Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Word on the Word "Polarizing"

This is a word that has been irritating me since the democratic primary season, when "polarizing" became the epithet that was consistently attached to Clinton. Is it just me, or has the word "polarizing" become politically correct shorthand for saying that a woman is damned if she does and damned if she doesn't, that a woman's one option is to fulfill gender expectations perfectly or people won't like her and she'll have to be punished? That sure is what it's seeming like to me. And the thing that disgusts me about this is that somehow the use of the word "polarizing" seems to authorize this position, because "polarizing" is not technically a gendered category, even if of late we don't really see it used for, I don't know, men. Well, that's not true. Maybe it's a word used for non-white men, too, like Al Sharpton, say.

"Polarizing" becomes a politically correct way of calling somebody crazy, of putting them in their place, of dismissing them. See, it turns out women and people of color don't get to have full personalities that cause people to have a variety of reactions to them. They don't get to be complex, and if they inspire complex or contradictory responses in others, that's ultimately not ok. If we call them polarizing, that certainly helps to shut them up, or, if that fails, to make sure people don't really see what those people say as important or legitimate.

And so if people refuse to change their behavior when they've been called out for being polarizing, does that mean that they aren't taking responsibility that they should be taking? Or maybe, perhaps, it means that they're refusing to play nice and go along with expectations that are totally fucked up, and maybe, instead of worrying about how "polarizing" these people are - or what makes a person "polarizing" - we should instead worry about how fucked up that categorization is.

1 comment:

Arbitrista said...

Darn it blogger ate my last comment. I said something along the lines that while polarizing could be a useful word, it's unfortunately just used to say that liberals are bad because conservatives hate them. It's not just restricted to women and minorities - any Democrat will do. The reality is that the most polarizing character in American politics was W in 2004 (until the Republicans disowned him)- although the word is never applied to him.