“Politically correct” instead of honest and respectful

This turned into a rant about Everyday Feminism’s social media, but it’s about a general problem, of people with significant platform choosing the “PC” route of interacting rather than the hard work of figuring out how to most respectfully engage with readers.

I think that when we argue against people who whine about “PC culture” we don’t often make the distinction between politically correct vs actually the thing we want people to do, which is to be respectful of marginalized people.

PC is pretending to be respectful of marginalized people. It’s the things you have to not say in order to be *perceived* as not racist, sexist, homophobic. It’s not about being not racist, sexist, homophobic. People complaining about even just giving off the impression they aren’t a bigot while saying they’re not a bigot endlessly astounds me.

Aside from just angry strangers on the internet, there’s the serious issue of actual feminists being politically correct instead of doing the work.

For example, I think the way Everyday Feminism (a very popular feminist website) does image descriptions on their Facebook page is really, really awkward and more “politically correct” than actually helpful. They try to avoid gendering people or putting a flashing sign on someone’s race when they aren’t white–that basic motivation I think is good. Unfortunately instead of figuring out how to be sensitive and least oppressive with it they went the PC route and ignored it all.

They’ll say “a person with black hair” but what the image is of is “a black person with black, kinky hair”. They’ll say straight or curly, never kinky, and they’ll never say someone’s race. They also don’t say genders even when the gender is relevant to the piece and it’s a stock image.

It would be a lot better, at least in my opinion, to say everyone’s race, not just leave it out. It is literally telling blind people they don’t need to know. The editors are pretty good about using stock photos of not just white people, clearly they think people care, so when they do the image descriptions this way it’s really inconsistent. 

I also personally think it’s okay to gender people in stock photos if it’s relevant to the article, because that person is a character. If you’re using real photos from like a protest or something, I understand not gendering people, and in fact it’s really good to not gender strangers who are not characters, but rather people living their lives. But if the stock photo is a woman being sad and the post is about women and depression, there’s no reason to say “person with brown hair”.

It’s also pretty weird when you’re talking about a racial group and not noting the race of the person in the stock photo. The format of the image descriptions feels very “we’re all human so why does it matter?” It does matter! Some of the articles you’re doing this on are talking about how it matters.

I get this is just someone picking what they feel is the least of a bunch of uncomfortable options, but I think it stays uncomfortable this way, and mostly for the more marginalized people involved–like people reading about their racial group and seeing “person with black hair” and wanting to scream “they are black/Asian/Middle Eastern!! Just say it!!”

It might even be equally not-weird to just say “a person doing this thing”. The consistent pointing out of hair color (and sometimes texture as long as that’s still very vague about race!) makes it seem like they’re trying really hard to describe the person in detail and awkwardly leaving out anything they might make a mistake on or get flack for, so they just say everything around those identifiers. And those identifiers are sometimes really, really important.

I’m pretty sure only a couple people are running the Facebook page, and this isn’t meant as like “so they are Bad Feminists”–it’s more like, why didn’t someone try to work with them to find something less awkward?

This all reinforces the “I don’t see race” and “I don’t see gender” aspects of bad activism and anti-activism, and because this is about image descriptions it is using the fact that someone literally cannot see race or gender in a photo and forcing them to continue to not know what’s going on, even when it’s relevant.

There are a lot of situations where things are more PC than actually helpful and anti-oppression, but this example came to mind today, while reading a really good article and cringing at that article’s image description like I do most of the others.

I think it’s really important to point out that omission can also be oppression–and that things that cause the least conflict often aren’t the most respectful, they just don’t leave as much room for people to speak up when they feel like something is wrong. And it’s important to remember that sometimes we think we’re being anti-oppressive but we’re really just being politically correct.

Prioritizing not “getting in trouble “can make sense if you’re a shy person new to activism, but if you’re running a magazine, that’s actual responsibility and it’s so important to not be politically correct, but actually respectful.


One thought on ““Politically correct” instead of honest and respectful

  1. Thank you! This is a really thoughtful post! I think a lot of this has to do with wanting to be “colorblind” and pretending that they don’t personally see race, which leads to things like erasure. It’s a total fake ally move.


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