So you confront them. Maybe you are very direct and angry in your response. Your maybe today you take the approach of setting aside your anger and calmly say (or type) something like “Dude, that’s really not cool.” They respond “What’s not cool?” you, again setting aside your anger and perhaps at this point having to overcome your eye-roll reflex, say “Making jokes about people based on their size” or “saying nasty things about fat people.” You’ve done what you can, you stand there ready for the teachable moment or the recognition of wrongdoing and apology. But instead you get some version of “You’re just being oversensitive.” Oh for fucks sake.
Let’s examine the situation. The person started by making an inappropriate joke or saying something nasty about someone who looks like us, and decided to follow that up by telling us how we are supposed to react to it. Who died and put them in charge of our feelings? Oh wait, nobody.
Also, let’s be clear that what they are indicating is that they care more about telling their little joke or making their nasty comment than they do about our feelings. For me, when I tell someone they’ve hurt my feelings and their response “well your feelings are clearly wrong” that’s a really good indicator that it’s time to reassess my relationship with them.
Or, the absolute worst, they claim that you are trying to infringe on their right to free speech. I’m embarrassed for the people who make this argument, as it is patently ridiculous. The First Amendment of the Constitution states
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
It does not state
You should be able to say whatever offensive bullshit you want and nobody is allowed to be offended by it.
This isn’t about trying to force someone to give up free speech, it’s about asking them why they aren’t willing to temper their free speech with a little empathy. Again, is that fat joke really more important than your friend who is hurt by it, or your friends who might be hurt by it?
So how do we deal with this? As always, each of us gets to choose how we deal with this kind of crap including trying to educate people, refusing to educate people, trying to create allies, and saying what we want to even if it alienates people. With that in mind, here are some ideas on responses:
- Congratulations, I didn’t realize that you were named the grand judge of what is offensive! Was there a ceremony? Was it nice?
- So do I understand correctly that you care more about this joke than you do about my feelings?
- Isn’t it also possible that I’m being just the right amount of sensitive and you’re being a massive jerk.
- You’re allowed to act like this, and if that’s your choice then I’m going to [insert consequence you can actually follow through with – leave the conversation, leave the room, leave the state, have to unfriend you, etc.]
- Now that’s funny! I mean, you’re joking right? There’s no way that you’re actually trying to tell me what should and should not offend me…
Have other ideas? Please feel free to put them in the comments. One thing that also helps me is to have an inner mantra that I can use regardless of the conversation that I’m having, mine is “This is bullshit!” of course your mileage may vary. Whatever you do I think it’s important to remember that the problem isn’t our bodies or our feelings, the problem is that someone wants to be a jerk with impunity, and that’s something I definitely find offensive.
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