Political correctness (or PC) is a typically pejorative term for language or policies seen as excessively calculated not to offend others. It is sometimes used to describe anything identified as feminist, anti-racist, or otherwise anti-oppressive. Most feminists object to the term. Some see it as a way of derailing conversations about marginalized identities.
The term "political correctness" is generally used to describe others. It may connote:
- Moral peacocking. Those who speak in a "politically correct" fashion are often seen as trying to show off, gain esteem in anti-oppression communities, or "punch down" at people less familiar with progressive discourse.
- Style over substance. Progressive users of the term may see efforts against offensive speech as a "politically correct" distraction from feminist issses they believe are more substantive, such as physical safety and economic equality.
- Bending to the will of progressive politics. Users of the term often presume that people who are careful with their speech are not honoring their own opinions.
- Censorship or silencing of speech opposed to progressive politics
- Suppression of "harmless" individuality and existing cultural traits [clarify?]
- Support for affirmative action at the level of individuals as well as organizations
- Humorlessness, especially if the objection is to potentially marginalizing humor which often upholds the status quo at the expense of others. ("Punching down" vs "punching up")
- 'Unnatural' use of language
According to its critics, political correctness is opposed to freedom of expression. Commentators may use 'political correctness' to imply the existence of mainstream legal or political power structure enforcing politically correct behaviour or even thought. Examples of such structures in reality (for example, anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws) may be portrayed as unacceptable infringements on personal autonomy.
Acts that might be described as "political correctness" include:
- any call for less of certain kinds of speech (for example, pejorative speech)
- using gender neutral terms, or even gender-agreeing terms, for roles that might be occupied by a woman (eg "chair" or "chairperson" or "chairwoman" for "chairman")
- describing a person or their behavior as sexist or racist or otherwise discriminatory it contains usage of negative stereotypes, or pejorative terms/descriptions of women and/or other minority groups
- any opinions supportive of anti-oppressive behavior, people, or movements
Accusations of political correctness can be used disingenuously to silence people, since being "politically correct" in some circles makes one automatically in the wrong. In geek circles where complete personal autonomy is frequently viewed as the ultimate good, this is particularly so. Accusations may also be used by people who believe mindfulness of others when choosing language and terminology is somehow harmful to public discourse. Sometimes users of political correctness equate it with censorship, even if they are objecting to a call for voluntary silence, rather than actual silencing.
The term political correctness was first used by the radical left (e.g. socialists, communists) to joke about the rise of academic feminist and socialist terminology seeping into their everyday lives. Nowadays, the term is a hallmark of the political right. People with right-wing views frequently use it to criticize changes from less-respectful to more-respectful language.
Reclaiming the term
Some people have claimed the term politically correct as a description of themselves:
- If you are tempted to begin an argument against something we’ve said here with, “God, stop being so PC!” just stop right there. We are proudly PC and have absolutely no intention of stopping. Racist, classist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, and sexist comments are as unwelcome here as sizeist ones. Comments policy, Shapely Prose
Others point out that the term "PC" can be replaced with the simpler term, "polite". You can substitute some form of the word "polite" (eg, "politeness", or "impolite" for non-PC) into virtually any sentence using the term.
- "Stop being so PC about sexism!"
- "You mean, stop being so polite about sexism?"
Neil Gaiman has suggested replacing it with “treating other people with respect”:
I started imagining a world in which we replaced the phrase “politically correct” wherever we could with “treating other people with respect”, and it made me smile. You should try it. It’s peculiarly enlightening.