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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The Mouse Guide to Euphemism and Empty Phrases

Via Sara at Diotima, we learn that the media finally has a way to let the Vatican spew misogyny without having to explain themselves. The spin is that the Pope is trashing on "radical feminists", and this is perfectly acceptable since no one likes those radical feminists. Of course, if you actually read what was written with all the language about how women would just do better to be humble and servile and all that, those "radical feminists" start looking like, well, most women.

Which is what "radical feminists" are--most women. "Radical feminist" is one of those empty phrases that fits any woman who is getting uppity. A woman morphs into a "radical feminist" by wanting a job, a nap, not to have another baby, whatever. But since it's such an alarming phrase, it shuts down discussion. And that's its purpose.

No one likes being considered a hateful bigot. This can cause problems for people who would like to express hateful and bigoted opinions, though, as expressing those opinions can often cause someone else to regard you as a hateful bigot. (Though not as often as we'd like at Mouse Words. Hateful bigots often get a pass because liberals have been cowed by the ridiculous argument that if we are "tolerant" we should be tolerant of intolerance.) What's a hateful bigot to do? Luckily, there are many hard-working people in many well-funded think tanks creating piles of euphemism and empty phrases that can be wielded to express racist/sexist/homophobic opinions and confuse an audience so that they cannot retort. As a bonus, these euphemisms are often picked up by the major media and used so commonly that old hateful words are hardly necessary anymore.

Well, we at Mouse Words are tired of seeing our fellow well-meaning liberals get all befuddled because in their good-natured way they take their opponents for what they say when they should be addressing what they mean. So we have decided to compile a short list of common phrases and their true meanings so that you don't lose any more precious moments trying to figure out what the hell someone is trying to say while they craft their next devastating argument about how the Other is lazy, worthless or immoral.

Radical feminist: Anyone, female or male, who believes that 50% of the population should have 50% of the power and/or anyone who believes that women should enjoy the same autonomy as men. The word "radical" is usually used to discredit anyone argues that women's legal rights are meaningless if there is no enforcement or that a man has no property rights over a woman's body, even if he has had sex with her. "Radical feminist" is useful because many women still have warm feelings towards ordinary feminists, who got them some workplace protections and respect at home. By virtue of their beliefs in equality, most men and women are "radical feminists".

I'm not racist, but: This appears to be a disclaimer, which is why it causes confusion. The person who uses this phrase usually follows it by spouting an appalling racist proclamation that makes people squirm in their seats. My favorite example, after a number of beers were consumed, "I'm not racist, but blacks just need to learn their place." It's confusing because it would seem that a non-racist would not have racist beliefs. Luckily, that's not what it means at all. All this phrase means is that the speaker is a racist and wishes that it were still socially acceptable to be one. It can also mean that someone is a racist but wishes his/her audience to know that not all racists are Kluckers.

I'm not a feminist, but: Structured the same way as the previous phrase, but different in its essential meaning. In the previous phrase, someone is trying to say something hateful without being called out for it. In this case, someone is trying to say something progressive without attracting hateful comments towards her. Most women who say, "I'm not a feminist, but" are feminists, but they know that there is inevitably one man in a room of more than 5 who thinks that any woman who expresses solidarity with feminists is a man-hating non-shaving hippie. These women mean well. Be gentle with them, agree with their sentiments, call those sentiments feminist as gently as possible and handle the asshole yourself. Lead by example.

Quotas: Most people, even avowed conservatives, favor affirmative action. Knowing this, the think tanks decided to float the concept of "quotas", a euphemism that distracts people from the basic concept of affirmative action and causes them to vote against their own beliefs. One will often hear, "I think affirmative action is a good idea, but I don't like quotas." Usually, the policy in discussion is not one of quotas. Just remind your opponent that the policy at hand is one of affirmative action, not quotas. If they get confused, just spell out the exact policy. Affirmative action isn't confusing. Most people get it, once it's explained. Remember, quotas and goals are different things. An academic program may have a goal of 25% female but that is not a quota.

Homosexual agenda: This is a phrase that's entire purpose is to make it sound immoral for people to organize to agitate for basic rights and improve their own quality of life. Remember that if there was the same kind of money being put into think tanks in the 50's and 60's, the Montgomery bus boycott would have been called part of the "Negro Agenda". When you hear this phrase, think, "push for equality". A sentence like, "The homosexual push for equality is in the schools," sounds better than "The homosexual agenda, etc."

Special rights: Equal rights. The right to be free of discrimination is considered special because only oppressed groups get it. This phrase evolved during the struggle for gay rights. The idea was that because straight people are not fired for their sexual orientation the way gays are, gays would be using the protections against discrimination more, making it a "special right". When you hear it, remember that makes as much sense as a motorist complaining that pedestrians have "special" rights not to get run over by a car.

Family values: Male privilege and/or the patriarchy. Anything that challenges a man's right to rule over his wife and children without question is anti-family values. That's why people who are all about "family values" are more interested in referring a woman's reproductive decisions to husband or father than they are interested in valuing, say, the safety of family members against domestic violence that's usually committed by the all-important father figure.

Well, that's it for tonight. If you have any suggestions, leave a comment or send an email! More will go up when I think of them!

13 Comments:

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