You might be aware, over the past month or so, of the #mencallmethings furore, which started as an online effort by women to expose the horrid hate speech they endure regularly. The response to the hashtag hasn’t been all too impressive. Yet more attempts are being made to threaten, harass and intimidate people for having an opinion, or a presence of any sort, in journalism, culture, academia and the media.

The perpetrators’ objective is nothing less than to dictate the rules of conversation and silence. I suggest that the stakes of the hashtag are higher than hurt feelings or offensive humor, or even the issues of women’s visibility and representation. It is about reclaiming the dignity of communication, written words, and the reverence that should be accorded to the spiritual being of a human.

…the force of a statement is just as powerful even if it’s expressed non-verbally…

Some think supporters of #mencallmethings are alarmist, that they’re spoiling a bit of laddish fun and some just can’t take a darned joke. If this is in any way true, then I also hope the side-splitting rape joke comedians aren’t religious. They offer the feeble argument that troll speech is simply a conglomerate of dots on a computer screen, and that anyone who is offended or intimidated by them is a spoilt softie. From a religious perspective that is absolutely ludicrous, since violence against the human person is not merely physical, but verbal, mental and emotional.

Any commonsense person would condemn verbal threats. Yet the force of a statement is just as powerful even if it’s expressed non-verbally: for example, over email, Twitter, Facebook or any other online medium. The force of a statement, be it one of love and affection or hate and anger, burns and lingers in the written word. Letters (and heart-to-heart emails) are treasured because they convey a person’s inner being and freeze it in time. What we say and type inevitably shape our character.

They are lying, malicious, sarcastic or hateful words…

The warnings are in the teachings

In the fourth of the Five Precepts in Buddhist Life is a warning about the destructive power of harmful speech. In this conception, harmful speech has four aspects. They are lying, malicious, sarcastic or hateful words, gossip, and mindless chatter. The one-off, tasteless rape joke at the bar is not really supportable as far as I’m concerned, but I couldn’t think of more harmful speech than to log on to my computer, only to find a barrage degrading insults to my body parts, with the bonus of threats against my spiritual dignity via intimidation and physical violence.

It’s impossible to respect someone as a person of self-worth when you’re threatening, so carelessly, to hurt him or her into silence. People can’t speak of a body as sacred while they threaten to brutalize that same body.

…feminism at its most basic simply asserts that women should be seen as human beings.

The silver lining in this farce is that these issues (not specifically feminist but closely related) now see more mainstream exposure. I’m not educated enough in feminist philosophy in London to call myself one. But as far as I know, feminism at its most basic simply asserts that women should be seen as human beings. Nothing more. In that sense it argues for equal personhood as vocally as any religion we practice.

Of course, the more reactionary aren’t interested in religious opinions about harmful speech. But what is clear is that the condoning of anonymous bullying in certain online circles is a moral and spiritual embarrassment. Be we male, female, feminist, religious or non-religious, all people deserve to speak and write without the threat of unholy things committed on their sacred bodies.

 

About The Author

A journalist of religion, Raymond is the editor of Buddhistdoor International. He divides his time between London and Hong Kong and can be reached at raymond@buddhistdoor.com.

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