Yesterday in Feminist Theologies, we discussed the extreme overreaction people tend to have when accusations of sexism come up. It’s a typical pattern: the accusation of sexism is worse than any actual sexism could possibly be, a single mention of sexism leads to claims that sexism is all anyone ever talks about and we’re so sick of hearing it, the world is completely dominated by women and their needs and we’re sick of giving them special advantages when they should be fighting on equal terms, etc. The slightest suggestion that sexism might have taken place is exaggerated into a totalitarian conspiracy that excludes all other concerns and that the hearer is powerless to challenge.
One student mentioned that she was representing a feminist group at an event where students could learn about a variety of groups, and one male student came up and told them he was tired of hearing about rape. His basis for this all-pervasiveness of rape in Kalamazoo College discourse was a poetry reading event where one poem had one line that discussed rape. This student was unique in his idiocy, insofar as he actually volunteered this position to (I assume) strangers — but how many other people at the event were probably thinking, “Oh God, here we go again”?
This pattern of course repeats itself with anything related to what is called “political correctness” — even requests for basic politeness are treated as a huge imposition. In reality, the truly “politically correct” position is that we are all past the point of talking in ridiculous euphemisms and should just tell it like it is and that we have basically eliminated discrimination based on identity markers and have a fair system where everyone should succeed on their own merits without asking for special privileges. It has long been the case that “political correctness” concerns are exclusively brought up to be mocked, and the term itself is invoked only to announce one’s pleasure in violating these supposedly oppressive and unavoidable rules. Nonetheless, the whole system depends on invoking a paranoid conspiracy theory where “political correctness” somehow rules over everyone despite being routinely mocked, belittled, and rejected.
For this familiar dynamic, I propose the term “discourse allergies.” Just as the body overreacts to innocuous pollen and treats it as a major illness, so too does the system treat even the most isolated and good-faith complaint as an attempt to take over the world.