As I mentioned in my first post on Woman of Qolour, I hate jargon.
Growing up in a country that is sadly still very much overwhelmed by an ancient class system, it is in my nature as a lower middle class individual (and yes there is a difference between lower and upper middle class) to shudder at the idea of elitism. Like most people, especially those involved in social justice movements, the idea of power and privilege is a dark one. The idea that the place you are born and the people you are born to completely defines how your life will progress, is a little bit scary and a big bit unfair.
The way elitism has affected me is that at the age of fourteen when I went live on the radio to speak to Operation Black Vote’s president Simon Woolley and let him know that I was going to be the first black (ish) Prime Minister of the UK, my dream was suddenly crushed at the realisation of how the political sphere is completely and wholly dominated by white middle-class, middle-aged men. Shucks, I thought, I’m not about to whack out the cake soap and have a piece of my thigh turned into an ersatz penis so it looks like it’s going to be a long and difficult journey to Number 10. (A few years later I realise I’m gay which will either help me make political history or completely destroy my already minuscule chances of getting to power).
So what does this have to do with jargon?
Well, a lot of things. Firstly, a whole lot of irony.
My first encounter which this issue was last year when I was taking an English class on non-fiction writing. The prof brought up the idea of ‘edubabble’ – the tendency of academic writers to use words that only people within their niche audience would understand and therefore exclude any third parties wishing to engage in the topic. This is all well and fair because when you’re a PhD candidate you really don’t have time nor necessity to stop and explain what you mean by each topic-specific piece of terminology. However, the problem arises when people attempt to address an audience with no background knowledge in what you’re talking about.
Case in point. Recently at my university there have been a streak of reported sexual assaults which caused uproar from all kinds of parties but largely feminist-affiliated groups on campus. A bunch of events were organised like Take Back the Night marches, dialogues, performances and talks from sexual assault victims/survivors in order to educate people more on consent and create awareness of things that might fuel rape culture. I attended a community round-table event in which a panel aimed to answer questions about safety on campus, consent, rape culture and so on.
The basis behind a lot of the feminist complaints was that sexual assaults occur because we don’t learn enough about consent and our society perpetuates rape culture. For example, the way songs like Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines over sexualise women and portray them as play things for men to do as they please with and in turn lead some young men to believe that it is okay to treat women this way. Therefore, the basis of the event was create discussion about what we can do as both students and educators to change this mentality and protect the safety of everyone on campus.
The first mistake of the event was the promotion. Who even knew about it? Of course, the people who are already interested in these topics. I find that often these groups don’t make an effort to reach out to the wider community. You could even say they don’t make an effort to reach out to the people whose attitudes and behaviours they are trying to change. I run the risk of sounding offensive but as I mentioned I may forsake political correctness in order to be clear and understandable. The population who turned up to the event was roughly 80% female and around 50% people of colour – given the fact that the reported perpetrators of rape culture (rape culture, not rape) are young white males, did the event promotion fail in drawing the correct audience?
Yes and no. A room full of very interested, knowledgeable and concerned people discussing the issues at hand makes for great conversation,however, the question on everyone’s lips was how do we get this information across to people outside of our academic feminist spheres? Clearly not by holding exclusive, inaccessible events.
The second problem was the high level of ‘edubabble’ and jargon present at the event. We were talking about very serious issues – people, some of whom were in the room, had been sexually assaulted or even raped on campus, somewhere where they are supposed to feel safe and protected. A shocking number of people stood up and said they had been sexual assaulted at UBC – SEXUALLY ASSAULTED, HELLO? Touched inappropriately, probed, prodded, attacked, by strangers and friends alike? And the panel continue to speak in haughty tones about how we can use this to teach Gender Studies 101.
Ok, Ok. It is a great opportunity to raise awareness about women’s rights, trans- and cis-gendered alike but seriously? Ever heard the phrase too soon? Can we talk about this later? Say, I don’t know, when these poor women have recovered from these terrible, scarring events? Yeah….