On The Myth Of "Being Inoffensive"

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Yesterday, I wrote about how it takes some training to learn to shrug off insults, and said this:
“Speak carefully. Try to be kind. And don’t be a dick unless it’s your last choice.”
To which one commenter replied:
“Rather than attempt to tailor speech to be inoffensive (which is a neverending race to the bottom), we should be equipping people with the tools to handle a world where people disagree with them.”
I’m sorry – when did I say inoffensive? Christ, I offend people all the time.
I wrote “Dear Daughter: I Hope You Have Some Fucking Awesome Sex,” which was read by millions. It offended tons of conservatives, took parents off-guard, shocked hundreds of religious groups.
Did I set out to not offend them? No.
I wrote All Women And Never Men: A Rant On A Polyamory I Dislike, about the one-penis policy and how it’s usually (though not invariably, I hesitate to add) sexism and selfishness wrapped into a package that a lot of women ultimately come to regret. I still get angry letters on that one.
I wrote Can I Buy You A Coffee? and its follow-up essay, which talked about how colossally rude it is to hit on women and then pretend you were just trying to do them a favor. Pissed off a lot of guys on that one. Men’s Rights Advocates aren’t too fond of me, either.
And look through my archives! I’ve said lots of things that have deeply offended my liberal buddies, my conservative buddies, my religious buddies, my atheist pals. You’ll find thousands of comments from people who not just disagreed, but were actively enraged at what I had to say.
And you know what?
I chose to offend them.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve written tons of essays where I fucked up and said something inadvertently offensive, mainly because I didn’t understand transgender issues, or kink-related issues, or some subtle form of politics. And I’ve written lots more essays where I meant to say, “Hey, I’m in favor of this” and wrote it so badly that I appeared to be me criticizing that, and that’s my piss-poor words rising up to rightfully bite me.
But with each of my better essays, I thought carefully: Who will this offend? And I quickly devised a list of the sorts of people who I thought this would piss off…
…and I was okay with it.
If some conservative father who never wants his daughter to have sex gets pissed off, then I’ve accepted that as a cost of doing business. If some douchey pick-up artist takes offense when I tell him how he’s manipulating women, sorry, but it’s what I believe.
If some couple who’ve been perfectly happy in their one-penis policy is mad because they’re different from all of those other OPP people, well, I feel a little bad, but I couldn’t figure out a way to get ’em out of the line of fire.
If I use the phrase “Girl Drink Drunk” to discuss my love of flavored vodka, I’ll undoubtedly annoy a couple of my feminist friends who don’t like the genderification of drinks – and, more importantly, don’t love classic Kids in the Hall sketches the way I do. But I pondered that, weighed their annoyance as comparatively light versus my amusement at the term, and chose to offend a little.
But note in each of those cases: I’m usually aware of what I’m doing, and making a conscious choice. (And if enough of my friends really get bent out of shape about the Girl Drink Drunk bit, then maybe I recalculate the equation. Maybe I don’t. Times change.)
So no. I’m not trying to erase all offense from the universe. I’m trying to say that I make decisions, weighing my free speech versus how upset someone’s going to get versus how legitimate I feel their offense is, and making a judgment call. In others, I say things more nicely to cushion the blow.  In some cases, I don’t say things because I think it’d hurt people’s feelings for no good reason.
(NOTE: You may not be able to avoid hurting people’s feelings when you’re speaking the truth as you see it.  But when you start hoping to hurt people’s feelings as part of an essay? That’s when you’ve become a dick.)
And there are times I just go off on those I’ve decided I don’t give a rat’s ass about.  Point is, I offend all the fucking time. It’s impossible to do comedy without offending. It’s impossible to make legitimate changes without offending.
I just try to offend as part of a greater plan, is all.

1 Comment

  1. Yet Another Laura H.
    Apr 18, 2014

    I… I just think there’s a difference between deliberately being hurtful/ abusive and being potentially offensive (let alone disagreeing with someone, as your commenter seems to be implying).
    It’s the difference between “you should really watch where you’re going and learn learn to trip in a way that minimizes damage,” and “You should really stop bruising when people punch you. I mean, he bruised his poor knuckles on your face, and you don’t see HIM whining about it.”

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