our bubbles do is keep us from fighting against discrimination, since they allow us to pretend the other side is automatically wrong. These bubbles allow us to live in sanitized environments, where the human disease of discrimination cannot enter. In a perfect world, I would love to live in a bubble. However, the thing about bubbles is they are fragile; they get destroyed as soon as they go against anything hard. The world is full of hard realities, and instead of creating another bubbles around ourselves every time we face an idea that makes us uncomfortable, we need to leave our bubbles and find the strength to fight injustice head on.

I’ve been called a bitch to my face a few times, and most of these times it was after I took the lead on group projects. It was when I challenged traditional gender norms and made people uncomfortable. The first time it really hurt; I felt the full-force of unfair gender norms pushed upon me, and all I wanted to do was call out the person who said it to me for being sexist. And I did. I did not take the time to explain to them why what they said was unacceptable, because I thought as a young adult they should have known better. And yes, they should have known better, but to be honest, the universal ideal of respecting your neighbor has not stopped people from hurting each other in the past. People have been hurting each other and putting each other into categories in order to set up a system of discrimination since the beginning of time. This does not make it right, but it does show that this part of society will not go away unless we actively fight against it.

Yes, the word bitch and other offensive words are mean and do perpetuate a system of discrimination. However, there are so many more pressing consequences of this system that must be addressed. This is why arguments against free speech really make me angry. Often, at least in my experience, the people arguing that hate speech is everywhere do not understand the true issues that this language represents. For example, the word bitch on its own, separate from society, does not mean anything. What makes this word powerful are the many inequalities it represents. However, instead of fighting against the word, we need to focus on the issues women are facing that affect their ability to live their lives. Often, many of these real world issues intersect with sexual orientation, class and/or race. According to the study “Race, Class, Gender, and Deviancy” by Anna Lucas, although white women make up the majority of prostitutes, women of color are arrested and given jail sentences at higher rates. Women in the U.S. are the only women in industrialized countries that do not get maternity leave guaranteed by their government. While this is not as big of a deal for more well-off women who can afford to take time off or pay for a caretaker for their children, women who do not make as much (who also happen to be the women who often do not have job security) cannot afford to do either of these things. According to the Human Rights Campaign, LGBTQ survivors of sexual assault are often “denied services because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” The examples go on and on. My point is that focusing on words is a very privileged way of going about fighting injustice.

In my experience, many of the people fighting against these words consider themselves to be “social justice warriors” who are fighting for those who are the least privileged in society. However, fighting against words is very privileged. At least in the case of gender, fighting against words feels like a very white feminist way of going about this. This is not to say that being called a bitch is a good thing, but women fighting for their lives needs to be our priority.

I know that this entire debate on the fight against words is circular; I acknowledge that hate creates more hate, and that words have power. However, simply stopping people from saying these words will not stop them from thinking in discriminatory ways. All it will do is keep them quiet, and by not speaking their beliefs, they never be challenged. They will go through life (have a career, raise children, etc.) carrying these dangerous beliefs with them. They might even achieve leadership positions, and their beliefs will undoubtedly affect their actions, which will continue the system of discrimination. Now, I’m not saying that hate speech should be considered socially acceptable, since I do know that its rhetoric can insight movement that further the system of discrimination (just look at the rhetoric the Trump campaign is using). I do not know where to draw the line between free speech and hate speech. However, I do not feel comfortable sitting here and simply debating about words, when I know these debates will not cause the systemic change women and other disadvantaged groups need to happen. By encouraging free speech, we are allowing people to say their opinions and hopefully be called out by society if they are being discriminatory. We should let others make us uncomfortable, and then challenge their viewpoints and make them uncomfortable right back. Fighting hate with hate is never the answer, but making people question their beliefs (ourselves included) is the only way I see of achieving a more understanding world. I am not a patient person, so listening to people I do not agree with is not easy for me. But if there is one think I have learned is that we as a society need to grow up. We cannot continue to act like 3 year olds and pretend if we do not see something, it does not exist. Hate exist, and we need to fight the most horrible parts of it if we are to be true “social justice warriors.”

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