What people can get away with with I-statements.


A conversation I had quite some time ago that came to mind when thinking of the “I-statements” thing. Where _____ is a highly offensive word for someone with a severe cognitive or sometimes severe physical impairment.

Person: I’d rather die than be a ______.

Me: I don’t believe the word _____ really applies to anyone.

Person: I didn’t say it did.

Me: But… doesn’t “I’d rather die than be a _____” kind of imply that the category of “_____” actually exists?

Person: No, I’m just saying for me, I wouldn’t want to be a _____.

Me: So you think you could become a _____?

Person: Yes.

Me: ….which means that some people are _____s, right, if you’re so worried about being a _____?

Person: No! How could you think I’d say that about someone else?

Me: Because if you’re worried about becoming a _____, then it means someone else has to have been a _____ or you wouldn’t worry about it.

Person: FOR ME. I’m just saying. For ME. (Taps chest several times for emphasis.)

Me: Yeah, but you’re saying there’s a category of people _____, and that’s what I’m disagreeing with you about.

Person: FOR ME!

I ended up giving up. The person ended up stalking off very pissed off, after repeating “for me” and tapping her chest and looking pitiful several more times. (Since the person was working for me and it was in the middle of a shift, this became a problem.)

What interested me about this, in retrospect, was that she seemed to think that personalizing something meant she had no actual responsibility for what she said. And this assumption was so ingrained that she was shocked I’d question it. Almost like, “The rules say that if I say ‘for me,’ that ends all discussion of what I’ve actually said. How can you possibly break such an obvious rule of conversation?”

Of course, this is the rule a lot of places: If something (anything) can be framed as someone’s “personal experience,” then it’s totally out of the realm of questioning it. Even if their “personal experience” contains several dangerous assumptions about the world in general, it’s still their “personal experience,” and those who question or criticize it are committing some kind of sin.

It reminds me of a guy, years back, who told me that he was a racist (that’s the word he used to describe himself). He said that he, personally, believed that black people (he used a different word) were stupid and inferior to white people in almost all ways. But this was just his personal opinion, you know, and not everyone’s opinion, and it was just his experience of the world, so I shouldn’t question it. It wasn’t like he was actually trying to speak for anyone else, or anything.

Interestingly enough, same guy, was groping a girl who kept telling him to stop touching her and to get his hands off her. (Note: I knew both of them relatively well, this wasn’t a stranger sort of situation.) I intervened, and the girl told me off, saying that she personally enjoyed having a guy touch her when she said not to and that this had no particular effect on anyone else. I don’t want to know if this guy has raped or sexually assaulted anyone by now, but I would be shocked if he hasn’t.

It seems that just about anything becomes okay if it’s “just personal experience” or “just personal preference,” and people seem to believe that what they do is in some bubble that doesn’t affect anyone else.

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Physically and cognitively disabled. Anything you hear in the media or gossip is likely to be oversimplified at best and wildly inaccurate at worst, the only way to get to know me is to actually know me. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died a couple years ago and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

39 responses »

  1. The phrase that gets me goes along the line of ‘I know I’ve done/ said/ etc … (something stupid) but that’s just the way I am’ as if that somehow mitigates the action in the first place and renders it unavailable for discussion. Almost as if its something they cant help… its not their FAULT, its just the way they are.

    oh, and also on my grrr list is if you take issue with a particular statement you must be Taking Things Too Personally… as though one should not pass comment on something objectionable because after all its just that person’s opinion and just they way they are.

  2. I have a “friend” who has a bizarre sense of what honesty really is. She changes her story frequently and if you call her on it and say she wasn’t honest, she turns it around. She’ll say that you are the person who isn’t being honest if you think that honesty is static. It’s really weird. She uses this personal honesty for all sorts of manipulative mischief. Like she breaks up with someone and then stalks them with the excuse that she wasn’t really “done”, “why are they abandoning her?” She tells different people different versions of the same story and then has different shoulders to cry on depending on the situation.
    She uses the same basic excuse, that it is her experience and how can you question that?! It’s the honest truth according to her at a particular point in time.

  3. This sounds like a case of someone being too vague — that is, they’re using a particular word to refer to what they might see as a constellation of things that sum up to what they believe to be an undesirable state.

    The problem with this is that they’re not defining their own terms very well (or at all).

    The conversation you relate sounds like two people “talking past” one another, with one person questioning the validity of a category-word in the first place, and the other person just using the category-word as if it must be obvious what it means.

  4. I can kind of see where this attitude is coming from, although I think such folks are being immensely tactless.

    One example is with weight. I want to lose weight for various reasons, which are entirely personal to me. However, I’m trying to be quiet about it around my friends. This is because as a tubby person, I have often been sat with very slim women obsessing about their weight. They say “If I put on another few pounds, I wouldn’t be able to show my face in public!”

    Thing is, that just as I am not at all horrified by people much much heavier than me, I know such women are not suggesting that *I* shouldn’t show my face in public. But that is the implication. And it is terribly tacless, terribly bad manners to say such things.

    Your person’s faux-pas was compounded by the fact she used an offensive word and exhibited prejudice – as opposed to the terribly low self-esteem my skinny friends are exhibiting.

    I don’t know if that’s any help. My brain is rather addled today.

  5. I agree that people don’t have to tolerate or condone what others are saying – the agree to disagree or the idea of valueing everyone else’s opinion if their opinion is particularly offensive is not valid. I have posted before on another group that I not under any obligation to condone someone else’s insulting opinion. However – the idea that people are under some sort of obligation to refrain from certain types of statements can be too easily twisted around to apply to many different positions. Fear of offending can be used as a tool to silence dissent. In other words (and for some reason I am having such a hard time trying to think how to word this maybe I should write this at all) I sometimes think an ignorant comment holds out some hope for correction than not allowing questionable comments in the first place. This may not be at all what you were suggesting – this is just something that I was thinking of. I have also seen this with regards to some comments made about “NT’s” which were considered insulting – but if the person is not able to offer their persepctive – which may perhaps be only negative – than others can’t offer their experience to show that not everyone thinks that way. People do need to be aware of how their speech may effect other people – but I don’t think everyone is on the same level (and I’m not talking about cognitively but compassionately).

  6. I was just thinking today about how in certain conversations we’ve had, the concept of “knowledge from experience” somehow got changed into the concept of “bad experiences” (I don’t know if the use of the plural has any significance here), with the implication that these were not representative of anything real that was wrong, but just personal “issues” we had.

    Speaking of issues, there’s a similar shift in meaning where when you take issue with a word someone uses it’s immediately assumed that you have issues with that word – as if it’s a “trigger” or something.

    And then there is the person making the redundant declaration, with all sorts of unneccessary emphasis, that a certain narration or view of certain events or circumstances is yours. (Clever, isn’t it, to negate the validity of another’s experience using affirmative language?)

    And the moral weirdness of saying that you don’t use the word ______ to mean anything negative, while you’re clearly using it as an insult to somebody (who behaves in a way you consider stupid or bad, and whom the word ______ isn’t usually applied to – which makes it an insult to people it is applied to, whether you realize this or not), or clearly using it to denote a certain category of people popularly referred to as ______s and considered to lack certain basic human rights (which category you wish to distance yourself from – implying that you share the majority’s view of the people in it and their rights).

    I realize my example (at the top of this) is in a way opposite to yours; your “for me!” person assumed that putting a disclaimer on something implied that nobody was going to seriously consider what it meant, and our “bad experiences” people refused to seriously consider the meaning of something that wasn’t wearing a disclaimer (and which in fact claimed validity in a wider context than the personal), and even tried to put one on it themselves. The similarity is in the meeting (clashing) of philosophy X with philosophy Y (for both of which I can’t find the most appropriate words at the moment).

    It’s as if a lot of people are operating in a vacuum: feelings don’t have origins, ideas don’t have consequences, and whatever is universally true (if it exists) is irrelevant to life. “Nobody but myself exists” is the ultimate consequence of that kind of thinking. I wonder what is its starting point.

  7. Someone I used to know had a knack for getting away with stereotyping about a particular ethnic group. She’d use a double defense, I-statements, and “I’m just venting.” The venting meant that she could claim anyone who disgreed or objected to what she said was being unjustly nitpicky, and damaging her stress managment skills.

    The I-statments meant that she could say she wasn’t sterotyping to loudly and repeatedly insist that she’s never seen those people do this, or all of those people she knows act that way. It also meant that she didn’t have to take correction, because anyone else who had different experiences obviously must have met a nicer group of those people than she had to deal with. Also, in her mind there couldn’t anything wrong or bigoted about the way she was acting that tended to set people of a particular cultural background on edge. It all had to be their fault and to argue differently was invalidating her experiences.

    And we were supposed to buy all of this nonsense, because she was claiming supreme authority over her experiences, and no responsiblity over her statements. Which was all “just personal”.

  8. What I find most fascinating about people who resort to using the “personal experience” argument is that it generally revolves around perspectives. If you question the validity of any argument that they make, you are accused of being incapable of looking at something from someone else’s perspective. Never mind if you happen to disagree with their perspective- because it’s theirs, it somehow makes it untouchable. (By the way Amanda, I sent you a PM through the PDD website.)

  9. Echospectra: Yeah. And the word this woman used had a strong connotation of subhuman, lacks rights, lacks personhood… and she used the word in connection to people with a very particular disability. I neglected to mention that. (A disability I happen to be quite familiar with, by knowing a lot of people with it.)

    Frustrated: I saw the comment, then totally forgot about it. I must be spacey today.

  10. I confess to sometimes using “I-statements” to couch an impression I have that I know may not be valid. (For instance, ‘In my mind, Laval [a suburb of the city where I live] is like Belgium.”) I’m not saying that my perspective is untouchable – far from it. I mean that I have this idea, and I might be able to identify some of the reasons I have it, but it’s sufficiently ill-informed that it’s more like a prejudice, and I’d like to examine it in more detail to see whether it’s valid. Because I have noticed that I think this way and I don’t want to think this way if it’s not true, and it would be instructive to examine how I developed my idea and what the implications are.

    Not saying that anyone else uses “I-statements” this way. But this is a way I often use them…

  11. RE “Honesty.” Another much-abused idea. Often used as an excuse for abusing people. “I’m just being honest.” Well, why are you choosing to be “honest” about this particular topic and not another? (And if honesty is not “static” then what possible use does it have?)

    There’s a Victorian résumé of questions to ask oneself before speaking: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? Those bad old folks were explicit that truth was not a sufficient reason for saying something. It should also be either necessary or kind, preferably both. These days people stop with true and give themselves permission to say just about anything.

    And as Amanda keeps pointing out, the criteria for “true” can be pretty flimsy at times.

  12. Yeah, the thing about stereotypes is that they’re not true. That folks think specifying “for me” is a legitimate deferral is a testament to the fact that their perceptions are limited and skewed. And based on ideas that come from very little “personal experience” at all. Lemme guess . . . “vegetable”? Ugh. No — don’t tell me. Not like you were gonna, Amanda, but don’t tell me.

  13. The first case does seem like some illogic. I have no idea why a “for me” makes X exist and only for one person. Pehaps she meant to say, “but in my perspective X does exist”. Obviously it has to for her to have it otherwise, Descartes’s since proven rule of “thinking therefore existing/am’ing” would become false.

    The second case of being harassed or being around so many “stupid” people of X variety can coincidentally occur and be valid experience but for them to generalize implied “all” ‘black people'[other word though was used] then it is false and dangerous to set their example and they should try to keep opinions like that to themselves since they base such on an attribute and there is no particular causal relationship, only correlation relationship between a skin tone and a brain’s general “intelligence”/apparent aptitude whatever judged by some panel of judges using 10.0, 8.0, 9.0….see, everyone’s opinion is different so which is valid? Perhaps the one that can prove causation…that or none are…it is just a fuzzy figure. (Perhaps fudge factor would be racist in this context because I’m not the only one with gestalt associated thinking…(like how some use “niggardly”) because both are brown and well…it’s like the joke about never say X,Y, or Z to a senior citizen.)

    I don’t know why some people don’t get it or how they get led to justify things…the best I can figure is that they saw soemone else get away with it and so they think they can if they just copy them. The problem is that some dolt let the first person get away with it and it is possible for some stupid people to congregate but it isn’t because of skin color! Perhaps it is by verbal and logic style.

  14. Alfred, you’re damn hilarious, and you greatly increase my quality of life, sir.

    Goldfish, I think you come close in the fat analogy to where the true offense lies. Surely, by implication, “I’d rather be X (bad) than Y (worse?)” is an insult to whoever is, or who can be perceived as, Y — even, and perhaps especially, if it’s padded with “That’s just my personal preference”. It’s not like freakin’ ice cream flavors; by saying that Y is worse than, say, *death*, one is not merely creating variety, one is creating hierarchy. In essence, one means “That may be good enough for *you*, but to *me* it’s unacceptable.”

    Amanda, if you couldn’t get your staff person to follow or acknowledge the simple logic of “If you’re saying you could be __, that must mean you think some people are __”, then she was all defense in the first place, and she intended the statement to be all about her anyway. This isn’t quite the same thing, but I had a very touchy conversation with someone a couple of weeks ago that came very close to making politics dissolve into purely personal dynamics. The person I was talking to is very much an outsider as regards the concept of disability politics, etc., so I was working with general ignorance to begin with. But I started running my mouth about parents on a television show making a tragedy out of a particular birth “defect”, and them bawling about it before the baby was even born, and doing this even after meeting a person — a very well-adjusted grown-up — who had the same condition. My remark was something to the effect of “What is the big deal?” and the person I was talking to, who recently had a baby, took the stance of “You worry about everything when you’re pregnant, you want the baby to have a normal life,” et cetera, et cetera. The closer I treaded toward the realm of selective abortion and the folly of presuming another person’s life is inherently tragic, the closer I knew I was coming to her exploding in “You don’t know what it’s like because you’ve never had any kids!” And I backed off, because I knew her argument was about *her* and not about a general principle. And I knew that she was in no position to be receptive to the concept of disability rights in general, so I never reached the point of telling her “*You* don’t know what it’s like to have somebody deem a life like yours a life of inherent tragedy, a life of inconvenience, or a life not worth living.”

  15. Yeah. I ended up in a pretty much unending (regardless of how much I tried to avoid it by avoiding political topics) series of clashes with this person, because she was terrified in general of viewing anything as beyond the personal.

    As in, when my roommate pointed out something as simple as “When Amanda walks down the street, people call the cops. That doesn’t happen to you, right?” She panicked and tried to find some explanation besides ableism.

    She told me once that she found it both frightening and distasteful for anyone to think of each other based on groups, so she would think of everyone totally as an individual, and everyone’s behavior towards each other as never motivated or affected by anything like prejudice, privilege, etc, because the very idea of prejudice, privilege, etc, was abhorrent to her. Which usually translated into her finding some pretty interesting ways to abuse power while insisting that she was “not the kind of person who abuses power”. (She also insisted that she didn’t have to deal with adult responsibility in this job, and that this was why she liked it so much.)

    So basically her terror of all things political, combined with my very political bent, made for a really bad personality clash that was unavoidable at times. I ended up having to totally squelch my personality around her in order for her not to run out of the room in a panic in the middle of shifts basically (and I put up with all kinds of stuff from her that was just wrong). And if my personality poked out even a little she would be running outside to calm down. She was very controlling and I ended up putting up with a lot. But other clients have put up with things from her that make me want to smash things on their behalf.

    Finally in some weird display of irony, she became too physically impaired to do this job. (Although she still continues to do other jobs. And she is still harming other clients greatly with some of the things she does in her efforts to pass as non-disabled. She’s not, by the way, disabled in any way that relates to her particular fears in terms of disability.) So she doesn’t work here anymore, because this job requires too much physical work (I use a wheelchair, etc).

    But… yeah, it’s not just that one topic she does this about, it’s everything, but she expects the entire world to warp around her particular personal preferences as if they’re all okay and have no effect on others because they’re “just about her”. (I’m not even at liberty to disclose some of the effect she’s had on others, but it’s far worse than anything she’s ever done to me.) I really hope she wakes up soon because she’s doing a lot of damage, not just to other people but actually to herself.

  16. Being able to pretend that ignoring unjust power distribution in society will make it go away, is a pretty sure sign of a person with privilege.

  17. Pretty much.

    I tried to explain that to her early on, something along the lines of “That just shows that you can actually afford to ignore it. I can guarantee you that every single client of this agency understands power better than you do at the moment — because we have to.”

    That just served to anger and frighten her, and to repeat over and over again that she was “not that kind of person”.

  18. Ugh. There needs to be a card or something. “Society is unjustly biased to favor people like you. That does not make you a bad person, it just makes it easier to be. Thinking about power can actually help you promote equality.”

    It could be printed up en-masse, and handed out every time these kinds of power issues come up, and someone has the, “But I’m not like that!” crisis. Hand them the card, wait a few minutes, and carry on with the discussion.

  19. Are you suggesting that an action should never be undertaken if it might set a bad example for others, no matter what the individual experiences subjectively? And that the badness of committing suicide is morally absolute? If so, is it also immoral to smoke and drink? At what point do my actions become someone else’s business, and who gets to make that decision?

  20. I am suggesting, if you want to call it that, that nobody’s beliefs or actions either come from nowhere or affect nobody else. Also that anyone who believes that they exist in a bubble where they affect nobody (especially people who believe that if it’s a “personal decision” then it doesn’t affect anyone else) are in much more position to affect people negatively with their decisions than people who grasp that no matter what they do or decide it will have some kind of effect.

    That you have a right to do something, does not always make the thing the best thing you could do under the circumstances, and it does not mean that it has no repercussions for other people. This is true of both large and small decisions. (Also, to be clear, there are plenty of things that I think have the potential for harm, but that should be rights even though right now they’re not and even though I would never engage in them.)

    I have a perfect right to be a jerk, but I still try not to. I have a right to say autism is caused by bad parenting and claim that this is only my personal beliefs and therefore it affects nobody (note: it isn’t my personal beliefs, but I have a right to say it whether or not it is, and if it were my personal beliefs it would not decrease the repercussions for other people), but I still try not to. I have a right to say that autistic people are animated lumps of flesh without a soul, even say it on national television, and say that because I have sometimes “felt like that” and “it’s just my feelings” then my words are ethically unassailable (another claim the first woman being discussed made was that it was a great idea to discuss both autistic and “mentally ill” people in these terms for the reason that “some might feel that way”)… but I still try not to.

    I suspect most people are on some level quite aware of this or else they would not attempt to make better decisions. Most people do not take only their subjective feelings into consideration when doing just about anything. And most subjective feelings do not spring out of nowhere pristine and untouched by the outside world. And actions rarely affect only the person taking the particular action. Most actions, of course, have both good and bad consequences, but people still try to figure out the best course of action based on what they can figure out of the consequences.

    And, I’m also saying, that tacking on “I feel” and “for me” and so forth doesn’t absolve a person of responsibility for whatever they’re doing or saying.

  21. Most people are aware of this only on a limited level – mostly out of politeness they feel the need to conform to NOT say certain things in front of certain people. However, I have noticed to my disappointment that there is a tendency even among those who claim diversity (or want acceptance for themselves) to say things that are offensive or outrageous. They must think it is OK because they believe their ideas reflect the majority opinion of those listening to them. I have found that for some reason religion still seems to be an acceptable target for comments and mostly because of stereotypes. So there are many people who are sensitive but only about certain subjects and among certain people yet feel entirely comfortable finding some group to treat differently than they would find acceptable in another situation. And while I agree that the world would be much better for people being mindful about how their speech might effect others it is the inconsistentcy in doing that that I find strange. I would think a person who was completely impolite across the board was more honest than those who are wily enough to be selectively insulting.

  22. I completely agree with the above. Well-said. Most people would probably agree that our actions don’t occur in a vacuum, but the idea that our attitudes also aren’t formed in a vacuum is perhaps a little less obvious, but no less important.

    This idea points to the difference between pain and suffering, the former being a complex of physiological reactions to noxious stimuli, and the latter including pain as well as emotional responses to it. Most pain (so it is said) is treatable (although in practice it often doesn’t get treated adequately), but suffering is a tougher issue, and requires both subjective adaptation and support from without. I’m still not ready to say that committing suicide (presumably as a reaction to intolerable pain and suffering) is an absolute ethical violation in every situation. But virtually all suicides have a significant effect on others, both specifically and generally (i.e., generally, they may add a pebble to the pile of “situations in which people may feel it’s more OK to commit suicide and/or devalue the lives of others also in that situation”). So suicide is a monumental decision, and should never be contemplated as if in a vacuum.

    Are you familiar with Art Buchwald’s recent experience with refusing kidney dialysis and choosing instead to enter a hospice? The Wikipedia article on him is a good summary. I’d probably have accepted the dialysis myself, but I respected the nuance and candor with which he laid out his thinking on the matter, and Buchwald’s is an example of a “for me” type statement I don’t find offensive. He didn’t appear to make the decision lightly, nor did the vast majority of observers appear to succumb to the idea that his decision was an implicit argument that dialysis patients ought to kill themselves or be euthanized. His actions didn’t take place in a vacuum, and a significant part of that lack-of-vacuum was occupied by how he framed the issue. Quite apart from that, it’s ironic that nature played a joke on him, his kidney function returned, and as of this writing he’s still alive.)

    As an aside, I tend to be drawn irresistably to meme-complexes that attempt to deal with suffering without introducing gratuitious “belief-baggage”, like some forms of Buddhism. Lately I find that sometimes art is better than philosophy. At this blog entry there are a couple of “pictures worth a thousand words”, especially “the Last Great Act Of Defiance”, which imo is a good attitude to take toward suffering and (sometimes) those who perpetuate it:

  23. I am not familiar with him, but from your description he’s very different than the person I was talking about, who instead said things in a way that invited prejudice.

    Although these are not the words or the disability she was discussing, she at one point said the equivalent of, “I would not want to be a massa carnis. I have a brother who’s profoundly mentally retarded and a sister who’s autistic, so I have personal experience with these things. FOR ME. FOR ME.”

  24. Oh, I just remembered another thing that’s kind of the flip-side of many of the problems I’ve described with I-statements and discussion of feelings and so forth.

    Because they are so often used to manipulate people, I’ve been in some pretty bizarre situations where, for instance…

    Someone was saying stuff that was very much… the sort of thing that pushes all my buttons, like promoting really bad stuff being done to people.

    I mentioned as a side-comment how uncomfortable these conversations were. (I can’t remember my exact words.)

    Later on, the person apparently went out of their way never to discuss these things around me. I did not know this. When this person then wanted me to avoid discussing certain things around them, they said, basically, “Look, I’ve avoided discussing this after you told me not to, so why can’t you give me the same courtesy and avoid discussing what I’m uncomfortable with?”

    I was utterly stunned and said “I never told you not to discuss that, I wouldn’t use my emotional reactions against someone that way, I find that really manipulative.”

    The person said, “But you said how uncomfortable and frightening it was, which means you were really asking me to stop talking about it in front of you.”

    I said, “No, I wasn’t. My discomfort doesn’t regulate your choice of conversational topics.” (Note: This was a large forum with lots of people in it.)

    The person kept on insisting that I did in fact ask for this, whether or not I claimed to have asked for this. The proof that I did in fact ask for this, was that, basically, “This makes me uncomfortable” (I don’t even think I said that, I think I just expressed some kind of negative emotion in the middle of a rant about her viewpoint) is code for “Don’t discuss it in my presence or I will have real problems and they will be your fault” or something.

    My refusal to “admit” that I’d asked for this ended up being used to show how argumentative I am in general and how resistant to wisdom I am. Or something.

    The idea that expressing discomfort with an idea (or even just having an emotional reaction to an idea) is the same as telling people not to discuss it, can only come out of the kind of warped thinking where people say “When you… I feel…” etc. when they mean “Stop doing that.”

  25. Ooh, that is nasty. Projection is nasty. This was obviously coming from folks who *would* have used “I feel” as a substitute for “Cut that out”. It is very difficult for people who use layer upon layer of social device to mask their intentions to grasp the idea that some people really say what they mean. Well, missy, that oughtta learn ya to keep your discomfort to yourself.

  26. I liken that tactic, and the presumption that others must be trying it, to “fishing” for validation — or petty compliments — on the premise of low self-esteem. I’ve noticed that if I make some offhand comment like “Ooh, my skin looks really pasty this morning” or “This dress makes my ass look lumpy”, and there are women-folk around, I’m accosted with a flurry of “Oh, no, honey, you’re beautiful!” — as though I had just said I wasn’t. I can only conclude that this reaction is a product of many women’s tendency to really say things like “I’m so ugly,” etc., in hopes that someone nearby will disagree. The practice of projection leads women to conclude that when I say something that that’s really just a qualitative observation and relatively superficial, i.e. this lighting is bad or the cut of the dress is lousy; that I am performing that (frankly played-out and tiresome) trick of “I hate myself; tell me I’m pretty.”

  27. The discomfort thing also looks like a way of avoiding the substance of the topic. Instead of looking at your objections (that you don’t think it’s okay to treat certain kinds of people in certain ways), and having to address that she believes something that you think hurts people, she simply avoided the topic. This allows for a certain self-congratulatory, “I’m being sensetive by not talking about any of this,” reassurance, while not requring her to question her beliefs, or the stereotypes they may be based on.

    The ‘just trying to be sensitive’ thing makes more sense when people take some responsibility for their decisions. Real consideration might include not discussing upsetting topics (if the people you’re dealing with honestly want it), but doesn’t include any of this, “I did this because of what (I assumed) you wanted, now you owe me!” demands.

  28. Yeah.

    I’m also having trouble, because right now I’m writing a post about something where I’m far more able to describe my gut-level (literally, as in physical signs of nausea) feeling of revulsion when I see the thing, than able to coherently describe what’s wrong with the thing, and I don’t even know the word for the thing.

    And, the thing-with-no-name is present in a lot of people’s writing, including the writing of some people likely to read the post and likely to be surprised by my reaction to their writing.

    I’m trying for something more coherent than “this kind of writing makes me want to puke,” but I can’t exactly separate that reaction from all the reasons it does, so… it’ll be interesting.

  29. offtopic and no time to read all the interesting comments until later but just wanted to say Glad to see you back online, was worried.


  30. “Your person’s faux-pas was compounded by the fact she used an offensive word and exhibited prejudice – as opposed to the terribly low self-esteem my skinny friends are exhibiting.”

    I think your skinny friends were being prejudiced. The fact that they think being a certain weight means anyone “shouldn’t show their face in public” is prejudice. Prejudice and low self esteem are certainly not completely separate, by the way.

  31. “Prejudice and low self esteem are certainly not completely separate, by the way.”

    Ettina, you’re absolutely correct. They often overlap like hell. The idea that “something’s wrong with me” can tangle itself all up with “something’s wrong with people like me” as well as “something’s wrong with people like THAT”. People can be manipulated to hate their own ___ness, and in turn wreak insult on others who are also ___, especially those others who don’t seem to mind that they’re ___. And people who hate aspects of themselves that they’ve been taught to view as pathological can be ferocious weapons against others who share their condition, i.e. “I suppressed/cured/overcame my ___; you can too — and if you don’t you’re a misfit seeking pity” (presuming ___ is just cause for receiving pity) “or you’re not trying hard enough.” More ominous still is the poster child-turned-weapon who says “I have ___, but it’s a mild form of ___” and/or “but I overcame it, and I can live a normal life. But there are different kinds of us. I’m the good kind, but there are other kinds who are not as good, who could never lead a normal life . . .”

    Conversely, the guise of “low self-esteem” is a formidable weapon in itself, used often to justify behavior that is damaging to others. “I do X because I was (insert cookie-cutter childhood trauma) and now I hate myself” is degrading on a number of levels – and it’s illogical. When one blames one’s subconscious for one’s conscious acts, especially in such a banal, pseudo-Freudian way, it sets us back decades. “This happened to me” or “I’ve been taught to hate myself” doesn’t necessarily have to jive neatly with “these are my socio-political views”. What shapes a person’s views is a collection of experiences, even seemingly trivial ones, and a jumble of perceptions so complex that to take one canned “story” and make it the scope of an individual’s politics is really ludicrous. And people who apply one “story” to their own politics are not doing justice to their own intricate and unique personalities.

  32. Pingback: Link Farm & Open Thread #38 « Creative Destruction

  33. Pingback: Club Troppo » Equality in the Age of Human Capital

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s