The Politics of Political Correctness – by Deborah Levine

I sat in the audience of a university theater and listened to elected officials and professors ruminate on inclusion in the upcoming political election. It was Chicago in the 1990s and as in-your-face then as it is now. The discussion over race was loud and raucous as the candidates, Caucasian and African American, went toe to toe. As the debate turned to women, the all-male stage veered into the surreal. It turned into a shouting match as to who was more popular with the ladies. They gestured wildly about the numbers of women who called them, trying to prove that who was the more politically correct and more popular among the ladies.

The audience was more than 50% female with expressionless faces, rolling eyeballs, and a few yawns. I couldn’t resist, raised my hand, and stood when the emcee called on me. “I appreciate that the bias is unconscious but it’s foolish for a male-only stage to be fighting over who gets more calls from women. The correct alternative is to have women on stage who can speak for themselves.” My political correctness was a bulwark against discrimination, but also a threat.

After much nervous fidgeting, the emcee finally responded, “We tried! We invited the woman qualified to join us on stage, but she was busy.” To which I replied, “Any woman in this audience would be happy to name qualified women for you.” The debate then concluded, quickly.

Later, one of the speakers, David Axelrod, approached me and offered to be my campaign manager if I ran for office. Regrettably, I declined. Neither I was not prepared to take on the inevitable personal attacks and name calling. Instead, I added my voice through writing, following the old saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” It would take years of lobbying, protesting, and aggressive challenges to achieve a greater representation in leadership, politically and socially.

The political correctness label would be applied to the activist women with the intention of intimidating and marginalizing them. The term “Feminism” was continually hammered as political correctness on steroids. Feminists were stereotyped as nasty, masculine and emasculating, and ugly, too. As progress for women was made, we expected, but rejected the accusations. With time, it became politically incorrect to make them.

Yet, just a few years ago, I was told to “Wait my turn” while less-experienced male candidates were chosen for board positions. Was this unconscious bias or a backlash against my political correctness? Either way, I wasn’t surprised, and simply moved on.

Since the 2016 election, attacks on political correctness have been weaponized. Is it the anonymity of the internet or the surfacing of groups previously side-lined by a politically correct culture? Either way, I wasn’t surprised, but now it’s impossible to move on.

On LinkedIn, I was told that women must stop demanding preferential treatment. If they were qualified, there wouldn’t be any disparities. When I objected, I was accused of being a man-hating b**ch. That my“manufactured rage” would no longer be tolerated and political correctness was over.

Since that incident, the women’s marches grabbed the public’s attention. The women relished the label “nasty”, rejecting any enforcement of “ladylike.” We endured name-calling like “childish”, “ignorant”, “deluded”, “manipulated”, and “manipulative.” Some gleefully called the women fat, and ugly, too. This is what political correctness protected us against. Ask women, any woman, if she’s going to back down when called fat and ugly. No, the fight for political correctness isn’t over. A new phase has just begun.


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