Political Correctness (or, How to fish and cut bait)

by Barbara Yitsch

Have we really reached the point in Canada of being forbidden by some undefined rule of correctness from joking, even obliquely, about some matter of current social behaviour? George Bain on sexual harassment. ("A questionable caterwauling," Maclean's March 1, 1993.)

We females
might have
shuddered to
think that
could one day
grow big
enough to
haunt us.

Correctness. My first encounter with this word came in grade 3, when Miss Colbeck marked our math and spelling tests and graded them according to their correctness.

Miss Colbeck treated little girls in the class kindly, because little girls simply love to be correct. Miss Colbeck spoke meanly to little boys, because they behaved like worms and didn't care a nickel about being correct as long as everyone thought they waxed brilliant on subjects dear to their boyish hearts, like cars, trading cards or gross anatomy.

Despite Miss Colbeck's applauding our correctness and despite our lording it over the small, sniffling male slobs who pretended each recess to shoot us between the eyes, we females might have shuddered to think that correctness could one day grow big enough to haunt us. And indeed it has: simple correctness has flowered a formidable bloom on its stalk. Behold, political correctness.

And more or less the way that correctness functioned in Miss Colbeck's class, present-day political correctness describes how society, or some institution therein, consciously and deliberately grades your performance against prescriptive standards. The scheme works like this: politically correct you are, then equitable you be, or vice versa.

But unlike teacher's petting approval which resulted from elementary fights for grades and correctitude, in this round, sisters and brothers, the purse pays well: you've entered the big classroom, competing not for math or spelling marks, not even for the pleasure of seeing Miss Colbeck's benign satisfaction, but for your fair share of power and all its trappings. Wait a minute. "Fair share" and "power"? Impossible you say. Power means control and share means 50-50. Does it make sense to yoke together power (political) and equity (correctness) in the same phrase? Oxymoronic as they sound, correctness, power, and equity are royally related.

Politiquement acceptable ou inacceptable?
par Barbara Yitsch

Pour être en rapport avec le risible objectif de l'équité, l'expression politiquement acceptable devrait être porteuse de connotations positives. Pourtant, on s'en sert souvent pour exprimer le contraire de ce qu'elle veut dire, soit politiquement inacceptable, programme caché, incompétence, échec, corruption. Comment cela est-il arrivé? Trois professeurs de l'Université de l'Alberta affirment que l'utilisation de l'expression "politiquement acceptable" pour décrire le programme d'un département signifie que celui-ci a mis sur pied des cours sur les femmes ou les minorités raciales, mais que des personnes visant à discréditer celles et ceux prônant un agenda féministe, équitable et social y ont fréquemment recours. Parmi ces personnes, citons Martin Anderson, auteur de Imposters in the Temple, livre réactionnaire sur les dangers qu'il y a à changer les programmes d'études universitaires pour refléter diverses optiques. D'après la professeur Shirley Neuman, Anderson ne craint pas tant que les universités éliminent "les grandes oeuvres de la civilisation", mais qu'elles élargissent la source d'influence de leur élite.

L'expression "politiquement acceptable" est devenue une plaisanterie linguistique, qu'utilisent positivement celles et ceux qui appuient l'égalité et l'équité, et négativement celles et ceux qui s'y opposent. Elle constitue un microcosme de la lutte menée pour que les femmes et les minorités gagnent du universitaire.

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