The Weakness Stereotype

I want to throw credit for this entry over to Brute Reason at freethoughtblogs, whose recent post about not being offended got me thinking. I wrote several paragraphs in response and then the comment management system ate my comment.

Ah, well. Let me then dedicate this article to that one.

There’s an unfortunate stereotype circulating at the moment that holds that people who are offended at the use of sexist, racist, or otherwise bigoted language, or who oppose the spread of weaponry into the citizenry at large, are only so opposed because they are cowards.

This does seem, on its face, to be a strange argument: as no doubt many of you understand, standing up to aggressive, violent, or armed opposition actually takes a lot of bravery. Politely asking people who are spoiling for a fight to just give up their perceived source of power (guns, whiteness, maleness, etc.) is perhaps one of the bravest things a person can do.

And yet, this stereotype is so pervasive that it actually forms the starting point for many arguments in opposition to inclusive language and gun control: “Just because you’re afraid of guns/common sense/my language doesn’t mean everyone else is.”

Sadly, this tactic is the province of the bully. But, perhaps encouragingly, it’s also the province of a bully on the defensive.

Groups that have felt endangered have, since time immemorial, cast their opponents as weak or effeminate, and have often blamed setbacks on the opposing group’s unfair control of a resource or strategic location. Jews were blamed in the Middle Ages for controlling the supply of lendable capital; today, liberals are marked as controllers of education, opinion, and the media.

Endangered groups feel better about themselves when they can point to an imagined deception or contrivance to explain their losses. Purveyors of violence and aggression are being pushed back, momentarily, and part of the counterstrike is to paint their opponents as enervated cowards (who just happen to have some cunning going for them).

The fact is, I’m not afraid of guns. I’m not afraid that a less-armed population won’t be able to stand up to a suddenly tyrannical government, either – because I don’t think that particular scenario’s on the table.

All we can do, when we are called cowards, is to remember that by standing up for what we believe in, we are indeed strong. And if we do have moments of weakness, that doesn’t mean our interlocutors are right.

It means we’re human.



  1. alphachamber · · Reply

    Sir, do you really believe in your own line of argument? I live in Europe and have no axe to grind. However, the problem is that people like yourself do NOT CONFRONT the opposition, but you rather preach to the choir, drum up activism amongst your like, and then let them fight your battle.
    “…people who are offended at the use of sexist, racist, or otherwise bigoted language…”
    It’s rather the other way round: namely, that the plain speaking crowd needs to fear the politically correct. So, don’t be a hypocrite.

    1. I’m not really clear on what hypocrisy you’re accusing me of, or why people who use bigoted language need to be afraid of those who prefer more neutral and inclusive language.

      For one thing, you don’t seem to actually know me, so I’m not sure how you’re gauging how much personal activism I undertake. I could probably do more, but, like I said, we can’t wait to act until we are perfect in action and ideology, or we’ll never act.

      Most of all, though, it’s the use of euphemisms like “plain-spoken” to disguise what most people instinctively know is bigoted, violent, or just rude language. It isn’t plainspoken to deny a group the right to name itself. It isn’t plainspoken to use historically charged terms that hurt others. It’s a power play.

      1. alphachamber · ·

        As the most important cultural institution, language was for thousands of years a tool for communication and human development. The modern liberals turned it into a tool (or rather weapon) of political rhetoric and a social red herring.
        As per William James’ “moral equivalent of war”, to divert attention from more fundamental and important problems of society, and to sustain political unity and civic virtue in absence of a credible threat and war [sic]. Btw. James was the house-philosopher of Mussolini and the democratic presidents F.D.R (who applied this theory with his “Greta Deal”) and Jimmy Carter in 1977.
        When it comes to manners and decorum, I couldn’t agree more, that we need a lot of catching up to do.
        This is an interesting debate which I don’t take lightly, but this format is unsuitable for a detailed reply, which your post deserves. May I please request you to refer to my post: “TRUTH AND POLITICAL CORRECTNESS”, for a better account of my argument.The link to my article:
        Have a good day!

      2. I’d like a little more engagement, certainly. Thanks for your response. That said, I think there’s a lot of evidence that conservatives wage linguistic war with at least the same vigor as liberals, and to what seem to me to be far more self-serving goals.

        The goals of inclusive language involve empowering those who have for much of modern history been prevented from speaking for themselves: women, ethnic minorities, LGBT individuals. That’s why we (liberals, at least) don’t talk about “getting gypped” anymore: it reinforces a stereotype of the Roma people, and employs a name that the Roma had imposed on them by outsiders.

        Contrast that to Newt Gingrich’s memo to the Republican party on psychological priming, which encouraged conservative candidates to employ traditional American values (“freedom,” “responsibility”) to describe their own campaigns, while subtly accusing opposing candidates of anti-Americanism.

  2. Bah! Sorry my stupid blog ate your comment. Sometimes they go into spam for no reason but I generally check that. 😛

    1. Not a problem! Thanks for the awesome entry.

  3. There’s a couple of points that really stick out at me here – bully tactics, which we should all be versed on, in order to see much public discourse for what it is and the other being the concept that anything remotely feminine is still considered an insult or weakness. Very nice, succinct post and a great defense against the gun lobby.

    1. Thanks – I agree that we should all learn more about bully tactics. Knowing how a bully works can help avoid the damage that they can otherwise do.

  4. […] would like to thank Bespectacledape for his post, The Weakness Stereotype. It inspired me to follow through on the thoughts that have been nagging at me this last […]

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