By Meg Zulch
The other day, among a slew of other troubling comments and mindless rants, I came across a “Louder With Crowder” video that someone had posted in my school’s Facebook group. In it, Steven Crowder discusses University of Michigan’s new inclusive language policy (which bans the use of sexist, racist, ableist, and transphobic language on campus grounds), and tries to make the ridiculous argument that policies like these violate our First Amendment right to free speech.
Once again, I struggled to understand why protecting cis white men’s right to use offensive slurs and harassing language seems to matter so much to certain humans. Would your life really be so empty without offending people and making certain populations feel unsafe? Is it actually restricting the freedom of others when the only thing the policy requires is being a decent human being? Why are you protecting your freedom to cause harm and spread hate?
Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve nearly clawed my own eyes out with frustration over observing ridiculous commentary like this. Legions of MRA trolls, and IRL trolls lurking in the shadows of my campus, express these types of sentiments on a daily basis. They argue about the ways in which they feel oppressed when getting called out for saying something offensive, and point to what they find to be the bigger issue: our school and the student body’s commitment to being politically correct and inclusive becomes but a figment of our imagination as soon as we step off the confines of this campus. We all just need to grow thicker skins, basically.
With this very commentary as an example, this statement is impossible to agree with. What about our school is a bubble of inclusivity if there are horrible people who are constantly questioning the completely valid feelings of marginalized people? I don’t feel safe on this campus. Everywhere I go, I see my abuser. I see him in the dark woods when I walk home to my apartment at night. I see him with his friends at every party I attend. I see him in every bed on this goddamn campus. He assaulted me here two years ago while visiting friends of his that I never fail to run into. Thankfully, I do not know the certain kind of terror many others like me experience of seeing their attacker in the light of the day, without any tricks of the light or wild imaginations at play.
But I do know that being PC is valued outside of my friend group, outside of the queer population of SUNY Purchase. I’ve seen it at a panel in NYFW, where an unbelievably strong body positive blogger confronted a comedian for making fat shaming jokes that triggered her, leading to tearful apologies and hugs. I’ve seen it in the media, as people lose high profile jobs over using offensive language in emails or text messages. I’ve seen it in the way my editor tirelessly prioritizes PC in my work, and the way certain commenters point out problematic areas in my writing that I can improve upon. Being a decent, educated, and well balanced person in this day and age is completely necessary in conducting business and relationships. People suggesting otherwise are clearly too ignorant to thrive in these areas.
Then there’s the concern trolls, who brush over how this language affects them, and instead make the argument that these choices are actually damaging to us. In his article for The Atlantic, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” Greg Lukianoff tried to prove that trigger warnings and political correctness coddle American students, who should supposedly be exposed to their triggers to help overcome their difficulties with anxiety. Clearly, the cries of critique from marginalized people are falling upon deaf ears of the coddled American man.
It is very, very easy to say things like this as a person quite separated from experiences of oppression. Men like Lukianoff don’t understand the need for trigger warnings because trigger warnings don’t directly benefit them. Many cannot fathom what it’s like to be misgendered, to have racist slurs used against them, to have an anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress affect their daily lives.
Personally, I get triggered by mentions of sexual assault, anxiety, and chronic pain due to my traumatizing experiences with all three. When I’m warned preemptively of the content of a post, especially when it concerns triggering material, I can breathe easy that the safe space of my bed is not going to be invaded. My tendency to have some kind of anxious reaction to triggering content, such as getting stuck in a shame cycle about my attack or losing momentum in overcoming an anxiety attack by reading someone else’s vividly detailed anxious thoughts, is not because I’m coddled or “too sensitive.” In our present-day media saturated world, everyone’s harmful thoughts (or opinions about you) is forwarded right to your phone with a simple push notification. And with transphobia, racism and rape culture being huge problems in our world today, doing everything we can to protect ourselves makes sense.
Trigger warnings and inclusive language are not “coddling” us. They’re teaching us to be more compassionate and mindful toward people with mental illness. And with the knowledge of what’s triggering or offensive to others, we can actively work to dismantle the institutions that create racism, transphobia, and other oppressions.
With certain traumas still fresh in my memory, I am healing in my own time and utilizing the resources available to me to help me continue to make improvements in my life. But on the way, I can do without the insensitive jokes and language. And if that is so difficult to do, if that is violating your “free speech,” then I suggest you reevaluate your idea of free speech as well as the limits of your humanity.
There aren’t any slurs out there for cis white men that hold weight like the “n” word or the “t” word. Accepting your responsibility by altering your language out of respect for those who have suffered more, even if you can’t necessarily relate, would be a huge jump forward in your journey toward adulthood and basic human decency. Treat others the way you want to be treated, and stop silencing the voices of the mentally ill and oppressed on the way. What have you got to lose?