Back in 2017 I wrote this post where I casually dismissed the notion that “Dude” is a potentially offensive word:
I forgot I posted it, but recently came across it again and realized how stupid I was being. I could just delete the post, but I want to leave it up, as an example of how I used to think, and I’ll explain why I now believe I was wrong.
The thing is, I was that man who called women “dude.” It was usually in writing, like in posts on social media, responding to pictures or comments or such. A woman would say she never tried something that I like and I’d write “Dude, you don’t know what your missing!” Or she’d post something good, like showing off her new car or how she just got promoted and I’d write, “Dude, that’s so awesome!” Stuff like that. It was harmless (in my mind), just a figure of speech and yeah, kinda funny that I’m calling a woman “dude.” This is why, when I saw this idea that word should be dropped, I responded so dismissively. It felt like a PC overreaction.
Except I realized, I do only call women whom I know (or I guess am pretty sure) are cis-gendered biological women “dude”. I do know some transwomen and I would never refer to a woman whom I know to be trans as “dude,” specifically because I know it would likely be taken as an insult, in a way that it wouldn’t be when I say it to a cis-gender woman. So, clearly, I get the idea that the word can be seen as offensive depending on context, so why am I so against the idea that I should just drop it from my vocabulary completely?
There was no reason! I was just being stubborn. Like a White person complaining how unfair it is that they can’t use the N-word like Black people can, I just didn’t like being “told” that I couldn’t use a word. But the truth is that it’s not that important for me to use, and it won’t hurt me to stop using it. So, I’ll stop.
I’m reminded of when Sarah Silverman said she stopped using “gay” as an insult.
“I used to say ‘gay’ all the time — ‘Oh that’s so gay.’ Cause we’re from Boston. We’d go, ‘That’s what you say in Boston. I have gay friends, I just say gay.’ And then I heard myself and realized … it was stupid. And I’m certainly creative enough to think of other words besides that that don’t hurt people.”
I get it. Because she knew she wasn’t homophobic and didn’t mean it to be, she felt like she had a right to say it, but then realized that just because she thought she had a “right” to it didn’t mean that she should. And I think this is something that has tripped me up in the past, and I know I’m not the only one. We we get defensive for the wrong reasons, and refuse to grown and learn just because we feel like others are telling us what to do and so we put our backs against the wall and fight, even if it’s not justified.
Another personal example I’ll give is sometime last year I made what I thought was a silly joke about a certain female celebrity in my Instagram/Facebook stories. One online friend of mine sent me a DM complaining, saying the joke was sexist. At first I pushed back, explaining why (once again) in the context of how I was making the joke I thought it was harmless. But I listened to her explanation and, to her credit, she didn’t act overly angry or curse me out or anything just told me exactly why she found my joke offensive. And after a little thinking about it, even though I still thought the joke was harmless, I deleted the post and apologized to her.
There was a time in my life, not too long ago to be honest, where I would have just been like “hey, it’s MY page I can post whatever the heck I want!” If she doesn’t like it, she can unfollow me. And I would have been saying that just on some misguided principle. I’d be thinking that because the joke didn’t mean anything to me, I shouldn’t have to remove it for anyone. But instead shouldn’t it be the opposite? The joke DIDN’T mean anything to me, I didn’t even put much thought into it, it just popped into my head and I quickly posted it. I wasn’t trying to offend anyone. So if even one person found it offensive, why not delete it? It’s not like it was a serious post about an issue that I cared about. If I posted something about Black Lives Matter and someone was offended because they think it should be All Lives Matter, well, that’s something worth standing my ground and risking losing that friend over. But this was not the proverbial hill that I wanted to die on, so that was that. And it didn’t hurt me at all to delete the post.
So in conclusion I’m just saying that sometimes we could all do well to try to have a bit more empathy towards others, see things from their viewpoints, and not be afraid to change our minds or alter our behavior, and that’s something I’m going to try to do better from now on.