Telling People Not to Be Offended is Offensive

This is about more than just one guy being an a**hole to me on the internet.

I love a good mansplaining in the morning. And by love, I mean hate to the point it makes my skin crawl. Nothing sets me off quite as much as being told what I really meant by the words I formed with my own brain.

It’s infinitely worse when accompanied by the dismissive “Stop being so offended.” No! Just no! I am an autonomous human being, I can feel however the fuck I want to, and I don’t need your permission, asshole.

My morning started out pretty innocuous. I managed to drink my coffee hot without falling asleep in my chair, which is always a win for this work from home mama. While I sipped my nectar of the Gods, I checked out Facebook to see what was new and hip today, as one does.

Someone’s kid is home with a tummy bug; oh, that’s an amusing meme; a local candidate posted a picture of a half-naked stranger to garner attention for a post about his platform. For fuck’s sake. This is why we can’t have nice things.

Predictably, the comments on the article about this post were split between rational people stating calmly they thought it was in poor taste, and a chorus of, “Stop being so offended!” idiots.

I said I thought it showed a lack of good judgment for a candidate to post a picture of a woman he doesn’t know in a flag bikini and say she was clearly a good Canadian, attached to a post about his political career. I mean, regardless of my feelings about the picture, that’s not showing the critical thinking skills I need in a person who will be representing me.

Almost immediately I was told to stop being offended by something that is none of my business. Well, first, I didn’t say I was offended, I said I thought it showed a lack of good judgment. Second, how is a government official’s platform not my business?

When I said exactly that, he told me what I had really meant by my comment. Nope again. I’m pretty good at expressing my thoughts in writing. It’s sort of what I do for a living. I don’t need some dude to badly translate my words for me.

He then told me “Move on. Case closed.” Whoa, whoa, whoa. Give me a second to roll up my sleeves here. Hold my purse. You don’t get to decide what I can and cannot say, just as I don’t get to decide what this candidate can and cannot say. I can say whatever the hell I want to say, and I can feel however I want to feel. Case open. Can open. Worms everywhere.

And yes, I said that to him, so please no comments about, “Why do people come and rant on the internet instead of talking to people directly.” I told him, proverbially, where he could shove it.

But this is about more than just one guy being an asshole to me on the internet. I get it, the internet is essentially just one giant collective talking sphincter sometimes. There’s a bigger issue at play here. This “stop being so offended by everything” stuff has to stop. It’s dismissive, it’s patronizing, it’s used as a tool of oppression, and it also makes no damn sense to tell someone to stop being offended by everything when you are clearly offended that they are offended. It’s like Offended Inception.

“Remember the good old days when people weren’t offended by everything?” What days were those, when people in positions of power were able to be offensive and no one questioned them on it? People are speaking out about it now because they can without fear of loss of employment or status. Feeling safe enough to say, “That offends me” is a good thing.

Telling people “Stop being so offended” is used to silence people. It’s a way to say, “This threatens my ability to do and say what I want to and not be held accountable for it.” It says, “Your voice does not matter. Mine does.” It’s an assertion of power, with a scary history.

And it’s not lost on me that the people who say it are the ones who most easily feel threatened. The slightest hint at the loss of the foothold they have as a dominant group, any dominant group be it sex, race, sexuality, and they come out swinging. It’s not that they think people should be less offended by things – it’s that they feel their authority shouldn’t be questioned. They need to put us in our place.

And if people are a little over-sensitive these days, can you blame them? It’s taken a long time to be able to freely speak out when we feel objectified or put down. Micro aggressions are a real thing. Rape culture is a real thing. Sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, hate in all forms spreads through the subtle messages that society deems acceptable. It isn’t with hate crimes and burning crosses on lawns that these messages are passed along; it’s through normalizing the smaller, “socially acceptable” things like jokes and comments.

Yes, there is a place for humour. But a candidate attaching a photo of a woman he doesn’t know, who has not given permission for her photo to be used politically or objectified in such a way, is not an appropriate place for it. Moreover, telling people they have no right to be offended, or indeed even just question the judgment of the post as I did, shows your own insecurities more so than the person stating their opinion of the use of the photo.

So, get off my ass, guy on Facebook. Get off all our asses. You’re showing enough of your own without going after ours.




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Heather M. Jones is a mom of 2 from Toronto. When not writing, she can be found reading, worrying, and spending way too much time on Facebook.