After the Daniel Tosh rape “joke” incident, Twitter (and various blogs and news sites) have been full of discussion about whether it is possible to joke about rape. As Melissa McEwan pointed out on Twitter, “if you don’t like it stay away from comedy” is not a terribly good business model, quite apart from anything else. But one of the most overused words was “censorship.”
This seems to happen whenever people say “please don’t use that term.” It’s not just rape jokes, it can be misogynist insults, racially loaded words, homophobic terms like “that’s gay.” And it gets on my wick, because asking someone to desist from a particular term is not censorship.
Censorship is when terms are deleted or a person is actively prevented from using them. If I say to a small child “please don’t say fuck in front of Granny,” I’m not censoring them. I’m asking / telling them to avoid using a term that would be offensive to the target audience. If I say to you “please don’t use gay as an insult,” or “please don’t tell triggering rape jokes,” I’m not censoring you. I’m telling you that I (or those close to me) are hurt or distressed by that language.
That’s not censorship. That’s information.
You are now equipped with the information that $TERM is one which will hurt or distress someone. What you do with that information is up to you. You can make a choice to hurt them by continuing to use it. You can make a choice to avoid hurting people by avoiding it. I have no power over that decision, other than to provide the information.
There might be a time when you actively choose the first option because you have made an informed decision that notwithstanding the hurt which could result, you need that particular term to make a point. “Queer” is one such term, and the debate over the “slut” in Slutwalk is likely to continue.
A kneejerk wail of “censorship!” in response to being asked to avoid a term though? That’s just lazy.