Chitchat and the occasional in-depth analysis about fiber, knitting, spinning, crochet, cooking, feminism, self-image, and a modicum of personal blathering.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Admiration diminished

I was in an interesting and rather disheartening email exchange with a local newspaper opinion writer. This guy is someone I've admired for years. He has a great writing style. He's almost as liberal/progressive as I am. He's sensible and forthright and does not suffer fools. And today, he called me a fool, in not so many words.

This editorial started like most of his others that I've read. Interesting, self-deprecating to a degree, humorous, informed. Then I got to the last sentence.

Maybe my feminism is lame, but I'd like to think I'm moving in the right direction.

Since I've always seen this gentleman as an informed and sensible advocate, I did not feel anger or offense or anything but mild surprise at his use of the word "lame" as a derogatory term. I figured he would probably want to know that many disabled people take issue with this usage, so I sent him the following email, thinking he'd appreciate the word-up.

You'd be moving further in the right direction if you did not use
"lame" as a derogatory statement. It's similar to saying "that's so
gay!" or calling someone "retarded". As a person with disabilities,
including permanent structural leg damage, lameness is my default
state. It does not make me less.

Maybe I was too terse, I was in the middle of a highly frantic work day, but I could not have been more wrong about how he was going to take it. I got this in return.

Hmmmm. Considering that I have never heard the term "lame" applied to a physically handicapped person, I doubt very seriously it can be equated with "that's so say (sic)" or "retarded," Jamie. It doesn't have that currency. Could it be that you're being extraordinarily touchy today? You're choosing to find offense where there is none. That's just silly, don't you think? I've heard from all sorts of PC-oriented folks today, but no one has raised my use of the term "lame" as an offense against people with disabilities. That's just a stretch, dude.
Still, I will bring this up with several disability advocates I know.
If they agree with you, then I will have learned something. I suspect you're overreacting, though. In a way, I hope you're exaggerating for the sake of droll comic relief.
Thanks for the note (and the uncomfortable bout of laughter) ;)

I replied that I was not offended but contemptuous, as at that point, I was quite contemptuous. I think he got the Derailing for Dummies bingo on the first try. I then PS'd to say

PS, if you are interested in educating yourself instead of being defensive, you might read this.

He then replied that he might read it one of these days, but that right now he just wanted to be rid of me.

I was saddened by this. I thought this fellow was someone who could handle a gentle callout but apparently not.

Something similar happened to me a few years ago when a friend of ours made some comment about French kindergarteners being taught how to surrender. He also stated at that time that stereotypes existed because there was truth in them. It's ok though. I hold his wife in very high regard so I can ignore how far he fell in my estimation that day. Maybe it's best to have people we admire fall off their pedestals from time to time. And I hope that someday, Tony will read that link at Amptoons and learn something. Sometimes, we push back hardest when our unacknowledged privilege and prejudice is pointed out. I know I resisted the concept of white privilege for a bit. But I got over it.

On a happier note, look what finally turned up in our yard today.


Mary Ellen said...

... he's never heard the actual dictionary definition of the word lame? Seriously? Wow.

(I've been guilty of using the word "lame" as a pejorative, and I'm trying to be more careful about what comes out of my mouth. I also don't think your initial email was terse, and it certainly didn't warrant his response!)

jamie fritz said...

I've done the same, and adjusted my usage accordingly. I did the same with calling things and people a bitch, saying something is retarded, etc. Grown people should be able to take feedback without snapping out. IMO anyway.