Remember when men used to be able to refer to women as “skirts” and “broads” without fear of being criticized? Well, those days are over, and they probably won’t be coming back.
Replacement terms have been substituted for many offensive words and phrases, fueling a trend known as political correctness.
Virginia Sapiro, UW-Madison political science and women’s studies professor, said the term “political correctness” is often misunderstood.
“I have no idea what anybody means when they say ‘political correctness,'” Sapiro said.
Sapiro said sensitivity towards people in any given environment is valuable and important. Some use the phrase “politically correct” to take on a civil, moral meaning, while others use it to mask serious problems.
Political correctness covers up critical concerns related to ethnicity, gender, and religion and prevents constructive discussion, Sapiro said.
“I hate to see serious debate about these political issues trashed by using stupid terms like “political correctness,” Sapiro said.
Political correctness relates to many people’s lives and work roles. Politicians and the media, as well as students, professors and ordinary citizens, are often pressured to be politically correct.
“I’m very careful to use terms that I think are not going to offend anyone,” said Katherine Walsh, UW assistant professor of political science. “I think it’s important to be civil and to do what you can.”
According to Sapiro, it is up to each individual to decide what terminology to use.
“All citizens have a responsibility to think about the impact of their speech,” she said.
Walsh stressed the importance of using politically correct language in schools. She said classrooms should make students comfortable enough to speak their minds.
In addition to building a free forum of expression, Walsh said using politically correct terms to describe ethnic or cultural groups has another benefit.
“One good outcome has been more of an awareness that there are many differences in our culture that people need to be sensitive to,” she said.
Outside of the classroom, political correctness is still a concern. Speeches are often criticized for lacking politically correct terms. Concerns over language are often paramount to content related concerns.
However, politically correct verbiage does not always accomplish its perceived intent.
“If you keep saying ‘politically correct,’ then you don’t actually have to consider the arguments you disagree with,” Sapiro said.
Unfortunately, stereotypes and hate still linger.
An article in The Economist said political correctness proponents are well aware of effective ways of using political correctness as a tool to avoid taking responsibility for their prejudicial views.
“[Those] who adopt political correctness to avoid such slurs do not abhor the slur itself,” the article stated. “They fear only the consequences for their future effectiveness.”