As I see it, the bigger problem with Mia Freedman’s “leggings are not pants” column is not what she said in the column, but what she didn’t say afterwards. She was using what she believed to be a light-hearted point about clothing to introduce bigger issues around political attitudes, and I get that. And for many in her audience (judging by the comments on her blog), they get that too. But when it was pointed out by some readers that there are classism, ableism and sizeism judgements in the leggings as pants conversation, any good points that Freedman’s column made were immediately erased by her response: that they were wrong. Instead of admitting that she’d never thought about those issues before, she told people their views were not legitimate. Readers on her blog responded the same way, telling people to “get over it” and that they were “getting upset about nothing”. Critics were silenced.
The leggings as pants conversation is one we had here last year. I made a joke about it, but it wasn’t a very funny joke and I offended my readers. I relied on people knowing that I don’t believe anyone has the right to tell others what to wear so it must be a joke, which is not good enough when you have a public blog. So I apologised and updated my post. I had never considered the issues around leggings, but now I know better.
I also offended people with a remark about bullying in my Kyle Sandilands post, and updated that one too. I guess it’s about what kind of person you want to be: someone who can’t see their privilege, or someone who is willing to acknowledge how their privilege shapes the way they see the world. (My privilege: white, middle-class, able-bodied, in a heterosexual relationship. It’s almost the Western privilege jackpot, right there.)
And since I’m sharing the times I’ve offended people through my ignorance, I used to say things were “lame” until it was pointed out that I was using ableist language. From FWD:
“Lame” is an ableist word. It’s an ableist word because it assumes that having difficulty walking is objectively bad, and that therefore, a word which is used to describe difficulty walking can be safely used as a pejorative to mean “this is bad.” Using “lame” reinforces ableism in our culture by reminding people that disability is bad, and that it’s so bad that it can be used as a shorthand code to talk about bad things in general.
(And before you say “oh, it’s political correctness gone mad”, I’d like to point out that in my experience, people who complain about political correctness are just annoyed that when they use someone’s race/religion/ability/gender as an insult, someone will call them on it.)
Freedman is, of course, free to hold any view she likes. And she’s free to write about her views, just as people are free to disagree with them. But it’s disappointing that when informed of the world outside Freedman’s privilege, and about how her comments have offended others, she put her fingers in her ears and shouted “LALALALALALALALALALA”.