#MoreThanMean Means More Than Being More Than Mean

I have a younger sister who I am very protective of.  We talk sometimes about her challenges as a math teacher, and how kids can be difficult and hard to handle.  Especially teenage boys.  My wife works in customer service, and after she tells me about how her day went, I have on more than one occasion wanted to go to blows with the customer who disrespected her.  There is something that cannot be articulated, almost primal, that makes me feel that somehow they, as women, should be treated differently.  With more respect.  Moreover, I feel like had they been men, the interactions would have gone down a bit differently.

And so, when I saw the video from Just Not Sports, where guys read real online comments about women sports reporters to those reporters, I immediately got it.  The comments were tasteless and ridiculously out of line.  These are professionals who are doing a job they are more than qualified for.  If they had penises and adams apples, they would not be getting lobbed such vulgar words.

 

 

And so my right brain is hoping that the PSA changes hearts and minds.

Meanwhile, my left brain was a little wary of the whole thing.  When I listened to The Trifecta on ESPN this weekend, I understood why.  The Trifecta is a weekend radio show hosted by Sarah Spain, Jane McManus and Kate Fagan.  Bomani Jones, also a host of his own show on ESPN but this time a call-in guest, talked about the PSA with the hosts of The Trifecta.  He suggested that management at Twitter needs to be more mindful of what people post, suggesting that Twitter should censor such comments.

Uh-oh.  I know that Jones is speaking about common decency, but censoring people because we do not like what they are saying bleeds into violations of free speech.  To be sure, as a private company, Twitter is well within their right to tell people what they can and cannot post on their space.  But as a democratic, free society, we have to be brave enough to allow people to say things that are off color or unpopular.  The #MoreThanMean PSA has implications that move beyond simply urging people to not be vulgar and disrespectful towards women.  It is a slippery slope in the direction of chocking off public speech on social media.

We should not censor the public sphere – especially in an age where the public sphere is so accessible and so powerful.  In fact, we need to work extra hard to protect the speech of those who are being so disrespectful to women. That’s right.  I am defending the right of people to call women c—.  Just like I defend the right of whites to call black people n—-.  Just like I defend the right of homophobes to call gays and lesbians p—-.  That’s hard stuff, I know.  But until the comments move into identifiable forms of threat, I feel that it is my duty as an American citizen to defend their right to speak the way they want.

I support the idea that unpopular speech is what a democracy is all about.  In Stalin’s USSR unpopular speech was met with a trip to the Gulag, or death.  Speech – in the form of writing and public protests, is what gave the gay and lesbian movement the free space it needed to articulate its concerns.  Being sympathetic to the social and political concerns of women, racial minorities, and sexual minorities was at one time unpopular speech.  Someone, somewhere, thought it was “more than mean” to say that his or her son was born effeminate and had sexual desires for men.  He or she probably thought it was vulgar, and that person should not be allowed to speak in public forums, write in newspapers, or give lectures on college campuses. 

I agree with the underlying sentiment behind the #MoreThanMean PSA.  But unfortunately, if a listener feels so aggrieved that they wish to send an off color, vulgar tweet to Sarah Spain or any other host that is female (black, Christian fundamentalist, or Muslim as well) it is my responsibility as a lover of liberty to defend that scumbag’s right to tweet it.

 

 

 

3 comments

  1. I struggle with the whole free speech thing much like I struggle with any exercising of “freedom” that belligerently oversteps the not-so-obscure realm of morality (which I admit is an inherently subjective notion at times). It is true that speech censorship walks the slippery slope towards oppressive activity that totalitarian realities often rest upon on. But all the same, there cannot simultaneously be tolerance of the anonymous abuse of agency represented by the hate spewed forth in the #MoreThanMean tweets.

    The great blessing and curse of a post-Industrial Age is that the absolute bottom-feeders of moral (there’s that word again) decency in the our society are given a stunningly pervasive platform to vomit their thoughts upon the public at-large. Yet, it also allows for a window to open where such ugliness can be confronted firsthand. We need only muster the courage to do so, which of course is easier said…. Certainly, one might argue that sexism and misogyny (as with racism, classicism, homophobia, religious intolerance and so forth) are more overtly known today, while the originators of said content have more means and inclination to mask their identities. And it is here where I ultimately arrive at the aforementioned struggle.

    When I think about the etymology of the word “faggot/fagot”, I am reminded all too vividly of how incredibly powerful words can be — something these tweeters clearly fail to understand, or perhaps more frighteningly, understood all to well. But at least calling someone a faggot prior to the Internet’s arrival demanded either saying it openly and taking ownership, or simply shutting up and keeping it to yourself. For that matter, I suppose I agree that everyone has a right to say their peace…but I also believe anyone compelled to speak their mind in such a way should also be held to the full weight of public critique and rebuttal on said subject and comments.

    See — I don’t think the language or intent behind the #MoreThanMean tweets are the truly problematic issues, but rather that such verbal poison can be projected under the digital veil of anonymity that has become the hallmark of Internet trolls and like-minded abusers in cyberspace. Especially when we consider the increasingly blurring lines between social reality whether physical or digital, I believe we are no longer safe to merely say that a person has a right to say whatever they want to say without taking stock of accountability.

    At the risk of gross oversimplification, if you call someone a c—, say it loud and proud. Take ownership of that hate in full view of the online and offline public at-large and have the decency to accept being held to task for it. I hold the same view for YouTube commenters, social media trolls, and basically anyone incapable or unwilling to confront scrutiny beyond the spotlight of their keystrokes and obscure screen handles. Frankly, without the commodity of exposure at our disposal, who among the #MoreThanMean population of offenders is really being deterred from their actions? How are we “better” as a society for allowing individuals to behave as so without repercussions?

    1. Hey man! Thanks for leaving a reply.

      I think that I am reluctant to label things as “hateful”. One man’s hate is another man’s representation of reality. Morality is also a difficult one. What is right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable changes over time.

      I prefer to think of “hateful” words as really words people don’t like. For example, slaveholders in the American south saw the words of abolitionists as “hateful” because they didn’t like them. Or, Islamic fundamentalists will find the words coming from our government as “hateful” for the same reason. Even more currently, people advocating for gender neutral bathrooms may have been perceived as spewing hate by those who did not want that legislation.

      So, for me, the question is whether or not a person is hurt by speech. By hurt I mean physically – you threaten them or ask someone else to harm them, economically – you slander them and they lose income or wealth, socially – again through slander you cause a person shame or to loose prestige, or psychologically – your words are so hurtful that they cause people psychological pain or mental trauma.

      Words do hurt.

      The question is, how to balance the hurt that words can cause with the benefits that open communication provides.

      There is no clear cut answer, but in my view the psychological pain from words are a degree less damaging than the other three. To put it in stark terms, if a person calls me a “n—” I can handle this because of my own self-esteem and pride in my ancestors. It is his problem that he thinks I am a n—, not mine. That is his opinion. More power to him.

      I’d rather face that minor nuisance than live in a society where abolitionists and gay rights advocates are silenced because someone decides that their words are hateful.

      1. Fair enough. I think I would further make the distinction that intentional harm (which is what I had in mind) versus accidental harm warrants a place in this discussion. Knowing that certain words can cause harm and still using them anyway is a far greater deal to me that simply speaking out of ignorance. Someone calling me a nigger, for example, or some other pejorative simply because “they do not know any better” strikes me as a considerably less worrisome offense than if it was used with known effort to harm. As in your slavery example, not all Whites of the pre-abolition South were truly racist in their use of words like nigger; in many instances, they simply grew up and lived in settings where such language was commonplace amidst the vernacular.

        On the matter of #MoreThanMean, it would be hard to envision that the authors of such content were completely ignorant of the harm they were perpetrating. But nonetheless, the possibility is there.

        I stand on the contention that freedom of speech need not also be a blanket acquiesence to communication intended to cause harm — be it physical or otherwise — and devoid of reasonable consequence.

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