Yesterday a Tory MP tweeted – “Window Lickin’ Twitter Trolls out in force today”. This, from a well respected, intelligent woman who has a following on social media of around 30,000 people and who apparently felt it was appropriate to post this.
Shortly after the tweet went live, because of the backlash she had gotten from various members of the public (who were understandably up in arms about the fact that she had used such a phrase) she apologised and then subsequently deleted it. Her apology came however, after she tried to justify her use of language but as people continued to call her out on it, still claiming it to be unacceptable, she appeared to fail miserably. She said she wasn’t directly making reference to people with learning difficulties, simply that she was talking about trolls, but everyone knows, that the phrase “window lickers” is usually associated with people who have additional needs, hence the twitter rage
The thing is here, last week I was called out on something I said. Not in just one instance but TWO SEPARATE TIMES. The first was in relation to the blog post I’d written about adoption. A lady (very kindly I might add) let me know, that instead of saying
“A mother had decided to put their baby up for adoption”,
It’d frame it more positively, if i’d have said
“A mother chose adoption”.
She said, knowing how mindful I am about the use of language, she hoped I would understand. I of course went straight back in to my post and amended it to read the way she had suggested. I also apologised that it had never even occurred to me to phrase it that way and that i’d learnt something from her that day. I truly believe the lady in question understood there was no offence intended and we left it there.
The next exchange was slightly different. A few days ago I posted, what was meant to be a very light hearted, tongue in cheek post about the half term break. It opened with how I didn’t understand the Mums out there, who said things like
“I can’t wait for the school holidays to start”
Because in my mind (with three children under 5) I find the holidays really hard work. In response to those Mums I jokingly said, that I had wanted to say to them “ARE YOU MENTAL?”
And having gone back in to the post in question and noted that with almost 100 comments on it and 600 “likes, loves and LOL” emoticons, not one was negative. Seeing that not even one of them appeared cross with my use of language or if they did, no-one said anything. There was however, one lady, who again I might add, was so polite about it, who private messaged with the following…
“I enjoy your posts & your message is a really important one for so many families.
Please could you consider not using the word ‘mental’ in such a pejorative way?
You want to tackle stigma against Down syndrome & intellectual disabilities (Im 100% with you!) But your casual use of this language reinforces negative stereotypes about mental illness.
I’m a Psychiatrist & constantly working to tackle stigma. Stigma is such a big issue in people delaying seeking help. I find it interesting that so many of us that are so careful about stigma in so many spheres still use words like mental/crazy/psycho etc
You have a big following, the tone you set could make an impact. The language we use matters.
Making anyone angry or upset about my misuse of language is the last thing i’d want to. I apologised striaght away of course becasue I may be many things, but I hope disrespectful isn’t one…but much like the MP had done, I too tried to justify my actions. Having pressed send on my response back to her, I realised afterwards to her, I might have sounded flippant, like it was no big deal and I realised, I probably sounded like a prize idiot
I said something along the lines of…
It was a throw away comment. A figure of speech. That I’d meant nothing by it and that It was just a light hearted blog post, meant with no malice.
I’d thanked her for calling me out on it though because otherwise I would have never known and told her that I fully understood it to be bad use of language and that in the future I will obviously be more mindful…
… But on the flip side, there was a niggling voice inside my head, wondering if the world has gone just a little PC mad?
If I can’t say mental, incase I upset people who are or those who have lived or worked with someone who is? What should I say? Mad? Insane? I can’t say either of those can I?
I few paragraphs back, I just referred to myself as an idiot. Is that derogatory because back in the day, when people were referred to as the village idiot, they were usually those people who had learning difficulties?
If I say stupid, is that going to upset all those people in the world with a lower IQ?
But then it dawned on me. Perhaps I only get upset by people using Retard, F*&ktard, Special, Mong because it effects me personally. When people use these types of words, I feel offended because directly or indirectly they are talking about kids like Oscar. And that really hurts
I think the thing I’ve learnt from all this is that we all need to be more mindful of our choice of language. Something that might be a slip of the tongue to someone, might have a big impact on the next. I truly believe that this sort of thing should be taught in schools, educating our children and our children’s children about what’s acceptable and what’s not. When I was at school, we used to call each other “spaz”… It’s only occurred to me now that I had actually no idea what I was talking about, only that in using it, it was a put down. Racisim and Homophobia are hate crimes. Should the same be said for those people who use slurs against those with disabilities? And while I have apologised for the use of the word mental/crazy and genuinely meant no harm, am I just as bad as those people who write “window lickers?” I can’t get my head around it to be honest. On the one hand I think we all need to lighten up a bit but on the other, I know how hard it cuts when someone says something indirectly about Oscar. I know in future I am going to try and think before I speak (post on social media) because what we say and how we say it, is so very important
I actually think, had the Tory MP accepted responsibility and apologised, she might not have gotten so much stick. And it goes back to the title of this post, hopefully raising something for us all to remember – “Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out”