Understanding Hurt and Why I’m Committed to Causing Offence
Sara Ahmed, author of Living a Feminist Life, draws a distinction between sex and sex. That is Sex1, which often gets bundled into conversations on gender. And Sex2, which is a doing it word.
Having a way of distinguishing between two different definitions for the same word stops slipperiness from getting in the way of meaning-making, and confounds confabulation. Slipperiness can be as lovely in words as it is in sex. For sure, poetry and science are arid without contingency, ambiguity, uncertainty. But indeterminacy brings problems, at least initially, when what we need is understanding. Indeterminacy can also smooth the path for duplicity, for us being dishonest with ourselves andor others as we exploit the reach of a word to try to not know something. Enter sex1 and sex2, and bingo. We now have two mutually understood meanings ascribed to the terms and can dive into meaningful dialogue, identify deception.
And now, about hurt. More precisely, Hurt1 and Hurt2. Hurt1 encompasses any and all injury caused by oppressive violence. Hurt2 refers to the emotional discomfort of the perpetrator of oppressive violence.
Here’s how hurt gets deployed as oppressive arsenal. Boris Johnson was reprimanded by the Speaker for sexist comments directed at MP Emily Thornberry. He apologised to the Speaker for “any inadvertent sexism or discourtesy that you may have deemed me to have been guilty of.” And got into his stride with: “And I heartily tender my apologies to the right honourable lady if she was offended by what I said and I meant no harm. And I apologise unreservedly to her if I have offended the feelings of the right honourable lady.”
There is a lot of slipperiness to pin down in his faux-apology but I’ll focus on hurt. Chances are Emily Thornberry did not give a right honourable flying frack about BJ’s opinion of her. In this sense she was not Hurt2. Still, the fact she didn’t give a fig isn’t the point. The point is Boris was guilty of Hurt1. He was sexist and oppressive and this is harmful.
Sexism is sexism is oppressive and harmful whether or not it leads to offended feelings.
If we are working for justice then causing offence, in itself, may be wonderfully productive.