By Stefka Gerova
Political correctness, or PC-ness in short, has gone a long way in the past
fifteen years. From a minor side effect of society, it has gradually evolved
into an overarching, ever-present and omnipotent buzz-word at which everyone
shivers. The question, however remains: isn't this just an all-purpose
epithet intended to allow human beings with guilty consciousness to hide
their embarrassment, and aren't we all avoiding the substance when we talk
only about the appearance?
The real story of the term "political correctness" is not very clear. Allegedly,
it first appeared in Allan Bloom's 1987 bestseller, The Closing of the American
Mind. The one certain thing is that in eighty percent of the situations, PC-ness
is associated with male chauvinism, or to be more precise, the lack of PC-ness
results from sexist and chauvinistic behavior. Hence, much of the PC discourse is
exceptionally anti-male-oriented and, in propaganda-style, speaks about women
being oppressed by their male counterparts. In slightly more general terms,
PC-ness concerns problematic issues over race, gender, sex and ecology whereby
one part of society accuses the other part (also known as the majority) of being
brutal murderers, insensitive exploiters, or horrendous oppressors.
Another interesting fact about political correctness is that it is known to only
a small portion of the world, the majority of which consists of the United States,
Canada and Australia. Try to explain to a Southern American or to a European that
saying "freshman" would be considered inappropriate in most colleges and universities
in the U.S., and they will surely laugh at you.
HOW POLITICAL IS IT?
Linguistically speaking, political correctness implies some sort of connection
with politics. However, such is not to be found. A far-reaching stipulation may
claim that PC-ness was born in a world of excessive oppression, despotism and arrogance
and hence has a political affiliation. Yet, the ideas of vegetarians and vegans about
meat and dairy production (the first being denoted as murdering cattle, and the second
- as cow oppression or cow assassination) rarely play a prominent role in politics. Only
the theories of the greens are slowly making their way into the realm of politics (by
the way, much faster in places which are still unaware of the notion political correctness)
by having campaigns about saving the rainforests or not killing rare animal species.
POLITICAL CORRECTNESS ON CAMPUS
PC-ness has entirely made its way into U.S. college and university campuses. In fact, the
terms is so widely used that there is rarely a day when one will not hear it at least once.
The first time I ever heard the words 'political correctness', I was astounded and thought
for quite some time that I had badly offended someone's political views. Well, neither the
context was political nor was there any offence, so it simply took me some time to figure
out what was meant by this flamboyant phrase.
The political correctness will always flourish on campuses as they are thought to be some of
the most progressive places, breeding the minds of the next generation of talented geniuses.
College campuses are already filled with discussions about terms and notions, which simply
sound awkward to the ears of international students. For example, the aforementioned word
freshman is a bad word these days because it includes the word man. Since one can't really
say freshwoman (that sounds even more sexist), the term frosh was coined or the plain first-year
student is being used instead. If we have to continue in this same fashion, I must ask what has
to be done with the word woman as it contains man inside, or what substitute can be invented for
the word female as it definitely contains male in itself. Similarly, gay and lesbian people
take offence in being labeled as such, so they need to be called queer, despite the oddity of
this term. Moreover, one popular college concept is public space - anything that is open to the
scrutiny of public eyes. Sad but true: public space includes your own dorm room unless its doors
are carefully closed. And, if this is not enough, be advised that some deans of some colleges
have already declared that celebrating Christmas on campus is very offensive to other cultures
and should therefore be abandoned as a practice!
The most common result of the debate on political correctness is the creation of an ever-expanding
realm of euphemisms. The bothering point here is the fact that euphemisms simply make something
sound more pleasant to the ears, but do not change the substance of the notion in question. A few
examples are listed below:
- a foreigner or a foreign student is typically dubbed an international student / scholar / visitor
(Note: Has any of you felt less foreign in the U.S. as a result? I doubt it. And, just as contrast,
to the U.S. government we all are aliens! How PC is that!)
- words like sweetheart, lover, partner and the like have fallen out of fashion for the plain term
significant other, which supposedly has no sexual connotation
- the forceful and expressive English shut up! cannot be overheard in any public space due to its
derogatory nature and therefore one needs to constantly watch out not to say it by accident
- these days, people donate their time instead of the good old volunteer - supposedly, the former
sounds more profound and benevolent
- and if you live outside of the U.S., you only need to fill out some sort of a U.S. application
form in order to find out that you are termed Caucasian if you are white and come from Europe,
Australia or most of North America.
Of course, there's much more that can be said about political correctness and its exuberance.
There's only one piece of advice I can give to any reader of these lines: enjoy the funny slips
of tongue around you and their euphemistic counter-parts while in the U.S. because there ain't
too many places on earth where you can do this!