Who LOVES Watch What Happens Live! with Andy Cohen? I do! I do! It’s just silly fun and not too serious. Andy has on all the “Bravolebities” (Bravo’s reality show cast members) and his personal friends like Jerry Seinfeld, Sarah Jessica Parker and Dan Rather. Normally, nothing of substance comes out of the half hour program. It is meant to be a time waster; a wind down before bed. However, Margaret Cho and Rosie Pope were on and something very uncomfortable to say the least and rage inducing to say the most occurred. Pope is a maternity concierge in NYC and has a show on Bravo that follows her business as they help expecting couples learn how to become parents and take care of their babies. So natch (naturally for the breve (abbreviation) challenged) there was talk about motherhood and pregnancy. When Cho was asked about her own aspirations to become a parent, she joked about her age (43) and how her fertile days were numbered. To quote her…
“My eggs are jumping ship. Seriously, they’re like, ‘last one out is a retard.’”
Oof. Pope and Cohen cringed as the audience uncomfortably laughed at her. She sort of paused and looked puzzled about the controversy. She continued on and tried to explain herself a bit more…
“I get worried about that. As an older woman, I don’t necessarily want to have a retard.”
This time, Andy just looked straight up annoyed. When she asked if she can’t say that, he said, no, you can’t say that. The show continued on.
Personally, I’ve been trying really hard to eliminate the “R-word” from my vocabulary. “Retard” has become the derogatory slang word du jour. It is widely considered to be highly insensitive. I’m doing better but have had an embarrassing slip up here and there. Sometimes it can be difficult to understand why we shouldn’t use certain words if we don’t mean to be offensive to the particular group they label. In my world, “retard” could have been interchanged with “dumb” or “stupid”; hollow fillers used to express irritation with a situation. Much like the way I used to use to the word “gay” until I realized how insensitive it is to use a word reserved for a specific community as a frivolous insult. As I have become more enlightened, I have eliminated using hurtful language regardless of my intent which is why you’ll never hear me describe something annoying or negative as “gay” and/or ”retarded”. For me, this is growth.
Political correctness can be tricky since our language is always evolving. “Dumb” and “lame” are offensive as well but they are seen as relatively mild and don’t have a popular social campaign to eliminate them from our collective lexicon. It’s important to be mindful about these changing rules. Movements to bring awareness to words weighted with harmfulness usually originate with the population labeled by them. While some find PC rules to be annoying, that’s about the only negative for those not labeled by the demeaning language. This was a lesson I was reluctant to learn as well but at the end of the day the following quote on racism is on point in regard to this topic as well:
There is no harm in removing archaic insults when the result leads to sensitivity and understanding. And, BONUS!, you will sound a bit more intelligent when thoughtfully selecting your words.
Cho’s word choice goes beyond slang and into the actual problem with the way we view those with intellectual disabilities, however. She is saying she doesn’t want to have a child who needs extra care. While her personal fears could be validated, or at least better understood with thoughtful conversation, she eliminates this possibility by using a harmful label that describes special needs children as undesirable. She is falling in line with an abusive precedent which is disappointing given her outspoken history against misogyny, homophobia and gender roles. This incident certainly doesn’t erase her credibility as an activist, but her words do highlight why “kyriarchy” as an all encompassing oppressive concept needs to be embraced by progressives.
Feminists cannot simply be anti-patriarchy because women themselves experience many facets of privilege leading to different forms of oppression when left unacknowledged. Choosing to be anti-kyriarchy evolves traditional feminism beyond sexism to include any type of institutionalized discrimination or favoritism oppressing one group over another. In order to be truly forward thinking, we must take responsibility for our own role in the subordination of others, especially when these groups call for change and action against our own behavior.
You can read more from Julia Olson on her blog.
Feature image via.