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"Political Correctness":

A One-Way Mirror

An Editorial Essay by Bert H. Hoff
Copyright © 1998


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  The Boston Globe Website has an interesting article by Kate Zernike, dated 5/17/98. "Men on the Verge." It says in part,
  ... the second wave of the gender revolution is building. This time it's men, fighting back against the broad brush of a women's movement they complain too often paints all men as behaving badly, all dads as deadbeats, one that has made male a four-letter word. While sexual harassment claims and sniping between the sexes escalate, so do confusion and exasperation. As one Internet site promoting men's rights moans, ''Can't we all just get along? Can't we all just get a date?''

One man on The Microsoft Network was struck by one comment in that article:
  "So much has changed in the last 30 years, and for a lot of men who were going about their lives not paying attention to the women's movement, they feel like they've just woken up in the middle of the movie,'' says Rob Okun, associate director of the Men's Resource Center,
He said that this may well be true for some women who, like many men, have simply been living their lives and not paying much attention to the Men's movement or the Women's Movement. Then, when they come to the Men's Forum and perhaps get a taste of what probably can be termed "radicalism in men," it comes across heavy or as anti woman because they "just woke up in the middle of a movie."

I've written in Men's Voices and on MenWeb about the difficulty in creating a Men's Forum space on The Microsoft Network where men can find their voices and speak their truths. (see Mythopoetics, Menís Rights and Guys) One man has put it well: he says that as a supervisor and a public man he always has to be careful what he says and how he says it. He needs a space in cyber-space to speak freely without having to "walk on eggshells." And that started me thinking of Political Correctness. Why are guys "walking on eggshells" and needing a place like the Men's Forum on MSN to speak their truths their way? The Boston Globe article talks about men finally speaking out. But men have been speaking out for over a decade, and the point might better be that men are finally being heard. Political Correctness is perhaps the main reason they haven't.

Women's new-found power has led to equality, then to a tipping of the scales to "special privileges" for women. Date rape, sexual harassment and domestic violence charges on the uncorroborated say-so of a woman. Inequities in divorce and child-support issues. Male-bashing. When a man tries to say on an on-line bulletin board that the scales have tipped too far, he's often met with a barrage of hostile and insulting attacks.

One man said that in these areas where women will not give up power or "special privileges" without a fight. It struck me that any group with new-found power and influence is reluctant to give up even one shred of that power, or share that power, unless wrested from them. Tyranny of power can rule for only so long. (So, in the French Revolution, liberal as well as aristocratic heads rolled and we had the dictatorship of the Napoleonic Empire instead of liberty, equality and fraternity.) Political correctness is one of the major tools for maintaining that power. The ostensible reason for Political Correctness is that we be "inclusive" and we don't hurt anyone's feelings. But the real reason for Political Correctness is to thwart any challenges to that new-found power.

If we think of barriers to women as a "glass ceiling" we might think of Political Correctness as a one-way mirror. Those who are on the "right side" of the mirror can say anything they want, for they are simply "finding their voices" and becoming "empowered." So if they want to call people liars, mean and cruel, oppressive, controlling, insensitive, or whatever, it is only speaking out against the oppression that has happened for hundreds or thousands of years. In another context, people ask, "can a Black be racist?" Because they're on the "right side" of the one-way mirror, they can't. Women on the "right side" can say what they want, because it's only "balancing the equation." Of course those on the "right side" will deny there's such a thing as Political Correctness, and assert that talk of "Political Correctness" is just another attempt to silence them. The real issue, of course, is the ability of those on the "right side" of the Political Correctness one-way mirror to silence others. To make people walk on eggshells. There's also a lot of effort put into making themselves sound "reasonable" and "open" - as long as one realizes that if they cross some invisible line things will suddenly blow up.

What is it like on the "wrong side" of the one-way mirror of Political Correctness? If you're on the "wrong side" what you say is reflected back on you, without any discussion of the underlying issues. So men speaking out for fairness and equality are represented as a Backlash, a bunch of Neanderthal right-wing extremists.

Time after time, as men have talked about date-rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence or divorce and support issues, a number of techniques have been used to stop the discussion. What has surprised me is that as I've talked about my on-line experiences friends have told me about similar things happening in their day-to-day conversations in "real life."

How does the one-way mirror work? If you're on the "wrong side," what you say might hurt or offend someone. I emphasize the one. The goal is to make a person on the "wrong side" appear to be "offensive." A giant ad hominem, to avoid discussion of the issue. As I said, anyone on the "right side" can personalize and insult, because they are only the oppressed finding their voice.

One techniques of Political Correctness is to tell a horror story, say, of a rape or a brutal beating. Yes, it's important that we hear these stories. But to hear a rape story when you're talking about "male-bashing"? Another technique is the "straw man," to exaggerate a position so that it is insulting to "all women." Another is to personalize it, and say that a comment about the "outside world" is an attempt to shame and blame the group you're talking to and try to make them personally responsible for the issue you raise. Yet another is to grab one minor point in an argument to take offense at, so that the major point of what you're saying is lost in trivia. Confusion and obfuscation, creating a cloud of confusion, so that people will only remember the personal insults and that there was a conflict, not what the conflict was really about.

This is where the one-way mirror comes back in. As I said, if you're on the "right side" using personal insults, exaggerations and hurtful remarks are just fine, just part of an oppressed group's "finding its voice." But if you're on the "wrong side" the slight hint of an insult or hurtful remark is challenged - ironically, by hurtful and insulting attacks "in the name of right."

One unintended effect of this, I think, is to "radicalize" men. These forms of debate strike men as unfair, and raise their anger and frustration level. They also add to men's sense of powerlessness. One feels powerless if one does not feel heard.

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