Soapbox Saturday

Sticks and stones may break bones, but words reveal the painful truth.

They say gossip hurts; as kids on the playground we’re encouraged not to spread gossip, to think before we speak. I think that when we hear gossip, we shouldn’t necessary jump to shut it down, we should listen, REALLY listen to what is being said, and question the true meaning and origin of what is being said. Gossip hurts because it’s an ugly mirror, so let’s stop flinching and confront it.

This TED talk goes into the actual science of human behavior as revealed through gossip, and it is simply fascinating and worth the time to watch:

Once you start to realize how deeply gossip actually reflects our inner values and morals as a collective society, it’s not a far stretch to start questioning the hidden depths in other forms of communication. Equally as potent as gossip in revealing our true natures and values, both as individuals and as a collective society, is our use of humor.

Last week I found myself in an argument on Facebook with a friend because of a joke he made with one of his buddies based around the misogynistic use of the word “bossy”. To paraphrase, the “joking exchange” went as such:

T: you should do [such and so action]
S: bossy aren’t we?
T: the word bossy should only be applied to women, otherwise it doesn’t make sense.
S: exactly, lol

At which point I couldn’t help but jump into the conversation with my own comments. Now T and I are not friends, primarily because he has one of those brash, machismo type personalities that totally rubs me the wrong way, so I did not take personal offense to his definition of how “bossy” should be used, but I was very surprised and very disappointed to see my friend S support this definition, and I expressed as much.

S’s defense was that he was not trying to be offensive against women, but instead that he was jokingly calling T a woman by his own definition (i.e. bossy only applies to women, S called T bossy, ergo T is a woman). What S failed to realize is that there is absolutely no way to defend this “joke” without being offensive to women. Making “bossy” a negative word to use against women is verbal combat against a woman’s right to be a man’s equal instead of his submissive. Joking about a man’s masculinity (or lack thereof) by referring to him as a woman perpetuates the mindset of gender superiority, as if there’s something wrong with being a woman or defying predefined gender roles. S continued to try and defend his position by saying “it’s just what guys do when they joke with each other”. Yeah, it is what guys do, and it’s still wrong.

Humor is so frequently used to gloss over serious issues like gender superiority, racism, sexual preferences, religious differences, body image shaming, differences of mental capacity, and a whole slew of of topics that denigrate people into punchlines. We hide behind the excuse “it’s just a joke” and even go as far as to marginalize how we hurt others with these so-called jokes by calling them overly sensitive and lacking in a sense of humor so that we don’t have to take responsibility for what we’ve said.

This video makes an excellent example of how one company tried to hide behind the excuse of “it’s just a joke” and ended up making themselves looks even more like insensitive jerks who only care about self preservation:

We don’t need sticks and stones to hurt one another, we already do plenty of damage with our irresponsible abuse of communication. We make serious issues into punchlines to excuse our behavior, and we can see in our gossip the widespread ramifications of maintaining this status quo.

It’s time to stop hiding behind punchlines and an apathetic attitude of “this is normal” and “it’s ok because everyone does it”. It’s time to wake up and actually talk to one another about the big issues, to be conscientious people in full command of our language and how we communicate with one another. It’s time to be honest about how we feel, and it’s time to take responsibility when we hurt others, whether we meant to or not.

Sticks and stones can break some bones, but words reveal the ugly truth about ourselves, and it’s time to face the mirror and deal with this.


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