By Anna Ouston
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you will probably have heard someone claim that political correctness has gone ‘too far’. The person claiming this, in my experience, is normally a middle aged white man who likes to complain about things, simply for the joy of complaining about them. I thought it was time to unpack what political correctness is, and whether it has indeed ‘gone mad’.
The definition of political correctness is ‘the avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.’ Doesn’t sound too awful, does it?
The Lord and Saviour of political correctness himself, Piers Morgan, recently deemed yet another normal event ‘political correctness gone mad’. I am sure we have all heard about Piers’ outrage over the Greggs sausage roll. ‘Nobody was waiting for a vegan bloody sausage, you PC- ravaged clowns’, in his own words. However, it’s been found that demand for meat-free food increased by 987% in 2017 and going vegan was predicted to be the biggest food trend in 2018. Going into 2019, it is predicted to grow even more. January is also when people pledge to go vegan for the month of January, also known as Veganuary. This January was predicted to be the biggest year ever. It therefore makes complete sense that a vegan sausage roll might be popular. Why would this be something that someone would claim to be ‘PC’? They have not removed the normal sausage roll, nothing has changed for anyone, except that there are now more options for those who are vegan. People normally throw the phrase ‘political correctness gone mad’ at people for being ‘easily offended’. You see a lot of claims that people will be ‘offended by everything’, that they are ‘delicate’ and ‘snowflakes’. However, if we are going to talk about people being easily offended, I think a fully grown man having a tantrum over a variety of food options, which does not negatively affect his life in any way, is a clear example of someone being easily offended.
Manspreading and mansplaining also are two issues often conflated with ‘political correctness gone mad’. People complain that you can’t even sit nowadays, or have a conversation with a woman if you are a man, without being accused of doing something wrong. However, I would argue that these things are simply an issue of basic manners.
I spent a year commuting on London tubes every single day. They are hot, they are congested, and there really is not enough room at peak times. I have to say, there really is nothing more annoying than a man taking up all the room with his legs stretched widely either side. Why are you invading someone else’ personal space to the degree that they have to cramp themselves up to get away? Who wants someone sweating all over them, and taking up ALL of the space? It is both a lack of self-awareness and of basic manners.
Mansplaining is also similar, as I think it is rude to assume someone’s lack of knowledge on a topic. There are countless examples of men explaining to women areas that they work in, research, or teach, simply because they assume they know more despite the fact that they might even have a lower level of experience. Or maybe they’re just assuming that someone wants something explained to them? I think it would be far more polite to enquire if someone would like to know more on a topic, before launching into explaining it to them. Even if it has never happened to you, I do not think it is hard to imagine how irritating and condescending it must be to have something you do for a living explained to you, as though you know nothing about it. I remember once a guy trying to explain voting to me. I, very politely, informed him that I study politics and I understand how the voting system works. He completely ignored this fact and continued to talk, despite the fact that it was stuff I already knew extremely well and had not asked him to explain to me. Again, it is simple basic manners not to assume that an individual is totally clueless and needs help understanding a concept, unless they ask for help! Pretty basic if you ask me.
There are many different examples of ‘political correctness gone mad’ that I could explore, however, it may take up the entirety of this issue. I will leave you with this: political correctness is, put simply, doing your best not to offend people, which I do not think is a bad thing. Sure, people will always be offended by things, and there are many things that I am not offended by that other people would be. I think the key is to simply listen to those around you, and try not to pay too much attention to the internet. Those who dislike ‘PC culture’ will take any negative examples they can and blow them out of proportion as examples of the world ‘going mad’. I admit, there are examples I have seen that I do think are ridiculous, and I find it interesting that anybody would be offended by those things. However, I manage to move on with my life without making such a big deal out of it, as it really does not affect me or my life in any way. I try to be aware of what I say and do, as I think it is my duty as a human being to try and treat people with kindness and care, and to not go out of my way to upset those around me. So far I have not had any issues with someone telling me I have not been ‘politically correct’ and all I have done is try to be a respectful human, so it turns out it is really not that hard.
Anna Ouston is a fourth year Politics and Sociology student.