Yes, It’s OK To Be Offended 

What a Load of CrapThere are many ways that people who like to bully and oppress others try to justify their behavior. One of those is the notion of “political correctness” which can be easily debunked when we substitute the phrase “being politically correct” with what is actually being asked of them: “treating people with respect,” as seen in this example from Donald Trump.

Another way is to try to make it seem as if the people pointing out the inappropriate/bullying/oppressive behavior are actually the ones doing the bullying/oppressing.  This is something that fat-hate trolls try all the time with fat activists, and I saw a perfect example of this on the “era of wisdom” facebook page:

That is Offensive
A brown box with the following quote next to an outline of a person with bars (ostensibly to symbolize a jail) in front of their face. “To be offended by what someone else says is your own choice, as you don’t have to care about what other people think, and nothing has actually happened to you. Information merely passed from their mind to yours. To state that you are offended means that you wish the person hadn’t said it and won’t say anything similar again. In other words you actually want to stop certain information from being communicated. You must believe that you have some sort of right to dictate not only what people can and can’t communicate, but what they can and can’t think. To be offended is to take the first step in being a totalitarian megalomaniac.”

For many people the it-would-be-hilarious-if-it-wasn’t-used-to-oppress-so-many–people nature of this is obvious, but for others it seems to make sense on it’s face, so let’s scratch below the surface a bit, shall we?

To be offended by what someone else says is your own choice, as you don’t have to care about what other people think, and nothing has actually happened to you. Information merely passed from their mind to yours.

This ignores the very real power structures that exist in our society.  “Information” is not neutral, and speech has power (which is why, even though my country’s constitution guarantees a right to free speech, I’m not allowed to yell “FIRE!” in a crowded building – because it might hurt people. I’m also not guaranteed a right to consequence-free speech which is why television networks are completely within their rights to cancel television programs of people who spout bigotry.)

Even if we consider whatever comes out of someone’s mouth – however bigoted or oppressive – to  be “information,” that doesn’t make it neutral.  That “information” can encourage people to oppress – or even harm- others.  It can help hold in place systemic oppression and perpetuate stereotyping, prejudice and bigotry.  It can be harmful, and pointing that out (by explaining that it is offensive) can help to elucidate, and in some cases mitigate, that harm, whether or not the person pointing it out is directly affected by it.

To state that you are offended means that you wish the person hadn’t said it and won’t say anything similar again.  In other words you actually want to stop certain information from being communicated. You must believe that you have some sort of right to dictate not only what people can and can’t communicate, but what they can and can’t think.

This argument rests on their claims about the other person’s reason for speaking out, and the intended outcome, both of which they have made up out of whole cloth.

This is one of the techniques that people who perpetuate ideas that are harmful to others (is: racism, classism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia, sizeism, ableism, healthism, and more) use to keep others from pointing out the wrongness and consequences of their behavior.

To say that something is offensive is not telling someone they can’t say it. It’s telling someone that they are hurting people with their speech/actions and to give them the opportunity to re-think their actions in case they were done out of ignorance instead of malice. ie: Did you know that the word you used is a term of derision toward a community and perpetuates prejudice against that community- did you really intend to do that? Or – did you know that the idea you are arguing for will perpetuate harm against a group of people – is that what you want to happen?

When we tell someone what they are doing is offensive, we are doing them the courtesy of assuming that they are ignorant, rather than that they are cruel and/or trying to keep in place and perpetuate ignorance and oppression. We are also also pointing out to other people who are listening – who may not be aware – what the consequences of that type of speech and actions are.

We aren’t necessarily saying “you can’t say that” what we are saying is “we won’t tolerate that harmful behavior without pushing back.”

Nobody is obligated to feel offended or to speak out if they do, But if  we cannot speak out about offensive things, then bullies and oppressors get to bully/oppress others with no push back, all the while blaming their victims (and the allies of their victims) for not allowing them to bully/oppress in peace. That’s a good situation for bullies and oppressors, but not for anyone else. Also, this isn’t a new argument – it’s been used against people fighting for civil rights for all kind of groups including People of Color, the poor, queer and trans people, disabled people/people with disabilities and more.

To be offended is to take the first step in being a totalitarian megalomaniac.

Cool story.  Too bad it’s completely full of crap.

Let’s review this person’s argument:  Someone who states their opinion is transferring information and completely within their rights to do so.  Someone who finds that opinion offensive is on their way to becoming a totalitarian megalomaniac.


It seems pretty clear to me who the problem is here, and it’s not the people who are offended.  To support people who say things that are offensive, but denigrate those who say that they are offended puts one well on their way to being a totalitarian megalomaniac.

If you find something offensive, you have every right to speak up about that.


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18 thoughts on “Yes, It’s OK To Be Offended 

  1. They’re literally saying that they can express their opinion, but you shouldn’t express yours. Who’s more like a totalitarian megalomaniac in this situation?

    1. Blue Meeple is exactly right! If all “information” is to be sacrosanct in the marketplace of free speech, that includes the information contained in a remark like “What you just said is an expression of contemptible bigotry. You might maybe want to rethink your ideas before you open up your big stupid yawp again.” It’s weird how many people who deplore “political correctness” fall into this rather basic logical inconsistency. It’s almost as though they had other priorities besides defending the freedom of expression.

  2. I probably don’t fit well as a blogger on this sight., but I totally agree with most of Ragen’s positions and that is why I totally support her work. I believe that answering the assaults whether you are the immediate victim or not, can have effect in stopping abusive behavior. It really is up to each individual what they they do or say or not act at all. If you are hurt by something said, it can be helpful to talk to someone who is understanding to move on with life and stop dwelling on it. Being proactive where appropriate can also be useful.

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. This was the tactic my abusive stepmother used to silence my attempts to push back on her bullying.

    She insisted, and I have therefore lived my whole life believing, that I was out of line for being offended by the venom she spit at me. And that if I could just rein in my response to it, after all they were only words, everything would be fine.

    Robbing someone, especially a kid, of their right to be offended by word bombs lobbed at them from on high is an insidious kind of cruelty. I’m so grateful for this reframing of that dynamic.

  4. You know how the book “How Not to Write A Novel” reminded us all “those gross things you laughed at in Farrelly Brothers movies are only funny in conjunction with acutal comic material?”

    “Offensive” things are only art in conjunction with actual artistic material. Calling an ethnic person a naughty word your mom used to wash your mouth out with soap for using isn’t art any more than taking a big wet shit in the middle of the road is a Rodin. You aren’t Mel Brooks, George Carlin, or Cannibal Corpse when you surround a fat person with twelve of your brave friends to scream “fat whore” and “landwhale” at her. You’re just part of a mob.

  5. If we shouldn’t care what people think about us then why are there all these guides telling us how to dress and act in interviews. If it doesn’t matter what people think of us then we should be able to turn up in anything that isn’t indecent or dirty, prove we can do the job and that’s it.

    The fact is we have to care about what people think to be able to function in society, we can disregard specific individuals, but only up to a point and only if we don’t have to interact with them, for instance you couldn’t disregard anyone you work with because that would lead to problems in the workplace which could lead to you being fired, you’d have to be in a really powerful position (unique job skills, best sales person, related to/married to/sleeping with the boss) to be able to ignore what others think about you and that would still lead to a toxic workplace for everyone else.

    Same goes for other things, there are so many places where what people think of you is often more important that what you’ve done – especially when bigotry is involved.

  6. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me” has never been true. I was taught in a (mandatory) social skills class in college that YOU are ALWAYS in charge of how you react to other people’s words and actions, that they have no power over you unless you CHOOSE to give it to them.

    What bullshit. It’s a lovely theory, but it puts the burden on the person whose feelings are hurt or who is offended, not the ass calling names or acting like a jerk. If you didn’t choose to be hurt, you wouldn’t be. Sure.

    This is very akin to the line, “if you really loved your body or accepted yourself as you are, then what other people said wouldn’t matter to you.”

    Except that oppressive language is oppressive. We are social beings, and other people’s words and actions DO affect us. We may choose to fight back, but putting a burden on the person who is being oppressed is just more oppression.

    That said, I find it valuable to assume no offense is intended if I can see it that way, and react nonconfrontationally. I’ve known people who thought that thing about “a coon’s age” referred to raccoons, and once I met a young woman who thought to “Jew someone down” was “chew someone down,” and in instances like that my telling them they might want to rethink those terms was received gratefully.

    1. You might be able to control how you respond to what another person says. What you cannot control is how OTHER people respond to what that person says.

      For example: One person calls you horrible names, says you are a waste of oxygen, a drain on public resources, and you should die, so the deserving people of the world can get their fair share. Painful to hear, but no biggie, right? But, if a mob of other people hear him call you horrible names, say you are a waste of oxygen, a drain on public resources, and you should die, so the deserving people of the world can get their fair share, some or all of them might just believe it and come after you, to enforce that message.

      It’s called “Inciting to riot,” and it’s a crime for a reason. Some words are literally a matter of life and death.

      Now, you may choose not to take offense at those words, but that won’t stop the mob from killing you.

      That’s an extreme example. Most of the time, the message is received in a subconscious way, and enforced via micro aggressions, and systemic discrimination. Which can, unfortunately, lead to situations of life and death. Again.

  7. This ‘opinion’ equals ‘information’ concept is such bullshit. It tries to give legitimacy to non-factual opinions, which are often extremely harmful.

  8. This is yet another of your posts that I need to save for when I’m certain it will come up (I have “If You’re Concerned for Your Fat Loved One’s Health in my email. I’m sure I’ll need it soon).

    I have been described as overly sensitive my entire life, which apparently gives people the justification to say terrible things to me, and then cleanse themselves of all culpability when I become reasonably upset. Only recently have I realized that my emotions/reaction are not unreasonable. How “it’s your fault for being offended” makes sense is beyond me. It’s the same as saying it’s your fault for bleeding if I cut you.

    Apparently, there are people out there who can control their emotions and/or who aren’t offended by terrible things. Bravo to them. Maybe they haven’t been constantly torn down or maybe they have thicker skins. Regardless, it is not fair to assume everyone will react the same way. Some can get through bullshit unscathed. Not all of us have that ability or privilege.

  9. This is an excellent response to that ridiculous brown boxed statement. Words have power, to move people’s hearts, to create and empower people or to tear them down, It is dangerous to think otherwise. Hate groups spouting hate, racists, bigots of all kinds rely on words to promote action. Thank you for saying what needs to be said!

    1. Just a note: Hitler came to power because of WORDS. All of his power came from his ability to sway people, with his words.

      After that, the military power came, along with the political power, but it all boiled down to words, in the first place.

  10. My dad and political correctness are bitter enemies.
    In his mind, the people of today are far too soft, weak and lazy. Even if this is true, he seems to not get that his generation is the one who helped raise the new ones, so his ought to take some responsibility.

    Kids don’t grow up in a vacuum, after all, and the adults in their lives write on the slates of who they are every day.

    If you knew him, you’d know that he is a wounded soul who has often felt taken advantage of throughout his life. He has never been truly happy.

    I believe that, like my dad, some of those who hate fat people are redirecting their inner pain the way that he does so towards others. It allows them — and him — to feel better in the moment.

    He is wounded and, until he heals, will continue to bleed.

  11. Thank you so much for that punchy summary Ragen. I’ll be using that next time my Dad or husband whinges about “political correctness gone mad” or “you can’t say anything any more”. I love having an articulate comeback!

    PS I just got a little happy when I realised I’d already registered for the Fat Activism conference! Yay 🙂

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