Tuesday, 3 July 2012

"It's political correctness gone mad," gone mad

I am a feminist. A liberal, lefty feminist. I am for LGB equality, trans equality, equality for disabled people. I am for immigration, for the rights of carers to be recognised and enshrined in law. I am for the NHS. I am for home-made cheesecake, Malted Milk biscuits and Ian Hislop.

I am against the Daily Mail, hate-mongering, lazy TV and journalism, jeggings, the use of stale, over-chilled malted bread on pre-packaged supermarket sandwiches, and plain, common-or-garden bad manners. More specifically, I hate the phrase, "political correctness gone mad."

Now, I wouldn't like you to think that I espouse the cause of political correctness just because the Daily Mail regularly bash it, although that would be reason enough for any reasonable, compassionate human being. I like political correctness because it's a good thing. Because it prohibits a person from groping me without my permission. Because it stops some mean-eyed, braying dickhead from yelling, "SPASTIC!" at someone in a wheelchair who passes them in the street, referring to their colleague as a "Paki" or making abhorrent jokes about rape. I happen to think, as do most normal people, that it's better to dislike your neighbour because he or she is an arsehole, and be able to back that up with reasons if required, than huh-huhing like a mouth-breathing Beavis in between shouting "retard" or "black bastard." Political correctness, and its adoption broadly across daily life, has reduced the number of people who think it's all right to behave in this shitty way to the minimum, which can only be a good thing. Our manners as a nation have improved somewhat. We are more courteous to one another. One thinks of the Big Brother "scandal" where Jade Goody and Danielle Lloyd targeted Shilpa Shetty using racist language, which once would have been reasonably unremarkable, and, since times have changed, was no longer so. (Although to be fair, it seemed to be more about "gang up on the pretty, bona fide celebrity" than "gang up on the Indian woman", but regardless, the language was used.)

So, given that political correctness is mainly about shying away from the kind of horrible language that very few people would publicly espouse now (as the Big Brother incident showed), why do so many people seem to shy away from saying that political correctness is A Good Thing? The answer is that political correctness has been integrated so successfully into our everyday interactions now that the only time it ever really comes up is in the form of the right-wing whipping-boy of "political correctness gone mad." This is wheeled out every time a new law, or regulation, or suggested modus operandi comes to the attention of the tabloids, including the Mail. The emphasis here is on "suggested." It doesn't even have to be real.

Read my lips: there has never been a "baa, baa rainbow sheep" (or green sheep, as some versions have it). This is an urban legend. The reason whiteboards have replaced blackboards in schools has nothing to do with race. I mean, listen to yourself. It's ridiculous. Schools, in fact, are a repository for a lot of these made-up stories about "political correctness gone mad." An example: "schools now aren't allowed to put plasters on a child's knee when it falls over in the playground!" Bollocks. My eldest is seven this month and always skinning his knees. The school is constantly putting plasters on him. He is half child, half Elastoplast. They don't even have to ask my permission. What they do have to do is tell me that they've done it, which is why I now have a collection of neat little red and white slips chronicling my son's playground injuries. They might have to ask my permission as he gets older when his illnesses might require, say, aspirin, but - and here's the thing - that would actually make sense, given that aspirin makes some people ill, or aggravates pre-existing conditions.

Again, a lot of these legends are "the health and safety" culture. Now, pretty much everyone has been on eye-poppingly irksome health and safety training when they start a new job. You know the kind of thing: don't pour coffee over your computer, don't set yourself on fire, etc. And you can see why it's such an easy target for the anti-political correctness brigade. That said, isn't it better to have a health and safety culture in workplaces than not? Wouldn't you rather have a bit of tiresome jibber-jabber about proper lifting than risk breaking your spine heaving boxes around the wrong way? Personally I'd rather not be killed or severely disabled by my job, so yeah, I'll laugh at the training, but I'll also pay a LOT of attention. So that I live.

And if life and a bit of common courtesy are the outcome of political correctness, then let it go as mad as it likes. I'll see you in Bedlam. But no straitjackets, please. It's not that sort of place any more.


  1. Well said Claire - on BOTH counts!
    Long live common sense say I...

  2. Very enjoyable read and spot on. There's no gainsaying the fact that H&S principles are sometimes applied in an inflexible non-common sense way, however, that negatively impacts on our enjoyment of life, but sure, I'd not disagree with the attitudes you are arguing against..

  3. Amen to that! Working at sea means I get a fuckton of H&S and PC stuff, and yes sometimes it's eye rollingly boring. But, the training is, and has to be, aimed at the least aware, which includes 16yr old kids straight out of school, and they actually need to be told stuff that you or I would imagine to be glaringly obvious!! And as for PC, well, some people I work with still haven't grasped that some of the words that come out of their mouths are painfully sexist, racist and generally offensive. They tend to be the ones who bitch about PC.....