Words have power, and by your words you shall be known. This is some sort of a motto that I personally subscribe to. Simply put, we have to be careful with what we say. Our words reveal the kind of person we are. Our words define us.
In the old days, we were thought to be polite and respectful to people from childhood. Remember the subject, Good Manners and Right Conduct (GMRC) from grade school? We were drilled in the definitions of virtues like honesty, courtesy, punctuality, humility, patience, being respectful, etc. We were taught how to act and what to say in various situations. We were molded to be decent persons.
I do not know if GMRC is still taught in schools but the lack of good manners has become noticeable more and more in everyday situations and in people’s manner of speaking. The thing is, good conduct should not go out of style.
Outside of the basic GMRC, nowadays, we are also expected to be politically correct, or PC. The term “political correctness” is used to describe the avoidance of language and actions that are seen as excluding, marginalizing, or insulting groups of people who are considered as disadvantaged or discriminated against.
Being politically correct has to do with respect for human rights. It goes against discrimination and marginalization on the basis of distinctions such as sex, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender orientation or identity, and disability. The basic premise is that all persons, no matter their stations in life are equal and possess the same rights and freedoms as others.
Being PC requires that we are mindful of our words precisely because words we use reflect how we regard others. They reveal our biases, and thus, discriminate against others. For instance, the word “man” was used in the old days to refer to both men and women. Remember the term, “equality for all men”? This was so because during those days, women were only appendages, some say, properties of men. Women did not count. The justification that men already included women is no longer acceptable. Doing this does not only make women invisible, but also implies that the standard for being a human being is being male.
Thus, gender-neutral terms replaced many words. The “man” in many terms was replaced by “person” or another word. Thus, chairman became chairperson, utility man is utility person, fireman is firefighter, etc. This is in recognition of the fact that women can occupy positions, and do jobs that used to be exclusively reserved for men—that women are equal with men. This is an example of being PC.
Some would say that this is unimportant and I would disagree. Words reinforce our values, our belief systems. One reason why discrimination persists is because of language, the words we use. If we keep on using discriminatory terms, people believe, and marginalization continues. Being PC is dwelling not on distinctions between people but the acceptance that we are all equal persons.
A group of people that is commonly discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression is the LGBT community—lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender persons. Many people still consider the LGBT as not normal, and therefore, “lesser” persons and they are marginalized because of this.
While some would say that LGBT persons are already accepted in our society as manifested by the fact that more and more are coming out, I would say that no, we are far from being accepting. Rather, at this point, the most that can be said is that we are becoming more tolerant.
Being politically correct in relation with the LGBT community is not easy basically because we need to unlearn many things besides learning new ones. Struggling against heterosexism and stereotyping people is not easy. This is similar to the women’s struggle which, up to now, is still being waged. Wanting to be PC, to be inclusive and non-discriminatory is also a process. And sometimes, there will be lapses.
I came across an article of apology written by Esquire Magazine because of a piece it published on the purposive change of name of transgender man international artist formerly known as Charice Pempengco to Jake Zyrus. Esquire thought the piece was funny but many netizens called them out on this. This piece has since been taken down and the magazine published “We Were Wrong to Make Fun of Jake Zyrus, and We’re Sorry.” This piece is not only a very decent apology, it is also educational and must be read by everybody.
The first article was not politically correct and the people behind it, the whole magazine even, saw and admitted the lapse in judgment on their part. Apologizing when one has committed a mistake, or a wrongdoing though not intentional, is not easy. However, being able to own up and mean it shows strength of character. Esquire should be lauded for doing this and more importantly, for meaning and wanting to be politically correct.
If we believe in human rights and equality, we must choose our words. Our words have power—they can discriminate against, or empower, others. Let us choose the latter.
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