Everywhere a sign

And the sign said “Long-haired freaky people need not apply”
So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why
He said “You look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you’ll do”
So I took off my hat, I said “Imagine that. Huh! Me workin’ for you!”
– Five Man Electrical Band, Signs

Seems rather apropos given the circumstances.

I’ll admit that when I saw how badly Greg Laden had been rankled over this protest sign from a Canadian Occupy Wall Street event, I was a bit confused. What could he possibly be upset about?

The fact that he was raging about this sign in such a manner that I did not understand that he knew it was a direct response to certain memes that have permeated the media — that the Occupy movement is made up of hippies who want to smoke weed and bang the bongos, as opposed to fighting the very real class warfare that the rich have been waging on the poor for decades — kept me from seeing his point. I figured it out eventually, but if Stephanie Zvan’s post had come out first, I definitely would have gotten it a lot sooner.

The problem is one of memetics, and one of certain memes being intended to hurt people for no other reason than to silence them. The vast majority of the anti-war sentiment throughout the 60s and 70s was fomented by “punks”, “hippies”, and “anarchists”, even though none of those slurs come anywhere close to describing the people who fought that battle of ideologies on America’s behalf. The words were used to other the people who were fighting the establishment, an establishment that was more concerned with keeping the Vietnam meat grinder going for any number of cynical reasons than about the safety and security of its own country’s citizens, especially the safety of the very youths who were protesting. In point of fact, viewed through the lens of history, there’s precious little that came from the “hippie” movement that wasn’t absolutely correct — we as a species have been completely fucking up our environment for a century, rampant capitalism has produced some of the greatest injustices this world has ever seen, and we’ve been throwing our children into one meat grinder after another since Vietnam for no good reason. The military-industrial complex has become the military-industrial-governmental-corporate complex. Corporations have replaced citizens as the actual constituents of our countries. And the hippies were right about every fucking last one of these predictions.

In their posts, Greg and Stephanie are engaging in a war to own the slurs, to retake the words from the propagandists who have conflated each of these terms with some ridiculous memes which devalue everything they fought for. So hippies took drugs. Doesn’t make them any less right about any of the above predictions. So anarchists think government sucks. They’ve had a hell of a lot of examples of sucky government. So punks and freaks break traditional roles. These traditional roles need to be torn down anyway, they’re getting musty and restrictive and they aren’t serving anyone’s best interests. Well, nobody’s but the people already on top of the pile. You know, the 1%.

I’ll throw in my hat. Some people whom I otherwise respect in comments at Stephanie’s have bought into the memes that these people are somehow bad, by suggesting that they’re just whining. The thing is, this woman, in distancing herself from these types of people, is evidently buying into and helping to propagate that meme — that these kinds of people are somehow bad or unworthy of being in the dialogue. These memes are damaging and they are detrimental and they have no place in this conversation. Not only have the people in power used these slurs to delineate who’s “serious” about politics and economics and who isn’t, by drawing the “other” circle around everyone who disagrees with them that they should remain on top of an ever-growing heap of privilege, but even the people fighting this widening gulf of privilege are buying into the very same memes.

This isn’t whining. I’m not whining. Neither are Greg or Stephanie. If you want to counter the anti-Occupy propaganda, do it without also insulting everyone who made it possible to fight this fight in the first place.

Everywhere a sign
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91 thoughts on “Everywhere a sign

  1. 51

    @ Jason

    Your position is that by denying those labels as appropriate for her, she’s deliberately condoning their use as slurs. I don’t think that’s being fair to her, given that the source of the use of the labels as slurs is the RWM, not her or the people standing on the ground with her. The fact that outsiders might perceive it as condonation is of concern and I’m not saying she couldn’t have done better at communicating *both* a dismissal of the characterization of the crowd and support for those people the RWM is trying to write off.

    Greg, on the other hand, was the source of “get a clue, lady” and “fuckedupwhitelady”. In other words, his analogous position is not that of Ms. Pond, but of Kevin O’Leary et al.


    I said

    Your own blog isn’t enough for you? You have to come over here and spread your crap here too?

    I’d like to apologise to you, Jason. It was rude of me to take it upon myself to say this to another commenter (i.e. guest) on your blog. I was upset because I was deliberately avoiding Greg, especially on this issue, by not going to his blog, and then, lo, he showed up here too. I’m sorry, and won’t do it again.

  2. 52


    OK, sorry, I won’t come back. Glad to see Jason has a bouncer. Where do I get one?

    I’m sorry I said that. It wasn’t my place to do so & I apologise.

    Actually, I changed my view of the sign completely based on comments providing important additional information and perspective. Did you not notice that?

    No. This doesn’t sound to me like you’ve changed your view:

    “I’m so glad I can go to Washington and march around in protest of my first world problems. I disdain those activists back in the days of the Labor/Union wars, where they threw bottles at cops and otherwise acted in a violent way, or those hippies who took over the streets of Chicago without permits and stuff. These days we know how to demonstrate peacefully”
    This lady probably didn’t mean to say that all those people before her were irrelevant, that it’s ok now because now she is here with her mom-ness validate. But she said it.

    Unless you thought before that her intent was to go to the protest just so she could tell everyone that hippies and anarchists are bad and inconsequential, and she’s not one of them?

    I’d also like to give you a little more perspective on another point. You said:

    THAT is why you can be a mom holding a baby in the middle of a protest.

    Now please be aware that *I’m* not discounting the protesters of the past, but I just want to say that if this photo was taken in Toronto, there *was* reason for her to have felt less than safe at bringing her baby there. The G20 protests there last year were rather violent as our modern, privileged standards go. Peaceful protesters were beaten (perhaps even by cops on horses?), and bystanders were kettled with protesters for hours in the rain, while so-called Black Bloc agitators went on a rampage of vandalism without being arrested. Just do a search for G20 Toronto.

  3. 53

    Get a clue, people.

    Slurs are frequently used in that construction because it’s a note of exasperated emphasis. That doesn’t meant that everything used in that construction is a slur. “Lady” is still the most polite form of single address to a woman that doesn’t specifically connote respect (e.g., “ma’am”). And arguing over whether one word is a slur when Greg has stipulated four slurs is beyond pointless.

    Did someone have a point about the sign?

  4. 56

    Yes, I’m posting three in a row instead of editing. Sue me. My blog, I can misbehave. Do as I say, not as I do. And all that. Hooray for being the 1% on my own blog!

    Maybe you and I aren’t using “dogwhistle” in the same way. I understand it to mean “something said to deliberately push people’s buttons and get a rise out of them, whether or not you mean the thing in earnest”.

    I suspect you’re right, given that definition. I’ve always understood a dogwhistle to be a statement that’s generally not heard by the public at large unless you’re specifically attuned to listen for the underlying meaning it’s intended to have. Like “articulate”. What’s wrong with calling an articulate person articulate, if they happen to be black? Why, it’s the meme passed about racist circles that black men are inarticulate, of course.

    Which people might not get, if they’re not listening for it. Dogwhistles are innocuous phrases used as slurs that the “in group” are supposed to hear, but not those outside. Initiating people to the meaning behind the dogwhistle makes that dogwhistle less able to provide its primary function — developing rapports among people who are in the “in group” by pointing out who’s racist and who isn’t. Sometimes people trip these dogwhistles inadvertently, especially when they’re not aware of it being used as such.

  5. 57

    @ Jason

    Yeah, that was me. I’ve posted on other threads of yours too. And I was the first one to say something about sexism on Greg’s initial post.

    And sorry Ibis, but you do actually respond to dogwhistles, but on a different frequency from a lot of others. For instance, you saw “lady” as a dogwhistle indicating a diminutive view of women. This isn’t to say that the word isn’t used as a dogwhistle, because it might be, with the corollary evidence being the situations you described in @41. I don’t particularly think Greg was using it that way.

    Maybe you and I aren’t using “dogwhistle” in the same way. I understand it to mean “something said to deliberately push people’s buttons and get a rise out of them, whether or not you mean the thing in earnest”. The initial “Get a clue, lady” was obviously not a dogwhistle because Greg’s intent was not to get the negative attention of feminists or critics of sexist language, but to insult Susan Pond. His comment at 31 was so over the top that the message was likely lost by the dogwhistling.

    The “lady” is referring to her gender, and may or may not carry some pejorative use, but it’s not in general use as a slur at present to my knowledge.

    Okay, first, let’s try some analysis. Which sounds more derogatory to the person being addressed:

    a. Get a clue.
    b. Get a clue, lady.

    If you replaced the word “lady” with some non-gendered, neutral word how would that sound:

    c. Get a clue, Canadian.

    Now imagine that Canadians were not generally viewed with positive attributes, but rather were constantly insulted and mistreated and objectified. Would that make the usage okay because instead of some more obvious slur, it is a word commonly used in neutral contexts as well?


    a. fuckedupfaggot
    b. fuckeduphomosexual

    In the context, does the second seem much less homophobic than the first?

    Finally, what do you think would be an adequate non-gendered replacement for the word “lady” in the title of the post to denote the same level of derision?

    Get a clue, _____.

    As to your general knowledge, I submit that this pejorative usage just not something that you’re aware of or pay attention to. I encounter it all the time. As I said in my first comment on the subject, there was a commercial on Saturday night during HNIC, wherein the term ‘lady’ is used as a slur (up until that moment, I thought the commercial was amusing, and then it hurt). Ovechkin goes up onto a roof (via a transdimensional portal) to retrieve a football two boys were playing with. He hands the ball over to them saying “Here you go, ladies.”

    When it comes at the end of a sentence: “Blah blah blah, lady.” it’s almost invariably meant derisively (I’m superior, so you better take special heed of what I’m telling you). Just watch for it. You’ll see what I mean.

  6. 58

    I suspect you’re right, given that definition. I’ve always understood a dogwhistle to be a statement that’s generally not heard by the public at large unless you’re specifically attuned to listen for the underlying meaning it’s intended to have.

    Okay, that makes sense. Kind of a shibboleth then (another word I recently learned).

    Yes, Jason, you got it in one. “A spiteful ghetto built on a river of bile for insecure gutter-fascists” was someone’s description of Freethought Blogs. See here for more. http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/09/29/haters-gotta-hate/

  7. 59

    So if I was to march in a Gay Pride parade with a sign that said “Not A Fag”, that’d be okay?

    Yes, “hippie”, “punk” and the other epithets in this protester’s sign are employed as slurs. However, these slurs don’t have the same effect on their audience as “fag”. As becca points out in #53, one can’t ignore the context and history of individual slurs. “Hippie”, “punk”, etc. are expurgated criticisms of political philosophies as well as labels proudly claimed by many proponents of those philosophies. Conversely, “fag” is akin to “nigger” in its breathtakingly hateful connotations. This slur is leveled as a criticism of identity with the power to evoke profound, irrational, violent revulsion for an immutable characteristic. I don’t think that the people who claim to “own” slurs such as “fag” have succeeded to the degree that the self-proclaimed hippies, punks and anarchists have. You’ve made a false equivalency argument.

    I’m not a fan of “owning” slurs, by the way. Language is a nuanced thing; people may be able to own “hippie” and “queer” and “lady”, but they aren’t able to own “fag” or “dyke” to the same degree. I’m also not sure if it’s worth the effort. I grew up in predominately white communities with social mores that fostered tremendous self-loathing. I’m not interested in trying to “own” the epithet “nigger”.

    Like “articulate”. What’s wrong with calling an articulate person articulate, if they happen to be black? Why, it’s the meme passed about racist circles that black men are inarticulate, of course

    I’m a black woman, and I get the “You’re so articulate!” nonsense all the time.

    I also agree with Ibis3 and becca about Greg Laden’s use of “lady” being sexist, by the way. Greg Laden drives me nuts.

  8. 60

    I went away, thought about this, came back and read most of what has been written since and it strikes me that a couple of notions might have been useful back at the beginning of this conversation:

    Don’t invoke people’s race, class, gender or identity in a manner that makes it into a slur, not even in an ironic, I-don’t-really-mean-it way. That makes it very hard to hear what you’re saying. (Here I am using ‘having an identity’ as meaning more than ’embracing a slur,’ though it could certainly include that.) This goes for Greg’s remarks and the woman’s sign.

    Don’t make assumptions about people’s commitment, or history of activism based on well, anything really and then make condescending remarks about it. That also makes it very hard to hear you. One of the guys who slept in the Capitol Building in Madison and organized a 40 mike walk there is my neighbor and I had always pegged him, based on perfectly inadequate clues, as a conservative, so I need to remember this too. You actually know these things about a person or you don’t. It isn’t fair to guess.

    Consider that some identities might be unknown to people and need a little explaining. It’s a big old world, the meanings of words change and people sometimes change what they want to be called. I have met pot/Plowshares/homeless/environmental/LGBTQ advocates, Catholic Workers, Quakers, Pagans, Wiccans, Rainbow Family people and Grateful Dead followers, permaculturists, unschoolers, people living on the street and people trying very hard to live off the grid, I have met many people who might be called ex-hippies but who didn’t call themselves that (neither ex-, nor hippie). I have seen the unacknowledged facilitators of consensus groups in action, but never heard them called anarchists before. I am aware of hippies and anarchists as historic groups, but I was unaware that those were identities currently inhabited by activists who feel strongly about them, though I am happy to hear it. Punks I am little aware of and should certainly learn more about.

    Don’t say things that can be construed as threats like “You have pushed all my Moms-Get-Dissed buttons and You Must Pay,” not even in an ironic, I-don’t-really-mean-it kind of way. On an internet full of unknown crazy people, it’s too easy to misconstrue that kind joke, so I feel stupid for saying it. I was, and am, offended by Greg’s post but, because I think he’s one of the good guys, I was trying to put that in a jokey way, and perhaps I could have done it better.

    Or go ahead and do all these. Your blogs, your call. Offended people can just go away.

    I could run on about why it’s bad thing for liberals to make othering remarks about white, middle class mothers or use us as convenient symbols of oppressive normality and the evil Uber-Class, but I don’t want to. I much prefer the happy idea that at this point everybody gets it.

    I apologize for the length of this post and will post no further on this topic.

  9. 61

    I’ll cop to the false equivalence, Juniper @59, if Ibis does for comparing “fuckedupwhitelady” with “fuckedupfaggot”. That notwithstanding, I get where you’re coming from. I don’t personally use “lady” in the demeaning ways you’ve suggested — it is probably a cultural thing. With privilege on top. I usually hear “woman” used in that derogatory sense, and usually in the same way some feminists might call me a “dudebro” for suggesting that Greg didn’t use “lady” in a sexist manner.


    a) Get a clue, lady.
    b) Get a clue, dude.
    c) Get a clue, protester whose name I don’t know.

    That’s the context I see his use of “lady” in. That he tripped the dogwhistles that both of you are attuned to, and not me, doesn’t mean it’s any less a dogwhistle, just that I don’t see it that way because, up until now, I’ve not encountered it in a dogwhistle manner. And that’s the funny thing about dogwhistles — you aren’t going to hear them until someone points them out. You’ve both pointed it out. I expect my own language will have to change as a result.

  10. 62

    Okay, so I’m getting confused here:

    Sign-holder’s sign is wrong because she uses terms that – even though she may not intend harm or know the history – have been used by right wingers to attack certain groups of people because regardless of the intent, some have taken offence.

    Greg is not wrong when he uses terms that – even though he may not intend or know the history – have been used to attack women, because his intent was not to harm and those who took offence should back off?

    Am I wrong to see a double-standard here?

    (Since I haven’t commented on this topic yet: I can see the point, I agree that the sign-maker’s words deserve to be examined and re-thought (but I also think that there’s a large segment of middle-class-ish folks who tend to feel alienated from activism but are really, really essential for this movement to work, and some things being said can’t be helping), but other than maybe “mob” my personal experience doesn’t have me attaching negative connotations to any of those terms…)

  11. 63

    Quietmarc: read my @61. Sign-maker’s wrong for accepting the right-wing frame, which they made explicitly clear when they used the words the way they did — they certainly intended them as slurs. She didn’t come up with those words in a vacuum, she’s countering a meme that the right-wingers are using to “other” the protesters. The mistake she made was in accepting their frame, and I don’t think it’s a particularly grievous mistake if it was done in ignorance that this tactic backscatters against the others in the movement.

    Greg may be wrong for using “lady” the way he did, but he probably didn’t mean it as a slur. Now that it’s been pointed out to him by a number of people for whom the word has been used as a slur, he will hopefully do what he can to avoid using it in that dogwhistle manner. But his offense does not rise to the level that the offense was intended by the right-wingers in framing the protesters as unserious. They were slurring the protesters. The sign accepts the slurs and says “hey look, I’m none of those slurs and I’m protesting too”. It’s a counterpoint to their slurs that accepts the slurs as valid, whether she knew it or not.

  12. 64

    Quietmarc, I probably haven’t expressed myself well above. I’m suggesting the many, many words spent on whether and under what circumstances “lady” is used as a dogwhistle is a distraction in this context. See tu quoque.

  13. 65

    In other words:

    So, Greg is a miserable, evil, horrible person for addressing a woman as “lady” when speaking to her in anger (hyperbole used for completeness of concession only). Or he isn’t, because he was using a gendered form of address in a society where not using them takes an fair amount of work. Whichever.

    Can we talk about the marginalization of protest culture at the moment? It’s kind of important to our future. So is the understanding of gender, but this is an extremely timely and underexamined issue.

  14. 66

    I’m not saying Greg’s wrong with feeling offended by the sign. He has good reasons. I personally think the context has enough nuance that others can reasonably disagree. Still, his point about the sign is valid. Whether he’s ALSO being sexist or not does not change that.

    But I DO think that based on the standards he holds for the sign-maker, he IS being sexist, and while pointing that out can seem like a distraction from his main (valid) point, there are two things that bother me:

    Couldn’t it be said that his criticism is a distraction from the sign-maker’s point?

    And, conversely, if he IS being sexist, don’t people have a right to call him out on that, regardless of his original point without being dismissed as distractions?

    Jason, I accept your explanation, but in the second paragraph of 63 you seem to give Greg a pass for not knowing the dogwhistle term, but still hold the sign maker responsible for the rightwinger’s use of those terms. Why is she to blame? I still don’t see why Greg’s comments are “not at the same level” as HER actions.

    Re: tu quoque, I see a minor hypocracy here, but I don’t think that invalidates any points. I think BOTH points are valid.

  15. 67

    Stephanie @65> If that’s directed at me, you’re off-base. I never said that greg is evil, miserable or horrible. I think that, this one time, he acted in a sexist way. I like Greg. He was the tipping point in whether I read scienceblogs or freethoughtblogs. He’s lots smarter than I am. I just think that the people who say he was being sexist have a point.

    And YES PLEASE. I’ve been incredibly frustrated with trying to communicate to my friends and colleagues that this movement is really, desperately important to them, and that they really need to be involved, but too many people feel like protests aren’t “theirs”. They’re afraid. They have successfully been convinced that to speak out against injustice is an “other” activity, and that has to be stopped.

  16. 68

    Quietmarc, if you don’t see the extent to which engagement with Greg’s words instead of his ideas (and for that matter, mine and Jason’s) has happened here among those who disagree with him, I can’t make you see it. I’m not particularly talking about becca or Juniper, who are agreeing in principle but disagreeing in emphasis, then throwing in a comment, but about the people who just can’t engage with the ideas. But I do appreciate that you’re at least engaging with the ideas.

    As for a distraction from the sign-maker’s point, what do you think her point is, aside from “No, there are unassailable people here too”?

  17. 69

    I see “get a clue, dude” if coming from a woman or a stranger as not expressing any sort of cameraderie at all. Or, for the example’s sake, let’s say “buddy” or “pal”. Neither actually say “you’re my friend” if used on a stranger. Both are used exclusively out of annoyance in the exact same manner as “get a clue, lady”.

    I see it as equivalent to “get a clue, lady” in that it is referring to a person who is a stranger, and the construction usually indicates annoyance or anger, but not necessarily gendered anger except in the context where we’re in a patriarchy and any reference to a woman’s gender is more likely to trigger negative connotations than any reference to a man’s. This is a bit of privilege men enjoy.

    It also means that any attempt to explain exactly why I, and many others, see this hyperfocus on “lady” to be a derailment tactic from the more important conversation, results in me “mansplaining”. The fact that Stephanie’s trying to get across the inequality of the concerns here should help me not look like a total jackass. But nonetheless, this hyperfixation on what he said about her is frankly ridiculous. Especially since I did not talk about the gendered stuff here. You brought it up, Ibis. You’ve derailed this entire thread. For what it’s worth, I want to discuss this, but I really want ONE of these three threads to be about the sign, the right-wingers’ slurs, and whether or not it’s bad. Can it be this one? Please?

  18. 70

    Let me amend “more important” to “more proximate”. Whether the right-wingers are allowed a weapon to beat down protesters with is more proximate than the gendered use of “lady”, given that’s what I bloody wrote about. I’ll put up a thread shortly talking about my position on the “lady” conversation. There, it’ll be on-topic.

  19. 71

    Stephanie @69> I’m just getting caught up on this issue right now, so I’m a bit behind the times with the discussion, and could only really speak to what I read in this thread, originally. I’ve now read greg’s post and the comments section (which, actually, was a lot more civil than I was expecting) and will be heading on over to your place, too. I’m sure I’ve missed important context for the discussion.

    The absolute last thing I’ll say about sexism here, I promise (because I’ve read your blog and you can definitely school me on sexism any day of the week), is that I get the sense that many of the people who brought it up weren’t trying to derail the conversation. They were reacting to that moment where you go to your favourite blog (or whatever) expecting to read about this crazy anti-hippy thing people are talking about, and then, like a bucket of cold water in your face, they see statements that strike them as pretty sexist. It was an emotional response to an unintended offense, and they needed to be heard. I don’t think Greg has really acknowledged that point, but he’s a busy guy, and I haven’t scoured his blog to check, so hopefully he’ll make a quick note somewhere and say “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean my ‘lady’ comments to be offensive, but apparently they were to some people. I’ll be more careful in the future.”

    Anyway, regarding the sign…I’m a bit in Jason’s shoes. I didn’t get it, I read your post (before all the comments and discussion) and said “Oh yeah, she’s got a point there….”. You three (you, Greg and Jason) are right to have pointed it out, and it is definitely something that needs to change. I don’t know the signmaker, so I’m reluctant to speak about her background or character, because some of the clues that are apparent to you guys strike me as ambiguous…I seem to read that photo differently and would need more information before I can judge HER. But the problem you pointed out is a real problem and ought to be addressed.

    I guess what I would like to see happen is more people, the people who typically DON’T get out to protests, to go out and see the movement for themselves. I’m (perhaps foolishly) optimistic that if they could experience what’s happening, there’s potential for education on a LOT of fronts. But how do we get these people to show up, without compromising on ideals?

  20. 72

    That’s actually why I want to put up a post about it, Ibis. I want it to be discussed. It’s worth discussing. I want you to make me get it. Persuade me that my experiences and my thoughts stem from privilege, and persuade me that Greg was being derisive of women. Or of the signmaker. I’ve never considered the signmaker to be important in the conversation except to the extent that she made the sign and inserted herself into the debate as an example of a “non-Other”, so perhaps I’m missing something there.

    Aside from Greg’s initial angry response, the ideas are all present even if the words used were a timebomb for derailment. What do you folks think about the actual use of these slurs in their current form? Should the Occupy movement be made up of vague punks, freaks, nutjobs and hippies? Is it a bad thing that it started that way, considering they were out there fighting before the “non-Others” picked up the signs too? Should protests only be considered serious when the so-called “professional protester class” aren’t the only ones engaged?

  21. 73

    Interestingly, Quietmarc, I’ve found the barrier to participating in protests much lower because I understand and respect protest culture. Knowing that there is a group of people who make sure these things go to plan and who are willing to shoulder much of the confrontation makes it easier to trust that someone will pass the word that “If you’re not prepared to be arrested, this is where you should leave,” or the like.

    Without knowing that, I don’t know that I could have participated in our local Slutwalk. I didn’t carry a sign. I didn’t chant. I didn’t engage with people along the route. I just got out there and walked the two miles with everyone else, holding onto my husband’s hand. It was all I was up for. Other people took care of all the rest, including having counselors there for anyone who found the whole experience too much, which I didn’t–quite. (Need to write about the whole thing one of these days.)

    But back on the Occupy protests, I think we’d actually get more people out if they knew that they didn’t have to be what we see on TV. They don’t need clever signs or the willingness to face the cops directly (usually) or to be prepared to talk to the media. If they understood that people specifically take on those roles, I think it would be easier for them to be out there just being counted, which is also important.

  22. 74

    I’m inclusive by nature (or try to be). I LOVE the 99% idea because a) It’s true(quibbles about the exact percentages aside) and b)It’s automatically inclusive. It acknowledges that we’re all getting screwed, regardless of the other issues we face everyday. I have a huge amount of frustration around the fact that time and again these fights are left to the same people, even though it’s something where everyone has a stake. It is a clear demonstration of privilege that some white middle class guy with a mortgage and two kids can complain about how tough things are but never do a single thing about it, and at the same time deride the “freaks” and “hippies” who have the gall to stand up to the 1%.

    And, I mean, this happens every single time there’s a social movement. I’m gay, and I know lots of guys who are also gay who will say the worst things about women, drag queens, trans people without the barest acknowledgment of their crucial part in getting whatever rights we have to live openly as gay men. It’s frustrating, it’s short-sighted, and it’s ultimately damaging. So…what do we do about it?

  23. 75

    Stephanie @77> I’ve had the same experience. I’ve been to protests, I’ve seen that (usually) it’s no big deal. Right now I have 3 or 4 co-workers that I’m hoping to bring along to the Toronto occupy thing this saturday, but at least one of them is very concerned that she will show up saturday and then monday find out that someone saw her face on TV and now she’s out of a job and her kid won’t be provided for. I don’t think this is a serious risk, but I can completely see why she might think that. When the only news about these movements is either “Freaks are here!!” or “Cops are pepper-spraying!!” and she has a HR advisor telling her that stuff she does outside of work (eg facebook) can cost her her job (which is true, depending), the stakes seem much different.

    My goal this weekend is to be a bit of a “guide” for her and others, if they will let me. I just hope the weather holds up.

  24. 76

    I understand that concern. I blog under my real name while working a client-facing job. I’m not sure there’s much to do for it but decide whether the current situation is worth a very tiny risk, then be nervous for as long as it takes to get used to the idea.

  25. 77

    Tu quoque is about both points being valid, but unequally so. It’s hypocrisy, yes, but it’s usually used to derail a conversation about an important issue. If the part about Greg saying “lady” could be taken and moved to a different forum, it’s a conversation worth having, but where it is, it’s completely drowning out what should be a good conversation about whether accepting the right-wing’s slurs as slurs is a good idea.

    His criticism of the sign-maker’s point is that the people who used those terms used them as slurs. They did. This is unequivocally true. It was obvious in context when O’Leary called Hedges a “left-wing nutjob”. It’s true every time P J O’Rourke says they just want to bang bongos all day, in context of the view of hippies in the Vietnam protests. It’s true when Alison Kosik said the Occupiers just want to smoke weed and bang bongos when asked to describe the movement in 140 chars on Twitter. Every use of these slurs is derisive, and it’s dominating mainstream media coverage of the movement. So when someone comes along and says “I’m not a hippie”, it accepts the smear that “hippies” are all that were there, and that all they wanted to do is smoke pot. That the movement was, in fact, unfocused and dominated by layabouts until the middle-class white moms hit the protest circuit too.

    The problem is, the right wingers know it’s being used as a smear, because they’re building the narrative, for fuck’s sake. For her to accept that narrative and counter it with something akin to “But I’M not beating my wife!” is damaging to the rest of the cause. It admits the framing they’re using, as though she had any right to do that.

    Again, she probably didn’t realize this would happen. She probably didn’t realize that people are fighting to be accurately labeled using those words, without all the derision that the right-wingers instill into them. I don’t blame her. I blame anyone from this point forward who does it in ignorance of the fact that we’ve pointed it out, though. We need to take the weapon away from the right-wingers by defusing the words, not by accepting their proposed meanings. Because the latter just strengthens that weapon so they can use it effectively at the next protest. And the next. And the one after that.

  26. 78

    Ibis does for comparing “fuckedupwhitelady” with “fuckedupfaggot”

    I was comparing them, yes, but I wasn’t saying they’re equivalent. I was trying to get across that the distinction between saying “fuckedupwhitelady” and, say, “fuckedupwhitebitch” is comparable (not equivalent) to the distinction between saying “fuckeduphomosexual” and “fuckedupfaggot” — i.e. yes, bitch and faggot are obvious slurs and never used positively except in an ironic or “own the slur” kind of way (e.g. Godless Bitches), but using lady or homosexual, more neutral terms, doesn’t really improve things very much. In fact, the word homosexual has nearly lost its neutrality except in clinical usage because of its derisive usage in other contexts. By the same token, I know that some feminists don’t like the term “lady” in any context.

    “Get a clue, dude” and “Get a clue, lady” are not equivalent at all. “Dude” when used to address someone is most often a term of camaraderie.* You’re identifying the person as an ally (cf. bro, friend etc.), but admonishing them gently. It actually serves to soften the blow of the “get a clue” part of the statement.

    When “lady”** is used as a term of address***, there are very, very few instances of neutrality (e.g. Hey, lady, you dropped something), and none of camaraderie that I can think of. The “lady” serves to intensify the blow of “get a clue”.

    Greg’s post was so insulting to Susan, from the title to the contents, to the picture caption, it’s rather difficult for me to believe that he was so nasty to her but happened to use “lady” in anything other than a derisive manner. Especially when it’s so seldom used neutrally in that construction.

    *The only time “dude” is clearly used as a deliberate slur (that I can think of) is as in your example “dudebro” — which is obviously a pejorative directed at a group of men (the MRAs) who are pictured as showing their camaraderie by calling each other “dude” or “bro”.

    ** “Ladies” in the plural has more neutral and even positive usage as a term of address, but even then, it is often used derisively, usually directed at men and boys to put them down (cf. “girls” which is also used in the same manner).

    *** It is used positively or neutrally or even complimentarily in other ways, for example often as a descriptive noun (“pretty lady” “elderly lady” “classy lady”) which may be confusing you.

  27. 79

    @ Stephanie

    First of all, I agree that the discussion over whether the best policy is to counter the RWM frame by saying “you’re wrong, I don’t play bongos” or by saying “there’s nothing wrong with being a bongo-player” or by some combination of both is a valuable discussion to have.

    But that doesn’t mean that we should sit back and condone the vilification of the holder of a “Not a bongo-player” sign. It’s too bad that instead of raising the issue calmly and asking for rational opinions on the question, the original poster chose to come out on the attack with a bunch of uncomplimentary and presumptuous accusations.

  28. 80

    @ Jason

    It wasn’t my intent to derail the thread. In my first post here it was mostly on the issue except for the last comment “And even if we disagree on this point, Greg was totally out of line, slurring and denigrating her and coming off like a sexist jerk. I’m still upset on her behalf & don’t know when (if) I’ll go back to his blog.” You picked up on the sexism part of that statement and started the discussion here on it.

    But I’ve said my piece on it. You still don’t get it, so c’est la vie. Personally, I don’t feel it’s necessary for you to start a new thread on it, as everything has already been said here (it’s your blog of course and you can talk about whatever you like) and I for one won’t bring it up again.

  29. 82

    For what it’s worth, I want to discuss this, but I really want ONE of these three threads to be about the sign, the right-wingers’ slurs, and whether or not it’s bad.

    Shorter answer: I prefer for everyone to refrain from using slurs as insults in order to avoid fruitless arguments over double-standards. For example, I refuse to use the slurs “redneck”, “cracker” or “white trash”, even in jest. I have friends and acquaintances, most of whom are white, who carelessly use these epithets, and I’ve been blamed by one or two trolls for other people’s use of these epithets. However, everyone who has paid attention to my online comments and who knows me well realizes that I particularly detest racial slurs. I don’t crack “redneck” jokes or call my opponents “white trash” when I’m angry at them. Incidentally, I disapprove of Greg Laden’s belittling of this protester as “fuckedupwhitelady” as much for the “white” as for the “lady”.

    I am willing to extend this preference to slurs against political philosophies as well as slurs against identity. From this perspective, I understand your objection to this protester’s sign. I agree with your objection in principle.

    Longer answer: was redacted before completion and must wait until a more opportune time, because I need to study and finish a disastrous experiment before my PI kills me and eats me for lunch. Additionally, other commenters, such as ‘Tis Himself on Stephanie’s post and Ibis at #15 on this one, have already made part of my argument for me.

  30. 83

    Is “redneck” racist? I always thought it was classist. There’s certainly a regional component to it, where you’re more likely to be considered a redneck if you’re in the deep south, especially if you have a disdain for intellectuals and prefer to vote for churchgoers and people you’d have beer with. I don’t think the word redneck itself is terribly useful, though.

    Also, ‘Tis Himself made the case that Stephanie and Greg are just whining. That would likely go double for me, since I whined in the original post about them being told they’re just whining. Are you agreeing with that, Juniper? If so, insert sad-face here.

  31. 84

    Of course “redneck” is racist. Just because it’s used to denigrate people for being poor, Southern, religious, racist against black and brown people and anti-intellectual doesn’t mean that it isn’t simultaneously racist against white people. “Redneck” is reserved for white people and refers to racial physiognomy. It also suggests that many poor Southern whites are anti-intellectual, religious and racist because they’re white, which is preposterous.

    I am one of the very few Shoemakers who’s a Yankee. My father is a black Southerner who escaped by joining the Air Force as a young man. I was born on an Air Force base in the South, but I did my growing up in northern and western states, namely California. I rarely visit my family in the South and never enjoy it when I do. My paternal aunt, uncle and grandmother live in an all-black suburb. They live in an area where far as I can tell blacks and whites still self-segregate into racially homogenous communities. What sort of backwards-ass shit is that?

    My paternal aunt either hates me and my sister or is rabidly jealous of us. I am never sure which. She’s criticized us since childhood. She complains about our “white”, Northern accents, our mainstream education and our interracial romantic attachments. She disapproves of my ambition, my professional goals, my bookishness, my serious demeanor, my introversion, my refusal to go to church, my inability to dance, my inability to flirt, my tastes in literature, music and art and my political positions. She’s a Baptist who chastised me for accepting evolutionary theory when I tried to explain the existence of wisdom teeth. She resents my father for marrying a Korean woman, but she covets those physical features that my sister and I get from our mother, such as our “good” hair. She unceasingly expresses catty and unprovoked wishes for me to gain weight because I’m really thin and always have been, and for me to have tons of babies because she knows I prefer an ambitious career over unglamorous domestic drudgery. Her attitudes are understandable given their historical context, infuriating because they’re mean and unfair, and contemptible because they’re stupid all at once.

    In short, my black aunt is every bit as spiteful, silly and prejudiced as the redneckiest “redneck” who ever lived. She wants me and black women like me to fail as much as any “redneck” ever could. She’s bought into the Southern plantation mythology of “real” black women as ignorant, drawling, flirtatious, jolly, voluptuous, domestic, intolerant, churchgoing stereotypes who devote themselves to culturally “black” endeavors such as African American history while eschewing culturally “white” ones such as science. Clearly, she doesn’t believe that blacks possess personalities, abilities and appearances as diverse as those of whites, even though reality proves otherwise. She disapproves of feminism. She’s horrified by atheism. She’s racist, homophobic and anti-intellectual. In accordance with your definition, this is pretty “rednecky” behavior. Yet one’d never call my aunt a redneck. That’s why “redneck” is a racist slur.

    Additionally, I loathe the idea of denigrating people because they’re poor and Southern. I have sympathy for most individuals who are poor and struggling to survive as a result. Even if I didn’t have any sympathy, it would still be beyond idiotic to insult people for not having money instead of insulting them for having dumb-ass ideas. I don’t care if one’s from the South or not. Similarly, despite my internal conflict over the difficult question of just or optimal wealth distribution, I won’t hypocritically disparage middle-class individuals merely for belonging to the middle-class. I also wish that the media would concentrate on the Occupy Wall Street activists who want those who made fortunes from bad financial instruments prosecuted not because they’re rich but because they are no better than individuals from lower classes who made money by robbing banks and breaking into houses. That’s where I’m coming from.

    Also, ‘Tis Himself made the case that Stephanie and Greg are just whining. That would likely go double for me, since I whined in the original post about them being told they’re just whining. Are you agreeing with that, Juniper?

    No, no. I don’t think you’re whining. As I said, I agree with you three in principle. But I think you are ignoring the question of whether or not a given person has the luxury of refusing to reject stereotypes in her effort to be taken seriously by people with more political power. I feel as if people with more political power than I have take me more seriously than they would if I were a black stereotype. I sympathize with what this protester is trying to do with her sign.

  32. 85

    I can’t comment on your family history except to say “holy crap, I’m sheltered.” Also, I’m really impressed that you’re overcoming so much adversity, getting your school on, sciencing in the face of assholes who can’t see past your girl bits, and still taking the time to talk with me on the intertubes. Thank you for that, Juniper. Seriously.

    My answer is super-long. And it re-treads a bunch of territory. It’ll get its own post once I’m conscious enough to put it together and rescue it from the hour-long ramble treatment it got while I’ve been waiting for my stomach to settle enough that I might hope to actually get some sleep.

  33. 87

    Thank you for all your thoughtful posts, Jason. I am not as sick as I have been this last week, and tomorrow I am going to try to stop whining and get back to work (i.e., science). This means that I probably will have to stop commenting as much as I have been. But I have learned something valuable from your posts and everyone’s conversations.

  34. 89

    Hehe. Laden is genuinely – amazingly, yet truly – stupid. How did he rise so far? I guess business acumen really is a trait separable from other forms of intelligence.

  35. 90

    I am the woman holding the baby and the much discussed sign. Read a bit about me and that sign over here, if you want to:


    P.S. it was a playful jab at the invalidating labels used by the mainstream media. Each of the labels I had heard on the news. I applaud and respect each and every person out there fighting the good fight, regardless of race, creed, faith, lifestyle, gender, sexual orientation, height, or (even) hairstyle. For the lulz!

  36. 91

    Thank you for leaving the comment, Sarah. It is rather regretful that you used the “NOT” construction, when you identify as those things on your page http://www.ioccupytoday.net/i-am.html and over at Stephanie’s, but I’ll consider the self-identification as some measure of contrition for those slights. As I’ve posted above, I never considered your role in this “controversy” to be particularly telling about your actual self, except for how you identified, and then only incidentally. I appreciate that you’re in this fight, and thank you for your efforts, and for this note — which, while it doesn’t rise to the level of outright apology, can at least be read as such by those who took offense.

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