Some Thoughts and Bletherings on Being Offended

WARNING: The language below may prove offensive. Or not.

Below are some comments I’ve seen or heard made in the last week or so.

“Do some disabled people look for things to be offended by?”

“Why bring in mental health language when insulting someone?”

“I am a mentalist”

“Mad Nad strikes again”

“Is Nad Mad or just Bad?”

“All these campaigns against stigma are doing us no favours”

“A little wit or humour goes a long way in anti stigma ads”

“The disabled are an easy target”

“Us crips”

“I find it offensive”

“Are these the retards on twitter?”

“Get over it, if being insulted is the main issue, you aren’t suffering enough”

“£105 BILLION a year spent on fruitbats, windowlickers and mongs.”

“This is bonkers policy on the hoof, they are mad”

“Misguided isn’t same as having  mental health difficulties”

“No offence meant”

“people trying to terrorise others for use of bonkers are barking in fascist rather than mental health way”

“But then, if you don’t challenge the “small stuff”, how can you expect to get people onside to change the bigger aspects of Disablism?”

I believe in free speech.  So I guess I must also believe in the right of people to be offensive.

The question is, how do we respond to offence?

If we believe in free speech, surely it works both ways. We have the right to feel offended, and to express that feeling.

But do we sometimes go too far in expressing our offence? Do we need to temper our response depending on who offended us?

Is offence caused in the workplace, or by a person in authority over us, different to offence caused by a stranger online, or more equal to us? How about offensive comments not aimed specifically at us? How about offence caused by the media?

Do we have the right to assume that just because we have been offended by something, that that means it is offensive to others?

Do we need to challenge every person or institution who offends us?

Are we offended too easily? Do we need to develop more of a sense of humour? Do we need to lighten up?

In challenging an organisation which has offended us, are we speaking only for ourselves, or for all disabled people? Do we have the right to assume that just because we have been offended by a statement, that the statement is offensive to others in similar situations to us?

Do we have the right to campaign for others to have their freedom of speech restricted in order to be less offended ourselves?

Is concentrating on our offence doing us any favours, or are we just turning ourselves into caricatures?

Are people with different types of disabilities more likely to be on the receiving end of offensive language? Is it more socially acceptable to offend those with mental health problems than physical disabilities?

Is challenging offensive remarks making it easier or harder to reduce discrimination against disabled people?

Should we move on, and focus on other issues that affect our lives? Like benefits cuts, lack of treatment, fewer job opportunities, poor physical health and higher mortality rates, poorer housing, lack of visibility in society, people or organisations speaking for us when we could be speaking for ourselves?

Or is it just part of a continuum of discrimination, one thing leads to another; insults lead to stigma, leads to fewer job or training opportunities, leads to less money and social mobility, leads to poor visibility in society, leads to poorer housing, leads to poorer physical health, leads to higher mortality?

Another question: In using terms such as mentalist, crip or nutter to describe ourselves, are we reclaiming offensive language, or are we muddying the waters, and making it easier for others to use the same language against us? Do we benefit from following the example of the LGBT community, where the word ‘dyke’ or ‘queer’ may be used by LGBT people to describe themselves as a way of disempowering those who would use it as an insult?

Even if we are not doing it so self consciously or politically, do we get offended by being called something that we might call ourselves? In calling ourselves a word used by some as an insult are we really reflecting our own poor self esteem, or is it just a handy shorthand or way of lightening the mood?

Please don’t assume that I have any answers to the above questions or particular opinions. Its just something I’m thinking about, and I’d like to hear what others think. I believe its important that we discuss these issues, and don’t just let charities and disability organisations speak for us. So please comment. Thanks.


11 thoughts on “Some Thoughts and Bletherings on Being Offended

  1. Dave, I see your point but in practical terms you have to work out a way of getting to the position in which you can argue the big questions. Picking up on language is a way of getting the foot in the door. It is not an end in itself. It is a way of establising one’s right to take part in the debate. You may disagree and you’re entitled to do so but I think derogatory language does bar us from the decision-making process. It is only one of the bars but it is an important one. Thanks though for sketching in the bigger picture.

      • Oops. Cat on keyboard moment !

        Sorry Beatrice, was about to say it’s taken derogatory language to get most of you lot questioning your own prejudices around mental health, humour and censorship and for the record, just in case it isn’t obvious, i don’t want to talk to the decision makers, particularly those who claim to represent ‘us’ , I want to ridicule and get rid of them which is probably why our approaches to activism differ somewhat . Good luck with your case against the Guardian.

  2. It’s rather disturbing that some people haven’t thought it necessary or felt able to openly discuss these issues before now as this alone is a strong hint at what the obvious answers to some of the questions MindinFlux poses should be. I’ve certainly openly discussed these questions with other service users and (self-defined) survivors online and off , and this may come as a bit of a shock but I’m afraid not many of them seemed that interested in going on hunger strike over the Copperfield issue or staying up in relays to monitor web traffic to catch anyone misusing words like bonkers. They are too busy worrying about more mundane matters , like getting appropriate therapy, treatment and care and whether they’ll keep their jobs or benefits for starters.

    Most, like me, also view the £120 million plus massively duplicated anti stigma campaigns as a joke. A bad one that’s on us .

    To go to the core question the Pulse issue raised , do we need to rein in how often we take offence ?, IMHO we certainly need to learn to laugh at ourselves more and insist on the right to be offended and occasionally satirised too as that’s what real Equality entails but MindinFlux is right to link the question of what we should be really focussing on to the issue of representation as the more seriously we take and present ourselves as humourless victims in the media the more we empower the charities to protect their dual ‘service provider’ and ‘representational’ roles and corporate empires at our expense.

    And I say expense as in addition to radio silence on service failure and benefits targeting very little has been done to provide real supported pathways into study, quality training and work or appropriate support for a range of non employment outcomes as well and now we see the charities who had previously lectured how they were prioritising resolving these issues deftly leaping across into the criminal justice space because that’s where the money is now and the representational role is being subordinated to the needs of these service providers to passively spoon up to Ministers and Departments in the bed of Government and we get it up the arse again..

    That’s not funny either and I’m offended that these dire outcomes are allowed to pass as ‘effective representation’.

    As for the Copperfield article – knew we’d get back to it – Pulse were right to defend Copperfield in the way they did but they could have apologised for the quality of the Down on the Farm piece and the author/s literary failure to make the point of it clearer as the real issue being satirised , to me, was GPs being bombarded from on high with an array of niche mental health activities to refer people too – Mind offer Walking Therapy in my neck of the woods – while core treatments go unfunded. I imagine a lot of service users don’t show a lot of interest unless it’s something that’s going to practically support or just appeal to them and think Anne Marie , Mark, Beatrice, Karen et al would have done better to get an article in Pulse questioning why this piecemeal niche mentalhealth activity drip is being allowed to negatively impact on GPs time and patience rather than being rolled out in a clear , accessible and menu driven way as part of the Personalisation agenda linked to Personlisation budgets.

    Offended or not, it certainly is in our interest to make sure Personalisation and Patient Choice mechanisms work .

    Its also a tragic failure of imagination that people just responded to Pulse with ‘Angry of Basingstoke’ letters – especially from Anne Marie given her interest in Social Media . Surely someone could have produced a Youtube reposte to Copperfield , a retalitory Down and Dirty on the Farm song or arranged a collective ‘Kiss My Pulse ‘ Moon to really make sure what objections there were got noticed on other social networks and in the media.

    This applies to GDN issue too. Dont get Mad, go viral!


    You missed a quote

    @CardinalRichelieu “Give me six lines written by the most honest man and I will find enough therein to hang him… “

  3. Hi Fluxy

    Many thanks for this blog post.

    I think that what one person views as offensive, and is offended by, may not attract the same re-action from someone else, who is in a similar situation. I believe some of it comes down to personality and background, as well as an individual’s current situation.

    In order to speak up in an official capacity for a sector of the population, I think the inidividual(s) need to be given that role / responsibility. So it needs to be a member organisation, where member’s elect the representatives who then take stands on different issues.

    This is just off top of my head. if I do not contribute in that way I will not contribute at all.


  4. The problem with getting offended is that once you start it’s hard to stop. And if you’re not careful you do end up a caricature.

    Some things, like the Pulse article, really were offensive (and come from people who ought to know better), so yes, we should complain about that.

    Complaining about “Mad Nad”, however, I think is going too far.

    Also I don’t know who said this:
    “But then, if you don’t challenge the “small stuff”, how can you expect to get people onside to change the bigger aspects of Disablism?”

    But the answer surely is… by tackling the big stuff? It’s not like the big stuff is made up of lots of little bits of small stuff on top of one another. Martin Luther King didn’t go around challenging everyone who used the N word, he went out and fought for the rights of black people to vote and attend college.

  5. Pingback: Tweets that mention Some Thoughts and Bletherings on Being Offended « Mind In Flux --

  6. I’m battling with this one at the moment. Guardian bloggers made some offensive remarks about me and it is taking me ages to push the complaint through the Press Complaints Commission. At the time I was numb with shock. I didn’t cry at first. That came later. I resented the fact that people attacked me for writing a piece about how to live with pride if you have bipolar or schizophrenia. I became even more exasperated when the Guardian carried a front page piece about Claire Balding’s frustrations over being called a “dyke on a bike”. Why did the Guardian grant her pride of place in the paper when they rejected me? As a result of the shock I failed to get the job I needed to carry on with my PGCE. I will have to go back next year. I can see the Guardian are spinning it out in the hope that I will forget it. I won’t. What really saddens me is the lack of sympathy and understanding. Most mental health people have been great but with everyone else they think me pathetic and weak for standing up for myself. It is almost as though I am being seen as “ill” for objecting to being called “psycho”. I find it hard to read the paper now because I question every expression of social concern. If they care so much in their articles why couldn’t they care enough for me? All I wanted was swift deletion of these obnoxious comments.

  7. It’s not so much the words used as the context they are used in. The most ‘seemingly’ polite sentence can be offensive if said/written in a certain way.

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