Jonathan Chait’s “Not A Very P.C. Thing To Say” In a Nutshell

27 Jan

Today in New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait discusses how hard it is to be a white man these days. In case you don’t have the time or moral energy to read his 5,000 word opus of angst, here’s a brief rundown.

1. If this article seems familiar, it’s because you’ve read it before. Not only that, but you’ve experienced it in various iterations both online and in real life. This article is that guy from the philosophy class you took ten years, the one who Kool-Aid mans his way into every Facebook discussion about feminism to tell you why he’s actually a humanist. This article is that sweaty, overbearing man at a party who corners you and aggressively questions you about socialism in what he thinks is a charming way, but when you try to respond to him he just talks over you. This article is every guy who thinks he’s the first one brave enough to ask if political correctness has just gone too far. This article is the Sad Progressive White Dude Manifesto.

You don’t even need to read the article. You already know what it’s going to say.

2. One time in the 90s there was a pretty fantastic-sounding art exhibit documenting the lives of sex workers. Some SWERFs tried to shut it down. This event that happened twenty years ago is very relevant to this essay because it shows how feminists are always trying to ruin people’s happy fun time parties.

Never mind that many feminists are sex worker-inclusive. Never mind that SWERF ideas are widely considered to be outdated and harmful. You don’t need to know any of that, because it’s not relevant to this essay.

3. Chait mentions both the #JeSuisCharlie and #JeNeSuisPasCharlie hashtags but conveniently forgets to mention #KillAllMuslims, because we’re not here to talk about the actual real-life consequences of posting offensive content, we’re just here to sound the oft-rung death knell of Free Speech.

4. Chait does not understand how trigger warnings work or what microaggressions are, but he’s pretty sure he doesn’t like it when people use those terms.

Writes Chait:

At a growing number of campuses, professors now attach “trigger warnings” to texts that may upset students, and there is a campaign to eradicate “microaggressions,” or small social slights that might cause searing trauma.”

And:

Trigger warnings aren’t much help in actually overcoming trauma — an analysis by the Institute of Medicine has found that the best approach is controlled exposure to it, and experts say avoidance can reinforce suffering.

Rather than understand how trauma works, or recognize that trigger warnings are, in fact, about giving people the choice when and where to engage with potentially upsetting content, Chait prefers to patronizingly pooh-pooh the whole idea. Instead of recognizing that most people use trigger warnings as a way to facilitate the “controlled exposure” to trauma experts recommend – because, again, trigger warnings give readers the choice to make sure that they are in a safe space and a healthy mindset before engaging with potentially triggering content – he prefers to believe that anyone who asks for a content warning is a mewling infant who should just get over it already.

How nice that Chait has never found any content upsetting enough to require a trigger warning; one supposes that makes him an expert on the subject.

5. Here are some complaints about microaggressions that Chait, your uncle who sometimes uses racial slurs when he drinks too much but it’s ok because he has a Black friend, is complaining about:

“Stanford recently canceled a performance of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson after protests by Native American students.”

Yes, it’s completely baffling why anyone of Indigenous ancestry would be upset by a “rock musical” (whose tagline is “history just got all sexypants”) about the man who tried to eradicate their people with a genocidal fervour. Gosh, kids these days are just so sensitive!

UCLA students staged a sit-in to protest microaggressions such as when a professor corrected a student’s decision to spell the word indigenous with an uppercase I.”

Because it’s not like literally every other culture and ethnic group is afforded a capital letter.

Because there’s no history of erasure of Indigenous people on this continent.

Because white academia has always been such a friendly and welcoming space to people of colour and as such deserves the benefit of the doubt, always.

A theater group at Mount Holyoke College recently announced it would no longer put on The Vagina Monologues in part because the material excludes women without vaginas.”

There are so many reasons to boycott The Vagina Monologues – transphobia is only one of them. Instead of weeping that an outdated and non-inclusive play is no longer being staged, why not encourage people to write something better?

6. Chait – who is literally milking the cash cow of “HAS OUR CULTURE OF POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE TOO FAR????” – thinks that creating content about racism, misogyny, transphobia, etc., is a total money-grab. How he, a white dude writing the billionth think-piece on People Are Too Sensitive These Days, does not see the irony in this statement is completely astounding.

7. Jonathan Chait is a white man, and he’s tired of you calling him out on his mansplaining. Why are you so mean to him? He’s not here to offend; he’s just trying to patiently explain how the real world works, sweetie.

Chait, in his five thousand word essay that appeared in a major publication, is tired of people using the term “mansplaining” to shut him down.

The truth is that these days men like Chait just don’t have access to enormous platforms from which to bleat their every thought and feeling.

Chait would like to sing you the song of his people, a keening lament about the plight of the Nice White Guy.

8. According to Chait, secret opt-in Facebook group that women are free to quit at any time is like a “virtual mental prison.” Much like a real-life prison, people are asked to be sensitive to each others’ feelings and if they can’t manage that are welcome to leave at their leisure. Feminism: it’s just like the Prison Industrial Complex but with more pictures of kittens.

Also if you are a woman sharing posts with a dude from what is supposed to be a safe space for women, I’m sorry but you are being shitty. You are not allowed in our clubhouse anymore.

9. Blah blah neo-Marxism blah correcting a misattributed Voltaire quote blah Chait is a smart dude who knows lots of big words blah

10. Writes Chait:

‘These ideas have more than theoretical power. Last March at University of ­California–Santa Barbara, in, ironically, a “free-speech zone,” a 16-year-old anti-abortion protester named Thrin Short and her 21-year-old sister Joan displayed a sign arrayed with graphic images of aborted fetuses. They caught the attention of Mireille Miller-Young, a professor of feminist studies. Miller-Young, angered by the sign, demanded that they take it down. When they refused, Miller-Young snatched the sign, took it back to her office to destroy it, and shoved one of the Short sisters on the way.

Speaking to police after the altercation, Miller-Young told them that the images of the fetuses had “triggered” her and violated her “personal right to go to work and not be in harm.” A Facebook group called “UCSB Microaggressions” declared themselves “in solidarity” with Miller-Young and urged the campus “to provide as much support as possible.”’

I’m just going to put this out there: if you find yourself aligning with the anti-choice folks waving around signs with graphic images of aborted fetuses on them, it might be time to check yourself. You are not progressive. You are on the side of people who want to limit women’s rights. This is not an issue of free speech; the government was not trying to censor these protestors. This is an issue of one individual reacting to content that was meant to provoke and upset.

Do I think Miller-Young should have shoved one of the protestors? No. Do I think she has a right to go to work without looking at dead fetuses? Hell yeah I do. This isn’t censorship – this is human decency. Literally people should be able to walk around without having pictures of mangled fetuses shoved in their faces. Is that really so hard to understand.

And are we really arguing about “destruction of property” here? If that’s the case, I will happily mail five dollars to the Short sisters so that they can go buy another yardstick and print out some more dead fetus posters at Kinkos.

11. SCENE:

A DARK PIT

JONATHAN CHAIT, a Nice White Guy in a polo and casual slacks, kneels in a pile of rubble. His arms are raised imploringly to his captors, the FEMINIST CABAL. They poke him with sticks and cackle. It is basically MacBeth Redux, except the witches are more diverse.

JONATHAN CHAIT

Won’t you please argue with me?

FEMINIST CABAL

(Ignore him)

JONATHAN CHAIT

I said argue with me, damnit! I’m here in good faith!

FEMINIST CABAL

(laughs)

JONATHAN CHAIT

(howling into the darkness)

ARGUE WITH MEEEEE!!!

Suit-and-Tie-Shit-9-tux

31 Responses to “Jonathan Chait’s “Not A Very P.C. Thing To Say” In a Nutshell”

  1. Rosie January 27, 2015 at 5:38 pm #

    Reblogged this on FEMBORG.

  2. Helena Hann-Basquiat January 27, 2015 at 6:53 pm #

    I need to ask a question, because I want to understand. I read your entire article, and I’d like your opinion, because you seem to be coming down on the side of “Every time a man opens his mouth, he should probably shut it, because he’s about to vomit every possible offensive thing ever.” What SHOULD a man do? Who (if any) would you say is an intelligent man worth listening to?
    Seriously curious.

    • bellejarblog January 27, 2015 at 8:36 pm #

      I only want men to shut up when they’re saying shitty things, such as in this case telling people from marginalized groups how they should respond to material that they find hurtful and offensive.

      Dudes are free to say stuff as long as they’re not being jerks! There are lots of things written by dudes that I like. This just doesn’t happen to be one of them.

    • AMM January 27, 2015 at 10:24 pm #

      “Who (if any) would you say is an intelligent man worth listening to?”

      Someone who says intelligent things. Someone who has actually listened and understood the discussions around the things he chooses to talk about and is responding with _new_thoughts_ that take the content of the previous discussions into account.

      And not just what Privileged Dudes have to say.

      The problem is that most privileged dudes, especially the kind that can get published in major publications like _New_York_ magazine, haven’t really bothered to listen to anybody but other privileged dudes. So they’re ignorant of anything that isn’t a concern for privileged dudes. Like, in this case, trigger warnings and microagressions. Those concepts come from people who aren’t privileged dudes, so he can’t be bothered to find out what they’re actually about.

      The reason we groan “he’s about to vomit every possible offensive thing ever” is because we’ve heard the stuff he’s saying. Over and over. After a while, you hear the first few words and you know what’s coming.

      There are, in fact, privileged dudes who have intelligent things to say. You can usually tell because they _don’t_ regurgitate the usual Privileged Dude tropes. They say stuff that shows that they’ve actually listened to women, Native Americans, LGBTQ people, poor people, black people, etc., and are willing to revise their views to take them into account. (But they usually aren’t published in the MSM.)

      And they don’t mansplain. (It’s always a waste of time to listen to mansplainers.)

      • Helena Hann-Basquiat January 27, 2015 at 10:36 pm #

        I understand what you’re saying, but in a way you’re also being dismissive and suggesting that you know what life as a man (even a privileged one) is like, and we don’t, really. I agree, the writer of the article is regurgitating things we’ve heard a hundred times before, but if we make a habit of excluding people from the conversation because of their ignorance, how is anything ever going to change? They will be on one side of the wall, and they in the other. And to be honest, there are cultural aspects at play. If I were to write a story about my life, would it be judged as not inclusive because there weren’t enough LGBT elements in it? Or a wide enough spectrum of religious belief and opinion? Or am I not allowed to actually take a snapshot of my real life – which isn’t fabricated like a Bingo sheet where I have to collect aspects of each and every possible life, lifestyle, gender, or race? My personal POV is rather narrow, not because I am closed-minded or blind to what’s going on around me, but rather, I just don’t happen to know a lot of transgendered people. My world is pretty small.

      • PenMan January 28, 2015 at 6:47 am #

        I get what you’re saying, we all speak from a POV and we can’t expect everyone to have the gift of wide-angle. Granted. But I think what you’re witnessing in people’s outrage is a reaction to the larger problem his POV represents. It’s an insidious POV casually wielded by irresponsible Power and simply put, it provokes anger in the humans it seeks to dehumanise.

        P.S. I’m a dude so feel free to ask if you want a masculine take on it.

    • Caulacau January 28, 2015 at 4:56 am #

      “Or am I not allowed to…”

      STOP RIGHT THERE. Because complaining about what you’re “not allowed” to do is EXACTLY REVERSING the actual power differential at play here in a super disingenuous way. Chait’s article makes it abundantly clear that people in positions of privilege are “allowed” to write whatever ill-informed, insulting, obnoxious shit they want! Coincidentally, that’s what privilege means! That there are no serious physical threats or financial disadvantages to being a dumbass in public!

      I take it you’re straight, by your choice of LGBTQ as an example of an issue you’re “not allowed” to overlook in the hypothetical memoir you might write about your “small” world. But think carefully: how many people are you aware of who have been abused, derided, fired, or killed for being straight? How many cishet people are really “not allowed” to talk about their het relationships, their husbands and wives and kids, in casual conversation on the bus or around the water cooler? How many times did you see a cishet person panic when asked if they were going to get married some day, deciding whether a lie will save their life or job? How many books are condemned for having too many straight relationships in them? Google Leelah Alcorn and then try to say in good conscience that you’re “not allowed” to do things that she was “allowed” to do just because she had all those magic advantages afforded to trans people that you so tragically miss out on.

      Maybe your life is worth writing a memoir about. Maybe it’s not. I don’t know. But if you’re coming from this place of indignant defensiveness about how those mean LGBTQ people aren’t giving you PERMISSION to write about all your heterosexual opinions starring a cast of all your heterosexual friends, then I urge you with all possible politeness to reconsider.

      (Responding up here because a “Reply” link didn’t appear below your later comment)

      • Helena Hann-Basquiat January 28, 2015 at 6:38 pm #

        Actually, I didn’t at all say that I wasn’t allowed to write about my straight life — I was asking if I have to fabricate diversity that doesn’t exist, or else be criticized for being narrow-minded and non-inclusive. Your anger is misdirected. My experience is that most every new TV show I see has embraced a more diverse spectrum of society. What I was saying is that I’m not going to write something like Orphan Black, which is a virtual BINGO sheet of trying to include every possible facet of humanity, when that is not my reality. If I write something set in the South, there are likely to be some pretty bigoted characters. Should I edit myself for fear of offending? Do I have to put a “Views of the characters are not necessarily those of the author” sticker on my book?

        You’re putting all sorts of words in my mouth and anger behind my thoughts that weren’t there.

        “Maybe your life is worth writing a memoir about. Maybe it’s not. I don’t know. But if you’re coming from this place of indignant defensiveness about how those mean LGBTQ people aren’t giving you PERMISSION to write about all your heterosexual opinions starring a cast of all your heterosexual friends, then I urge you with all possible politeness to reconsider.”

        I said nothing about needing anyone’s permission, nor did I allude to any mean LGBTQ agenda preventing me from writing my hetero opinions, etc…

        It’s this sort of defensiveness and accusatory jumping to conclusions that basically makes me what to withdraw from all conversation, and stop trying to understand. Anything I say, you will somehow twist into hate and derision, where there is none.

        Kindly fuck yourself for putting another notch into my already ragged belt of misanthropy. The world truly is fucked if all we’re going to do is spit at each other on the internet.

      • robinsetter January 29, 2015 at 5:01 am #

        awesome

      • robinsetter January 29, 2015 at 5:04 am #

        dammit the reply was supposed to be for Caulacau! why is it under this Helena person? that changes the comment!

    • Nadine Thornhill January 28, 2015 at 6:53 am #

      Saying “I’ve never been traumatized by microaggressions” or “I don’t make use of trigger warnings” is fine.

      Saying “I’ve never been traumatized by microaggressions; therefore everyone else who has is overly sensitive” or “I don’t use trigger warnings, so everyone who finds them beneficial is wrong,” is self-centred and arrogant.

      • Helena Hann-Basquiat January 28, 2015 at 6:46 pm #

        I agree with you — but on the flip-side, consider this statement, and tell me if you think it is okay: “I’ve been traumatized by microaggressions, and therefore you must use trigger warnings, or else you are an insensitive asshole.”

    • ResearchToBeDone January 29, 2015 at 8:58 pm #

      “I agree with you — but on the flip-side, consider this statement, and tell me if you think it is okay: “I’ve been traumatized by microaggressions, and therefore you must use trigger warnings, or else you are an insensitive asshole.””

      It sounds about the same as saying, “I have an allergic reaction to nuts, therefore I’d like you to let me know if there are nuts in the food you give me, or else you are an asshole.”

      Well, yeah. That’s why we literally have laws requiring companies to do that. If you are aware that something can cause harm to someone and you can do a trivially easy thing to prevent that harm from happening, and you decide not to do that trivially easy thing…that’s pretty much on you.

  3. saroful January 27, 2015 at 7:23 pm #

    It’s also worth noting that Mount Holyoke didn’t so much CANCEL as REPLACE the Vagina Monologues with a more trans-inclusive set of one acts to be designed by students.

  4. Mario Savioni January 27, 2015 at 8:03 pm #

    Love it, always learning from you.

  5. E. O. Askew January 27, 2015 at 8:22 pm #

    While I thoroughly enjoyed your takedown of this poor oppressed white male, I have to say I found your well written piece was difficult to get through. Because to read it, I had to read his quotes. And now I wanna shake him vigorously.

    Thank you for reading his “work” so I didn’t have to.

    • izzy82 February 8, 2015 at 4:10 pm #

      OMG this is *exactly* how I felt! I do not have the stomach to read the actual article, kudos to BelleJar for doing so and showing how absurd it all is!

  6. This is a fantastic article! It can be very confronting when you first start to look at your own privilege, and how it affects the way you view the world, but once you start to get a glimpse of what it’s like for people without that privilege, you have to realise that you really don’t have anything to complain about if you’re a straight/cis/white man.

    • izzy82 February 8, 2015 at 4:18 pm #

      Exactly!! If you think about oppression at all, you can see how destructive it is for everyone. BUT. When you’re on the privileged end of an oppression, you get a ton of benefits and what little harm does come your way does not compare at all to what people on the oppressed side face.

    • tabbyrenelle March 6, 2015 at 4:00 pm #

      Hi “stand against violence- cross dress to address”
      I see your comment was in January but I only just came across this article so I’m jumping in for what it’s worth… better late than never maybe…
      straight cis white men are conditioned to not complain and to “man up” and to mask all of their emotions except for anger and so it’s more like allowing yourself to realize that the traditional patriarchal systems are hurting you too. Boys are just as emotional if not more emotional than girls. It’s scientific fact…and we have been telling them that they aren’t allowed the full range of their emotions so that they predominantly relate/function in narrow binary terms that neglect the nurturing and development of being able to feel empathy.
      So, straight white cis men do have a lot to complain about. But if they are complaining about feminists, they are complaining about the wrong thing. They would be better directed at complaining about male-patriarchal-white supremacist oppression that tells them to stay in the box. This would help stop the violence and work towards gender relations for all.

  7. Very Bangled January 28, 2015 at 3:29 pm #

    Excellent summary and this guy is a first class asshole. You made a dead on correct point with the # issue and real life repercussions.

    What I never understand about people who use PC as an insult is why are they so fucking important that their right to be an asshole is more important to them then accommodating the people in the world who are offended by something? If someone says to me “hey, I don’t like it when you chew with your mouth open while eating, it grosses me out.” I stop chewing with my mouth open. I don’t continue to chew with my mouth open just to intentionally antagonize them.

  8. Pixie2015 February 4, 2015 at 6:50 pm #

    This Chit fellow is like “reverse discrimination”. You either discriminate or you don’t, job done.

  9. planetserene February 8, 2015 at 10:44 pm #

    I was sitting next to a coworker the other day (white male) who during our conversation had the audacity to say that white, christian men were discriminated against in America these days. The comment totally caught me off guard and I didn’t bother to entertain the conversation, because who really wants to argue that? I have met and have the most wonderful friends that are of all ages, genders, and races. But there’s always the ones that give the rest of their kind a bad name.

  10. Sign June 13, 2015 at 3:34 pm #

    I feel like this article was meant to be satire. Not only does she completely evade any of Chaits’ serious points, but she uses borderline character assassination to misrepresent his position and make him look like a comic buffoon. In reality, she only validated his arguments, made herself look buffoonish, and took this opportunity to attack a public figure with sophistic whining rather than valid critiques. Although privilege is certainly a matter to consider in order to contextualize any argument, that is the entirety of her complaints. “He’s an evil white male, and his privilege alone invalidates his every argument!” Nevermind the substantive points he made.

    This honestly was hard to read and even harder to respect. It felt like a grade school blog post rather than something someone would expect from a thoughtful journalist.

    If it’s any consolation, this attack only further cements the cogency of Chaits’ claims. A sad irony indeed.

    • collin237 July 6, 2015 at 8:38 am #

      Note that one of her biggest tags is “down with the patriarchy”.

      This is what the USA has devolved into. Left Wingers with blind faith in a devil called Patriarchy, and Right Wingers with blind faith in a god called Jesus. Pox on them both!!!

  11. Darren X November 15, 2015 at 3:00 pm #

    Anyone who thinks this spectacular and juvenile misreading of Chait’s piece is a substitute for the original is doing themselves a great disservice.

    • Len August 17, 2016 at 6:26 pm #

      The reason it seems like Chait’s piece is obvious is because he’s right and everyone already knows it. you’re behind the times.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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  2. TW: Language | CrossKnit - February 3, 2015

    […] that includes and respects the feelings of diverse individuals. You can get the TL;DR version on The Belle Jar, if you still don’t understand why he’s […]

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    […] Jonathan Chait’s ‘Not a Very P.C. Thing to Say’ in a Nutshell by Anne Theriault on The Belle Jar. […]

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