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We Got Lame

wnba

I remember back when the WNBA started, back in 1997. I remember how the league's slogan, "We Got Next," was one of the best marketing slogans I'd ever heard. It was simple, tough, to the point, like the players. I remember being inspired by these bad-ass ladies, all muscle and sinew and skill. And I remember the great commercials that ran promoting the league: Joan Jett singing the Mary Tyler Moore Show theme song as images of the best female basketball players in the world hooped in slow motion. It was like feminist porn.
Oh, and I remember the backlash, too. People made fun of it. OK, mainly guys made fun of it: "How many set shots can you see in one game?" "I played a little ball in high school—I could beat these chicks!" "It's like watching the Special Olympics."
These guys—these sedentary, regular guys, who spent more time on the couch watching sports than playing them—felt superior to the WNBA's finely tuned, specially trained, bad-ass athletes.
You know, I was cool with that, because I knew the truth: No, guys, you could not beat Rebecca Lobo in a game of one-on-one. She would school you. And Lisa Leslie can dunk—can you? You can fool yourself as much as you want, but these women are better athletes than you, and they are better than you at basketball. It's kind of the same way I feel about those horrible people who insist that Barack Obama is Muslim or that he's not really a US citizen, or who even spout explicitly racial insults about him: You can rant and rave all you want, but you've lost. We have a black president, so get over it. Or, to put it more succinctly: Whatever, dude.
So for a while, I was happy with the WNBA. At first, its marketing didn't water down the toughness of these women, didn't particularly eschew showing photos of its stars with short haircuts. It didn't exactly celebrate the true dykish nature of the league, but the subtext was always there (as was Rosie O'Donnell, owner of courtside seats).
But then those freaking halftime profiles began, and my enthusiasm faltered.
You know what I'm talking about: those cheesy little stories that take up halftime air, those stories that are supposed to give you a feel for the players and their lives and bring you into the league. They're always stupid, no matter what sport. But with the WNBA, they proved downright offensive.
Because, you see, it seemed like every other profile proved to be some variation on the tale of a WNBA player and "how she balances life as a world-class athlete…and a mother," or some other similar drop of syrup. In the rare instances there wasn't a baby involved, the profile made sure to mention the ubiquitous boyfriend/husband repeatedly, complete with shots of the happy couple, enjoying a normal home like.
Lots of players talked about wanting to have babies; I can't recall one who said, "Nah, it's not for me." The baby talk was explicit and constant, but any tiny smatterings of queerness hanging in the air were camouflaged as soon as possible.
Basically, the WNBA protested too much: "We're straight! No, really! We LOVE babies. And therefore, by extension, penises!! Seriously—did we mention we're straight?"
Besides the halftime profiles, the instrument the league most often used as a heteronormative sledgehammer was Lisa Leslie. Leslie's one of the best basketball players in the world, and she was the star of the WNBA's inaugural year. At 6'5", she's also one of the few women in the world who can dunk, which she did in a 2003 WNBA game. But, OMG, that first season! For the duration of it, the media, the league, the sportscasters—anyone who mentioned Leslie—had to mention the fact that she also was a model. (Or at least, she had aspirations to be a model. Until the league started inundating its audience with images of Leslie at photo shoots, I'd never actually seen anything to indicate she actually did all that much work.)
It should have come as no surprise, really. Leading up to its inaugural game between the LA Spark and the Phoenix Mercury, whenever anyone involved in the league spoke, you heard the word "family" more than the word "basketball." On and on they went, blathering about how the WNBA games were a perfect family activity, and promoting family packages at games.
It was offensive for many reasons, but here are just two: First, the overkill reeked of desperation, a frantic effort to distance the league from any hint of anything but heteronormative things. And second, it was just so hypocritical. Yes, of course straight women and hetero families like sports and also play sports. But so do dykes. Where's our love?
After all that, I pretty much stopped watching. I just got sick of it.
This week, the league began its 11th season the same way it has since its first one: In trouble. The league doesn't make money. Television viewership continues to fade, as does attendance. Several teams have folded. It's bad—in fact, every season since that first one, the NBA has subsidized the WNBA's existence, because the latter can't sustain itself (hmmm…the men supporting the women, because they can't make it on their own…for all its queerness, I guess there are some things in the league that remain entrenched in hetero tradition). Clearly, the family-oriented marketing, the insistence on tamping down any dyke-ynesss or alternative-ness—these strategies aren't working.
And yet, still…that insistence continues. The league can't stop pushing its superstar, Candace Parker (who can dunk too), not because of her strength, smarts, and skills on the court, but because she just had a baby. And the media won't STFU about it either. Parker landed a coveted "5 Good Minutes" interview spot on the popular ESPN show "Pardon the Interruption" to talk about her baby. How come she didn't get it when she first dunked in a pro game?
And then there's this:
http://www.newsday.com/sports/basketball/ny-lsfash1012833678jun08,0,2366...
Yet another fashion spread featuring 6-foot lady ballers from the New York Liberty—the so-called "Glamazons"—couture-clad, posing awkwardly with basketballs.
It's not working. No one is buying it, WNBA, and you're bleeding money to boot. You are a laughingstock.
And that makes me so, so sad.
So here's what you should do:
1) Embrace the dykes. Lesbians love you, and lesbians have money. It doesn't have to be some big, grand thing, but how about a same-sex, two-for-one ticket deal? Or, I don't know, Virginal Woolf bobblehead night. You've already gone down the road with the associating some New York Liberty marketing with New York Pride activities. That's working—so why not expand on the relationship between lezzies and teams, nationwide.
2) Embrace the rebels. Market yourself as a true alternative to other activities. The players who aren't having babies—what are they doing instead? They probably lead pretty interesting lives. They could be role models for single folks, or people who are wary of dominant culture. They could reach an untapped market.
3) Let go of the mommy fetish. Of course it's great if players have kids, and if families come to games. But the focus on the family strategy hasn't been working for over a decade. It's time to trash it.
In short, WNBA, it's time accept your fan base. Sorry that it's a bunch of dykes but, well, get over it.

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Comments

45 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Why?

I almost skimmed past this piece because I'm just not into sports but, why is a feminist blog/magazine using ableist language?

I realize it's very common to do so, but, we're striving for a higher standard. Right?

~whatsername~

~whatsername~

We Got Ableist

Using lame in a negative fashion like this reconfirms negative attitudes toward people with physical disabilities. I hope you'll consider changing the headline.

Please DON'T edit the

Please DON'T edit the headline. I get so sick of the blinders people put on as soon as they hear something that triggers their i-want-a-pc-cookie-from-the-internetz button. In addition to disabled, lame ALSO means 'weak and ineffectual; unsatisfactory' and is perfectly appropriate in such context.

THIS is why people don't take our issues seriously - because we're such rigid PC police within our own communities that we become a -weak and ineffectual- laughingstock.

In regards to the OP - I can see the value in the 'we're just like you!' ad campaign that puts (straight) family first IF it's actually working to increase viewership, but as you pointed out, it's NOT working. There is no reason not to try another approach and promote instead (or in addition) the lesbian (and lesbian family) representation among the audience and players - unless the WNBA is just plain homophobic. They have no excuse at this point. Try something new and more inclusive!

People don't take our issues

People don't take our issues seriously because they want to defend their own privilege and see our issues as a direct attack on that.

Striving to be a more inclusive community is never "weak and ineffectual" and using ableist language like this is NOT that.

"PC police" is a strawman, bullshit, accusation.

~whatsername~

~whatsername~

"People don't take our

"People don't take our issues seriously because they want to defend their own privilege and see our issues as a direct attack on that.

I both agree and disagree. There are people who will never take our issues seriously because they are a-holes who want to defend their own privilege and then there are people who DO take our issues 'seriously' but who will -never- give enough of a shit to get involved because they find the nit-picking and moralizing to be over the top.

"Striving to be a more inclusive community is never "weak and ineffectual"

Completely agreed that striving to be inclusive is not weak, though sometimes against our best efforts it is ineffectual. :(

"and using ableist language like this is NOT that."

We disagree that 'lame' is always ableist language. I think that's the "bs accusation" and a distraction from the actual subject at hand.

Check the other Anonymous

In reply I will point you to what the other anonymous said below. Lame means what it does specifically because it is attached to understandings of dis/abled bodies.

~whatsername~

~whatsername~

"there are people who DO

"there are people who DO take our issues 'seriously' but who will -never- give enough of a shit to get involved because they find the nit-picking and moralizing to be over the top."

THIS.

Count me as someone who takes the issues seriously but just can't give a shit. I'll read an interesting article in Bitch or elsewhere, or an interesting blog post, but when I get to the comment section all I can say is eff this noise.

Attacking one word, and the person who used it, just makes me not want to discuss ANYTHING with that person, because they will ignore any meaningful debate until you have been coerced into agreeing with them that one single word you used is something-ist.

And they never have any etymology to back themselves up. All they ever seem to say is that because a word at one time meant something that now is potentially offensive to someone, somewhere, you are a horrible person who kicks puppies if you use that word.

Wait just a minute

Who is attacking "the person who used it"?

Everyone so far has said something along the lines of "love the post, what's up with the title". How is that attacking Jonanna Widner? Kicking puppies? What..? I don't think Jonanna is a horrible person who kicks puppies, I just think she used an ableist word, a word that is VERY common in every day language and that I'm quite sure every able bodied person has used without thinking because it's largely socially acceptable (like "retarded"). Doing so doesn't make her a bad person, it just means she's socially conditioned like the rest of us. But it also needed to be called out, because it is perpetuating acceptable ableism through language.

As for etymology, this HAS been discussed in this thread. The evolution of this word originated from meaning a dis/abled person to still meaning that and in addition more generally "inadequate and ineffectual". I don't see how you can honestly say you don't see how the two meanings overlap and are completely intertwined. And it's not as though this topic, of ableist language, hasn't been discussed at length in criptheory etc. This isn't a "someone somewhere MIGHT be offended," it's been stated in no uncertain terms by many people in academic disability theory and out in the world disability rights that there are many ableist words in common usage; lame is a primary one.

If this is new information to you, then I can only suggest a google search, and that you do a bit of 101 reading in crip theory or disability rights intersecting with feminism.

~whatsername~

~whatsername~

*shrug*

It seems to me (and I will admit I can be wrong, and conversational tone just isn't conveyed as well online as in person-to-person speech) that people are attacking those that defend the use of the word "lame". I don't mean they're attacking the original post writer, though they are taking issue with it.

I *don't* see that the two meanings are "completely intertwined". Lame, used to describe disability, fell out of favor nearly 100 years ago. Lame, in a colloquial sense meaning inadequate/ineffectual, is increasingly used today, by people whose *parents* are too young to be familiar with the old usage. I have a hard time getting upset by that.

In my mind, if you're going to argue etymology, bust out the etymological dictionary. In the case of this argument, yes, lame first meant a disability, going back to Old English (and I know this because I just looked it up). But quite frequently I encounter people who DON"T know the history of a word, they just assume that because it sounds or looks like something offensive it must be too. I don't think they have to cite their sources, necessarily, but be able to if someone asks. Most can't.

Meaning-of-the-somethingist-word debates online are as mentally stimulating as debates with someone who attacks your grammar and spelling instead of your argument. I don't care if the accusation is agist, ablist, sizist, racist, or whatever else there is that I'm missing, accusing someone of being prejudiced because they use a colloquial word (and by extension, me, casual user of a number of words) just makes me less interested in whatever the accuser is trying to say.

Well

accusing someone of being prejudiced because they use a colloquial word

If that's what you think is being discussed here, then you're missing the point.

~whatsername~

~whatsername~

I better tell the people I

I better tell the people I know who, having broken their leg, describe themselves as "lame" or "lamed", that they're time-travelers. Which is pretty cool, but I'm surprised they've adapted so quickly to the internet.

No thanks

Please don't assume that because a person disagrees with you, that your opinion is a 'new' one to them or that they need to do 101 reading to catch up with you. I have read and disagree with the position that lame is always an ableist term. In certain usages - absolutely. In the above context - I simply disagree.

"If"

I wrote my post with the assumption that it was not new information. That's why there's only two sentences at the end saying "IF this is new info...".

~whatsername~

~whatsername~

Here, queer, and dis/abled

You write that, "In addition to disabled, lame ALSO means 'weak and ineffectual; unsatisfactory' and is perfectly appropriate in such context." But that's not quite true. Lame came to mean weak, ineffectual, and unsatisfactory because these descriptors have traditionally been associated with the condition of lameness, i.e. mobility impairment.

People who refuse to take queer issues seriously don't do so because of queers who stand up to ableism, or in solidarity with any underrepresented, marginalized, or oppressed people. (And yes, Anonymous, people with dis/abilities are all of these.) Most people who refuse to take queer issues seriously do so because they don't want to examine their own relationships to power and privilege. Others find it easy to dismiss queer issues because queer communities have too often failed to work in coalition with other groups for social change, or because queer movements are viewed as single-issue, non-inclusive.

Finally, I challenge you to ask yourself, "Who is this 'we', and which communities are 'our own communities'?"

yeah

I don't know the history of the etymology of lame. If you do, i'd love to see some references (not being sarcastic - i'm interested) but i do know that one definition of lame is weak and not effective and that is the first understanding I had of the word and I am not going to throw a perfectly good word out the window because there is another meaning to the word which does not apply anyway in the context used.

See above - re: people who do not take queer issues seriously. I don't mean homophobic people; I mean sympathetic people who can not be bothered to get involved in a movement because when they do they have to hear this kinda moralizing BS on every front.

To answer your question, I meant the queer community specifically and the progressive one generally. If you don't include yourself in my definition of 'we' then yay, ok, whatevs, i do not care, because obviously i do not speak for you or everyone. My point is that when they say organizing the left is like herding cats, at times like this I totally agree.

"but i do know that one

"but i do know that one definition of lame is weak and not effective and that is the first understanding I had of the word and I am not going to throw a perfectly good word out the window because there is another meaning to the word which does not apply anyway in the context used."

Just think about what you're saying. Lame means what it does because it refers to insulting ideas about disabled people. You are trying to say that that doesn't matter because it's an issue of etymology, and word meanings change, etc. But how sad would it be if someone said:

"but I do know that one definition of pussy is coward and that is the first understanding I had of the word..."

I do hope that you will

I do hope that you will continue to condemn other commonly used, yet rarely criticized, ableist words.

For example, the use of "idiot" as a "an utterly foolish or senseless person," or "moron" as "a person who is notably stupid or lacking in good judgment." Perhaps you could even critique the use of "blind" as "unwilling or unable to perceive or understand."

I would also greatly appreciate it if you educated certain misguided groups that self-label themselves with words initially intended to be contemptuous - such as the geeks and nerds, or even the Quakers, Yankees, Methodists, Unitarians, and Liberals.

[/sarcasm]

The definitions of words change. And yeah, they may have originated from discrimination or whatnot; they may have held negative connotations at some point. But let's face it: it's not the word that matters, it's the thought behind it. The author clearly meant no disrespect with use of the term "lame" and was obviously using it in the sense of "weak; inadequate; unsatisfactory." A physically disabled person may be lame in the original sense of the word, but can hardly be described as "weak; inadequate; unsatisfactory" - in this context, the only connection "lame" has with disabled persons is purely historical, and basically irrelevant.

I would argue similarly for "pussy," but it has a much more recent (and tangible) connection with the original definition, so I would not push it to quite the same level of disconnect.

O rly?

But let's face it: it's not the word that matters, it's the thought behind it.

Do you honestly realize what you're saying here, the train of thought this culminates in?

~whatsername~

~whatsername~

Is that the only part of my

Is that the only part of my comment that you could find fault with?

With your implication that my train of thought results in something negative, I have absolutely no idea where it leads. On the other hand, disregarding your tone, I would say that it culminates in communication unburdened by nitpicking, where people don't have to worry about accidentally saying something that could be misinterpreted as discrimination.

Now what would you say it leads to?

Also: I don't see anyone getting angry about "bitch." What's the difference?

It was just quotable

The multiple aspects of your comment with which I disagree can be found in the multiple other conversations going on here. And by the way I find it rather funny that you would mention the "tone" in my one sentence question after your two paragraphs of sarcastic snark. But I felt my biggest problem with your ideas boiled down to that one quotable sentence.

That train of thought is the exact one I've seen people use to justify white people using "nigger", for one good example. "Oh well it may have once meant something bad but now it's fine". No, it's really not always fine. And that you would bring up "Bitch" used for this magazine shows me just where the disconnect is. "Bitch" as a word is one which some have reclaimed by those who it has been used against as a perjorative, those who have reclaimed it, are using it. Likewise, "lame" has been critiqued by those it has been used against. So, if people are saying this language is hurtful and othering to them and it is them that language targets, why would I not listen?

I am able-bodied it's easy for me not to care, to disregard the Othering effect that common words have on people, it doesn't effect ME. But that's why I said in my original comment, we're holding ourselves to a higher standard than that, aren't we?

A word can only be reclaimed by it's targets, and to the contrary, this word, I have heard over and over from different people in the disability rights movement, that it is not cool. I've heard some say it is, but it still doesn't make it ok for me, as an *able-bodied person* to use it. Just like it's not ok for me, as a white person, to use the N word, even if SOME Black folks say they don't care.

~whatsername~

~whatsername~

.

'The author clearly meant no disrespect with use of the term "lame" and was obviously using it in the sense of "weak; inadequate; unsatisfactory."'

Then why not use weak, inadequate, or unsatisfactory? Is it because those don't have the rhetorical zing of "lame"? Where do you think that zing comes from? Why does it stick around?

number 1 - it's a pun

'We got lame' is a pun on 'we got game' ... this is a sports article. 'We got inadequate' does not work.

If you're a lover of words and meanings and sounds and puns, this is the best choice and I don't damn her for it. She is not using 'lame' as an attack against a disabled people. There is more than one meaning to the word.

I do hope that you will

I do hope that you will continue to condemn other commonly used, yet rarely criticized, ableist words.

For example, the use of "idiot" as a "an utterly foolish or senseless person," or "moron" as "a person who is notably stupid or lacking in good judgment." Perhaps you could even critique the use of "blind" as "unwilling or unable to perceive or understand."

I would also greatly appreciate it if you educated certain misguided groups that self-label themselves with words initially intended to be contemptuous - such as the geeks and nerds, or even the Quakers, Yankees, Methodists, Unitarians, and Liberals.

[/sarcasm]

The definitions of words change. And yeah, they may have originated from discrimination or whatnot; they may have held negative connotations at some point. But let's face it: it's not the word that matters, it's the thought behind it. The author clearly meant no disrespect with use of the term "lame" and was obviously using it in the sense of "weak; inadequate; unsatisfactory." A physically disabled person may be lame in the original sense of the word, but can hardly be described as "weak; inadequate; unsatisfactory" - in this context, the only connection "lame" has with disabled persons is purely historical, and basically irrelevant.

I would argue similarly for "pussy," but it has a much more recent (and tangible) connection with the original definition, so I would not push it to quite the same level of disconnect.

Pussy means Cat

This is where you're wrong. I'm not talking about slang or sexist/abelist/racist connotations to slang. I'm talking about actual definitions.

Coward is NOT a definition of Pussy. Cat is. If someone uses it in an appropriate context (meaning cat) like someone used lame in the appropriate context (meaning weak and ineffective) I'd laugh off someone who came in and started moralizing that to use Pussy in any context is sexist. It's over the top reactionism and i think it's bs.

i saw the title and thought

i saw the title and thought HURAAAY someone is FINALLY writing about the ableism language that has seeped into our societal consciousness.

instead, just an example, coming from a magazine that i would never have expected it from.

i love bitch. i do. i have all of my back issues going back 10 years now, as well as a few treasured earlier issues, back from when they never seemed to come out regularly but each issue was worth the wait. i'm a monthly sustainer, i buy extra copies to send to friends on a regular basis, i carry my bitch tote with pride. but apparently i don't count, only able bodied readers do.

please change the title of this post, but more than just deleting 4 letters and writing in something else, please take the time to seriously think about how fucked up it is that you even briefly thought that oppressive language was appropriate to use as a subject line.

I agree

I agree.

I also thought the title referred to content that critically questioned ableist language. I was pretty upset when I realized that they were using it as it is almost always used: as a purely ableist word. If Bitch decides not to appropriately address this, I'll surely be cutting my subscription. There are plenty of publications that take an anti-ableist stance, I may as well be reading and supporting them.

wow

i'm disabled, i'm feminist, pc, pro choice, pro queer, and i honestly could not give a damn about the title of this piece. However, I do find it funny that you did use the word lame in the title and then commented how men referred to the obviously talented and mobile women of the sport as being akin to the "special olympics" since i'm guessing you weren't going for irony.

though i think that the response to the poor choice in title is as stretching in terms of looking to be offended by something as this piece is. so i guess if nothing else this serves as a great vehicle for many levels of unintended irony.

maybe next people with dyscalculia can get angry that your captcha requires them to do a math problem

Are you serious?

Were those 10 comments about one word in the title of this entry? Agree or disagree with the usage of the word "lame", this article is still about the WNBA. Its not exactly relevant. The ableist argument is legitimate, but that conversation is for another time and place. You can't fight *every* battle at once.

In my opinion, I think the fact that a perfectly legitimate sports organization that happens to employ only women needs a bailout simply because said men can't handle the idea of a woman having athletic ability is more of the point, why should the WNBA have to market new ideas? Why can't this just be enough? Women in the WNBA are fantastic athletes and have worked extremely hard to get to where they are, and don't deserve to be docked all of the credit for it just because they're female. People should not even be concerned with whether or not these women have children or families, just watching the game for the game's sake. I'm deeply saddened that the WNBA has to stoop to these lows to get viewers. Family, no family, lesbian or straight these players deserve respect for the work they've done on the court, and they are not getting it because they are female. This is very straightforward sexism to me.

Why not?

You can't fight *every* battle at once.

We can't? Why the hell not?

These aren't different battles! Kyriarchy is predicated upon people maintaining it, which we do in all sorts of ways. Ableism is one. Fighting that battle is undermining kyriarchy. Just as feminist analysis of pop culture is fighting kyriarchy.

It's all the same battle.

~whatsername~

~whatsername~

Well, I see your point. What

Well, I see your point. What I meant to say is that you should only argue one thing at a time, or else all of the important points that you've made in said argument kind of tend to get lost in the muck of all of that information, either that or some other topic gets left undiscussed. Although ableism is an important topic, I feel as though talking about it leaves the other issue (sexism in the WNBA) unaddressed. And since the WNBA is more the topic of the original post, I feel like temporarily pushing the other issue of ableism to the side might be useful to actually get to the point of the post.

We're on a feminist magazine's site

Your argument doesn't work for me. I think more highly of our intelligence to be able to discuss more than one topic at once.

For myself, I'm not discussing the post itself because I don't watch sports, so I don't have a ton of interest there.

But that's not preventing others from talking about it. It's not as though we are trolling here, drowning out discussion of the "real topic" through spamming or something.

~whatsername~

~whatsername~

It might be all the same

It might be all the same battle, but if we are battling everything, we probably aren't going to accomplish much.

What do you base that

What do you base that assumption on?

~whatsername~

~whatsername~

one more voice in agreement

loved the post, hated the ableist language in the headline.

Disgusted

I cannot even begin to touch on how annoying the people screaming ABLE-IST are.

Are you going to start getting on people who use the word "cool" because it discriminates against people with slightly higher body temperatures?

Seriously, as someone outside of this issue, you all have instantly and completely alienated me from whatever your cause is (I assume it's to stop prejudice against disabilities?) with your ridiculous bullshit. Way to totally miss the entire fucking point of a great article.

Did you seriously just

Did you seriously just compare an actual oppressed group - the dis/abled - with people whose body temperatures are slightly higher? Do you also invoke plaid people in discussions of race?

And don't pretend that you can't be an ally just because you had to experience the horror of witnessing someone being called out on using an offensive word. Your pearl-clutching about how the meanypants dis/abled girls chased you off the playground gives the lie to any notion that you gave a fuck to begin with.

I'm a little bit

I'm a little bit disappointed at the lack of irony detectors on some of the posters here.

"People will never take us seriously if we are constantly policing our language, taking all the fun out of things by 'complaining' (bitching?) about being offended, etc."

ummm... hello? We all read Bitch because we believe that the messages of pop culture mean something, that they can contribute to the oppression of women just as more "serious" venues like legislation and political speech can.

If we don't hold ourselves to the same standards as we do an episode of Rock of Love, then where are we?

Why is it so difficult to take a critique under thoughtful consideration? Telling people interested in pointing out the ideological roots of our language choices to shut up already is not only way overly defensive but also undermines the mission of the magazine we are all here to support!

Hear hear. I'm a longtime

Hear hear.

I'm a longtime reader and fan, and love the blog. But this headline and debate disappointed me and so I'm jumping in to offer, if I may, a foreigner's perspective:

Complaining about excessive 'PC-ness' (or whatever you want to call it) is something that is all too familiar to me as an Indian, living in Delhi. (By the way, great post on the anti-eve-teasing campaigns here!) Unfortunately, I hear this on a daily basis in Delhi, in the context of (perceived/intended) epithets like "pussy" and "that's so gay", which people constantly tell me I should not "take personally" because "the intentions were good". Or friends tell me, "well, of course I didn't mean you", as if that makes it okay.

It is only once we think that a word directed against us has lost its pejorative power that we can look down upon or belittle other people who point out the effect that certain words have. That is a sign of the privilege that I think is enjoyed by a lot of the well-off cisgender able white feminists I have encountered in the time I've spent in the US. It does not make anyone a bad person for having it, and most of us have some form of it, but it does make it important to acknowledge that we have it and that it affects our relationships with others within the left.

To me it's about respect and mutual support. I may think that the etymology of 'lame' does not sufficiently separate the two connotations, but you might disagree. However, even if you do, the fact is that words can hurt. And being an ally, or working towards inclusion, means that surely we ought to try for the sensitivity to respect how other people are affected by a word, even if you can't understand why? It's not about your education or your understanding; it's about making a safe and comfortable space for *everyone* who cares about feminism and enjoys Bitch. Or isn't it?

A conversation like this can

A conversation like this can easily go a couple different ways:

1) The ableist/sexist/racist/classist/whateverist language is pointed out, the responsible party promptly goes "Oh thanks, fixed it. Sorry about that." and resolves not to do it again, and everyone goes on to discussing the substance of the article (which is, indeed, worthy of discussion), and a good time is had by all.

or

2) The ableist/sexist/racist/classist/whateverist language is pointed out, the responsible party denies it or is silent and has "supporters" deny it for them, and the entire thread is trainwrecked in a bickering discussion of defending privilege and trying to point out cluelessness in the face of oppressive and offensive language, accusations of being too strident/angry/picky and really basic sub-101 explanations of how kyriarchy works, and the substance of the article gets sidelined entirely, and no one goes home happy.

So when said thread gets trainwrecked, it ain't the fault of those who pointed out the language in the first place.

I think that's a rather Narrow viewpoint

The problem with your narrow interpretation is that it's based on the assumption that everyone can agree on words and their meanings in every context. Wrong. I don't think 'lame' is always ableist, anymore than 'blind' or 'dumb' are. I am getting so tired of the 'if you disagree with me then you need to do a basic 101 reading' accusation in threads like this.

.

"The problem with your narrow interpretation is that it's based on the assumption that everyone can agree on words and their meanings in every context."

Why is language up for agreement? Why is it up to the privileged group in question to agree that a word means what it means to a particular group of oppressed people--why can't we just listen to what that group has to say, and believe them?

Arwyn, I don't think it's

Arwyn,

I don't think it's that simple. I think a conversation can go an infinite amount of ways.

It can go an infinite number of ways because this is a complicated issue. To many, it may seem simple, but I think the number and variety of opinions in this comments thread would indicate otherwise.

Just for the record, my absence from the discussion has been due to that complication: I have no desire to respond without thinking--a lot--about it first. I'm sure you and most other folks would prefer a thoughtful response than a superficial one, and we plan on providing the former soon.

But let me be very clear: I am not relying on folks who have taken a different viewpoint than yours to deny (or affirm, for that matter) anything for me.

That said, yes, I fucked up by using that language, and yes I am sorry for it.
That is important, but that is also only the very beginning. Because also, yes, I feel attacked and piled on, and yes, that has evoked anger and resentment on my part.
On a personal level, that doesn't matter. But on a larger level, it does, because it speaks to a bunch of other issues within the feminist community, like the nature of our infighting and bickering, and the questions that surround how/when/where we draw lines when it comes to language (the folks who argue the other side about the nature of "lame" have some good points). It also speaks to the ways in which technology (i.e., the Internet) affects the ways in which oppressed groups communicate, both with each other and other folks.

These are not issues I want to delve into lightly. They deserve some thought. That is where I've been.

Yep

I completely agree with you. I've seen way too many of these conversations in my years on the 'net (and been the one defending my privilege, even) in so many different contexts, and yah, it really seems to boil down to what you state here.

I think there is also a potential for another way conversations can go, which is a combination of "shit, I fucked up, fixed now" and discussion about how and why said fuck up happened as well as potentially divergent opinions on the issue. But I very rarely see that multi-layered conversation happen because usually there are too many people fighting to maintain privilege.

~whatsername~

~whatsername~

I'm late to the party here,

I'm late to the party here, I know. First of all, thank you Jonanna for acknowledging that the use of the term was inappropriate. I know this will sound like continuing to criticize when you've already apologized, but the rest of my comment isn't directed at you so much as at the discussion in general. I just want to add my voice in support of believing the people who belong to a historically oppressed class when they say that certain language is offensive to them (and yes, I know there was one person who identifies as disabled who did not care about the use of the term, but that doesn't negate the many people who were bothered by it). To me, the questioning of the use of the word seemed consistently to be quite polite, and to be directed against the use of the term, not against anyone in particular who was using it. There were two comments that sounded pretty upset, but please consider that this is because those individuals were hurt and offended by an insult to their identity.

By contrast, many (though NOT all, to be clear) of the defenders of the term said -- in so many words -- that anyone who objected was (a) acting like an over-the-top member of the PC police who couldn't possibly have a valid point, (b) going to make everyone stop taking feminism seriously, and/or (c) attacking them unreasonably. No one on the pro-"lame" side was excessively rude, but the stronger language and tones were almost universally used by people defending the word. That should tell everyone something, considering that "people who want to use the world 'lame' without feeling guilty" is not a description of a historically oppressed group of people.

Incidentally, as I am a language nerd, I looked up "lame" in the OED -- and every single definition up until a tiny coda added in 1997 makes the connection to physical disability absolutely crystal clear. (I can copy and paste if anyone is curious.) I understand that some people may not be explicitly familiar with the origins of the term, but that doesn't mean those origins aren't still very much relevant today -- and, again, individuals who belong to marginalized groups should be listened to when they say they are offended by certain language, even if the person using it wasn't consciously aware of the offensiveness of the term.

"pile on"

I think that a lot of these discussion are ofter seen by the orignal posters as "pile ons" because people end up getting more angry at the defenders in the thread who tell them to shut up then they ever even thought about being with the person who first moved them to reply.

Unfortunately, even when the original writer steps in and admits fault, this often doesn't prevent the hurt-feelings sniping that continues on afterwards.

It is only those who tell us that our points of view are invalid, that we should just suck it up and quit complaining about our petty issues for the better of the movement, that are being accused of clinging to privilege, not the writer who made an honest mistake.