When applied to discrimination, the word “offended” is a bit of joke, isn’t it?
If you’re white and try to dissuade my colleague from playing hip hop that uses the n-word, he’ll jump on the opportunity to comment that he’s offended that you’re offended. The retort comes too easily, and you find yourself fumbling for a way to defend your point. There’s a wobbliness to “offended”. You need to say it very fast and move on, else a questioning mind pokes it and sends it crashing down.
My better half pointed this out the other night, as I was once again describing some pop culture representation as “offensive”. He noted on the uncontested and widespread use of the word in the context of social justice, when it is in fact completely inadequate to the topic. Stereotypes and negative representations are forms of violence that beget more violence; as a reaction to them, “offended” falls really short. Worse, it doesn’t apply.
So it’s no wonder that your female friend is not offended by the latest Game of Thrones rape scene, or that your trans friend is not offended by the Angelique character in Penny Dreadful. Offense is a different feeling entirely. “Offended” is here for your benefit only, summing up your benign discomfort while keeping any real pain at bay. You suspect the feeling is a lot deeper and more complex for the people affected, but you can’t be bothered to face it. Too complicated. Too disturbing. So you wield “offended”, convincing yourself you’re speaking for them when you’re only speaking for yourself. And it doesn’t matter in the end, does it? “Offended” will make you sound sympathetic and righteous anyway.
It’s time to stop being offended. If you suspect a representation you see or a comment you hear is fuelled by prejudice, then let the people affected by it do the feeling and the talking. Don’t allow yourself to feel for them and then transcribe something that has nothing to do with their experience.
And once you have listened and learned to empathize, I suspect you’ll forget about offense, and learn about anger. Pain. Injustice. Passion. The kind that can’t be described by a single mundane word.