I’m happy to see President Obama apologized for commenting on California attorney general Kamala Harris’ good looks recently. Not because I was horrified or felt it made him a misogynist. I don’t think he is. But I do think he’s smart and evolved enough to realize the perception of what he said matters.
The President “fully recognizes the challenges women continue to face in the workplace,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.
It sounds like the administration knew it was important to set the tone, that they had an opportunity to set an example.
Words matter. That’s what I’m getting from the news this week. People are saying things and then we get a bitterly divided public reaction on whether those things were offensive. What often blurs the real underlying issue is the argument over whether it’s about being politically correct. It’s not. It’s about being correct in a much bigger sense.
“Be impeccable with your word,” author Don Miguel Ruiz wrote in his classic book The Four Agreements.
This brings me to Rutgers University. In the spirit of full disclosure, I covered Rutgers athletics for over a decade as a sports writer for a New Jersey newspaper in mostly the 1990s. However, I have no specific knowledge regarding recently fired men’s basketball coach Mike Rice or any inside information on what is happening there now.
By now most of us have seen the video of what is supposed to pass for a college basketball practice. Throwing basketballs at student-athletes is not discipline. Manhandling them is not making them “men,” at least not healthy men. And calling them “faggots” is not spurring emotional growth or improving their jump shot. Rice was justifiably given leave of his responsibilities coaching the Scarlet Knights.
It is the latter, though, the part about language and the ensuing reactions to it that have given me pause the last few days. The shock and outrage over the use of that god-awful homophobic term feels plastic. I mean, who in the world doesn’t know that that word is used routinely at virtually every game and practice at every male sport in the land? Hel-lo.
I am not condoning it. I think it’s spineless and cruel. Nor am I seeking to be the curse word police. My own language gets pretty salty, so I’d be bordering on hypocritical if I crossed into that territory.
However, I can’t shake the thought this week that some of the best men I know, love and respect don’t think twice about using the word “pussy” when denigrating each other. On sports fields and in arenas, on golf courses, in bars, even on television. Here’s looking at you, Jon Stewart. I say this as one who rarely misses The Daily Show and thinks Stewart is brilliant. Much like in the aforementioned case of the President and the California attorney general, I don’t think Stewart is a misogynist. In fact, I don’t think most guys who use the ‘p’ word are. To them it’s just a word uttered thoughtlessly.
But it does beg the question – why is it when straight men insult other men, usually when they’re calling them weak, they are so prone to tagging them gay or female? Maybe it would be cool if they did start thinking about it. Maybe?
I have zero interest in whether or not this is politically correct. I am much more invested in authentic expression. Why not make it an area of our lives that could help along this gorgeous shift of social consciousness that’s happening? More and more we’re awakening to how our fellow human beings feel. We’re expressing more empathy, loving better, learning extraordinary kindness.
The President gets it. He has daughters. He wouldn’t be at all thrilled to reinforce the notion that one day their level of prettiness should be mentioned in the same breath as their professional accomplishments in a business setting.
I don’t think obsessing over every word that comes out of our mouths will change the world. But some thoughtfulness, done collectively, will.
It all matters.