My concerns about race, gender, and class inequality are personal insofar as they affect me, but are not “about me.” They are not an ego trip. They are not an excuse to whine and complain and make myself out to be a victim. They are not “about me.”
Note: I’m using the example of rape jokes because I think it’s the easiest to sympathize with and requires less of me revealing personal info/situations, but I’ve been told not to make things personal/be so sensitive about pretty much every issue under the sun.
Me calling you out on your rape joke is personal insofar as whenever I walk alone in the dark or in an unfamiliar place I have a constant internal monologue going in which I identify potential rapists, feel bad about identifying them as potential rapists, wonder why I’m identifying them as potential rapists, and then see a white van and freak the fuck out. So yeah, rape affects my daily life (in a way that is thankfully insignificant in comparison with the experiences of others, but still sucks), so yeah, I guess rape is personal.
But I’m not calling you out on your rape joke because you hurt my feelings, I’m calling you out on your rape joke because I don’t want you repeating it to a rape survivor. I don’t want it scrolling on the newsfeed of the mother or father or brother or sister of a rape survivor. I don’t want you telling that joke to someone you don’t know is a rapist, because I don’t want you laughing with a rapist about a crime that destroys lives, because I don’t want you reinforcing the idea that rape is hilarious, that it’s not a big deal, that it’s not something that happens to “people like us.” Your test didn’t rape you. That c*nt in your knee-slapper of a story didn’t ask for it. Rape isn’t an oopsies. Raping mentally handicapped individuals isn’t funny. Raping old women isn’t funny. Raping men isn’t funny.
Me calling me out on your rape joke is not about me. It’s not about you, even. It’s about living in a world in which at least half the population lives in fear of a crime that, once perpetrated, they will be blamed for, shamed for, or simply ignored. And don’t even bother with that free speech shit. You use your free speech to tell your rape joke. I use mine to tell you that you’re being an ass. And if you want an example of a joke about rape that isn’t terrible in all ways, shapes, and forms, check out my second paragraph.
That’s problem number one.
Problem number two:
So what if it is personal? What is it about my feelings that invalidates my opinion on the appropriateness of your rape joke? Let’s be real, here, the subtext is that I’m being too emotional, illogical, and/or “crazy,” and therefore am wrong. My feelings are wrong because they are not your feelings and the existence of my feelings makes you feel squicky inside because you like to think of yourself as a good person and you don’t like to think that you could say things that would offend others and my feelings are evidence that that particular conception of yourself is just not true. So you say “Don’t make this personal,” because that way the fact that you just upset me is my fault. And if I keep talking, if I get angry, I’m just proving your point. Once you’ve cast aspersions on my motivations, there’s no way for me to respond that disproves your claim, other than shutting up. And if I shut up, you win.
If we were to do a little role reversal, this is roughly the equivalent of me calling you a shitfaced douchebag, you telling me that I hurt your feelings, and me accusing you of infringing upon my God-given right to call you a shitfaced douchebag by having your feelings hurt. Your feelings are wrong. You shouldn’t be offended by me insulting you. You should suck it up and deal with it. Stop talking. Oh, you’re still talking? U MAD? U MAD?
“But “shitfaced douchebag” is an insult! I was just joking!” you say. Ok cool, so let’s say that your dad has testicular cancer and I’m making jokes about how he’s going to lose his dick, and there’s actually a possibility that he might and, more than that, testicular cancer runs in your family and someday you might get it too and you actively worry about this possibility every day. Maybe my intention isn’t to offend you or make you feel bad, but if you ask me to stop making dick jokes, it’s a dick move on my part to keep going. It’s an even bigger dick move to tell you to shut up and stop taking things personally. It’s the biggest of all dick moves to accuse you of being petty and/or hysterical for continuing to speak.
“Stop talking,” you say. “Don’t make this personal.”
Subtext: The things you are saying are making me feel uncomfortable.
Funny, isn’t that what I just said to you?