Insults, Slurs, and Stupidity
Content note! This post will contain slurs relating to ethnicity, gender, and mental disabilities.
There is currently a, er, lively discussion happening in the comments of Surly Amy and Elyse’s DDoS Valentine post over the use of words like “stupid” and “idiot” to describe people who are ignorant. A few commenters are arguing that those words are triggering for people with mental disabilities and so they should not be used.
I disagree, and as of right now I’m content allowing words like “stupid” to continue to be used across the Skepchick Network. I might consider requesting that writers include a content note at the top of posts that contain that language, but I’m still not really sure it’s necessary at this point.
There are a few points in this discussion that I felt it necessary to highlight.
First of all, if you are a person who is triggered by the word “stupid,” you have my immense sympathy. Last night I was considering this discussion while watching Netflix, and I must have heard the word “stupid” or a synonym at least once every ten minutes. Even in conversation with friends, it happens near-constantly: my stupid cat woke me up with his butt in my face. The stupid PS3 controller isn’t working. The stupid me forgot to take the cloth bags from the car into the grocery store.
I’ve been triggered once before and it was extremely unpleasant, to the point that I laid in bed in the fetal position crying for a few hours. A person who is triggered by words like “stupid” and “idiot” must quite seriously live a horrific life dominated by fear and pain, and I sincerely hope they get therapeutic help.
I have no doubt that there are such people, just as there are probably people who are triggered by other insults. I could certainly imagine a person with a newly installed colostomy bag being triggered by words like “shitty.” Perhaps someone who was orally raped is triggered when someone says that something “sucks.” Maybe someone with a cleft palate is triggered when the word “ugly” is used to describe everything from faces to personalities to carpets.
And if I was friends with any of those people and I used one of those words in their presence and they took me aside and told me about their pain, I would absolutely avoid saying those words in their presence.
I would not, though, avoid saying those words elsewhere, because those words are not slurs. Compare any of them to the word “kike,” for instance. “Kike” is a word that has no other usage besides dehumanizing and marginalizing Jewish people. Yes, it has been thrown at me, a gentile through and through, but even then it was meant to insult some perceived Jewishness in my person. The word “retard” has been thrown at me, a person with no developmental disabilities, but it is quite obviously always meant to shame me by aligning me with people with disabilities. The word “cunt” is thrown at men, but every time it is meant to unambiguously connect them with the disgusting, lesser vagina.
“Stupid,” on the other hand, accurately describes a thing or a person or an action that is foolish, ignorant, or vapid, and we cannot drop useful words like that from our vocabulary entirely because some people find them upsetting. Elyse’s valentine specifically addressed people who were incapable of learning that silencing us is impossible – a fool’s errand, if you will. The word “stupid” and its synonyms must be used to make that clear, even if those words are also used to insult people with developmental disabilities.
So yes, just as we won’t stop using the word “creep” to accurately describe people and behaviors that we deem “creepy,” we won’t stop using words like “stupid” to accurately describe people and behaviors that we deem ignorant or foolish.*
I mentioned in a comment on Amy’s post that the idea that we should avoid words like “stupid” sounds like it was created by 4chan to troll people who care about social justice. On the other hand, there are apparently feminists who argue that a statue of a man in his underpants is a form of sexual assault, so it’s worth remembering that no movement is free of activists who get just a bit too excited about calling out perceived injustices. With that in mind, feel free to discuss the finer art of slur-free insulting in the comments below, but do try to keep the outrage in check.
*I say “we” as a networkwide rule. Individual writers can, of course, choose to avoid whatever words they will.
Disapproving sloth image chosen for this post to soothe feels.