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What Have YOU Been Offended By Today?

Onboard Winter 2021

What even is being “woke”? The Oxford English Dictionary defines woke as “originally: well-informed, up-to-date. Now chiefly: alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice”. Ok that’s cool right? I can say that! Well. Actually, the term woke has origins going back to the 1940s, and most recently has been used widely amongst people of colour – it came to the forefront during the surge of the Black Lives Matter movement with activists calling on others to fight back against racial injustices worldwide using the hashtag, #staywoke. There are concerns that the term has been culturally appropriated, and now, it feels as though the word been effectively weaponised. Now it’s in the same inflammatory category as “snowflake”, or “sheep” and countless others, and used to try to stop people talking about issues which upset them. Interestingly, the only people who seem to use the term are those who are not, themselves, “woke” by any definition. Let’s just have a little look at the meaning in my old favourite, the Urban Dictionary… “The act of being very pretentious about how much you care about a social issue”. So yes, the meaning has now been butchered, and you could safely say once again privileged white folk have taken something that wasn’t theirs, and completely ruined it. Awkwardly, most people wouldn’t even know this and will of course continue to use the word in order to berate and belittle anyone who cares about any subject they themselves don’t perceive to be important. Haters be hatin’ then. Good times.  

Anyway, definitions and semantics aside, what I wanted to investigate is how this old school yachting industry is evolving to deal with this new wave of everyone being offended by something. This week I was asked how I felt about the term “nipper” being used to describe a newbie on a sailing yacht. A first mate from a large sailyacht, happened to bump into his first captain, who having not seen him in the past ten years exclaimed happily “You were one of my nippers!” when he recognised him. First Mate was DEEPLY offended by this and went on, and on, and on. I can’t get my head around this, the term is actually an affectionate one, a term of endearment to refer to all new sailors. Male, female, non binary, gender fluid, black, white, brown… just ALL of them.  Honestly FM’s reaction made me feel a bit sad. Do we have to be offended by everything now? I didn’t get that memo. Obviously I would be offended if the captain had said “You were one of my bitches” but how did “nipper” become a bad word? In fact, some of us might be familiar with a very well known sailor who still goes by the name “Nipper” and he’s sailed in the biggest races in the world. Doesn’t bother him. Should we even feel honoured to get a nickname? Or are all nicknames offensive now? It makes my head hurt.

Then at the other end of the scale you’ve got a captain calling his (male) deckhands “a bunch of poofdas”, his (female) stews “tarts” and when challenged, it’s “harmless banter”. I can assure you it bloody isn’t. Honestly who employs these dinosaurs?

Where does “harmless banter” end, and simply being a racist/sexist/homophobic (etc) pillock begin? I thought I’d seek reactions on Facebook. This, readers, was a terrible idea.  Well, reactions I got, but the content was mostly of no use whatsoever. Just one side ranting about the “snowflake” “woke” generation (with no idea what either term means), and the others screaming about “social injustice” and “appropriation”. So having lit that taper and retreating back into my safe space for some deep breathing exercises, I started thinking about how society as a whole is (or is not) adapting to ensure we can just co-exist, whilst considering feelings and views of others.

Like many young women in the 90s/00s, I watched Sex and the City and for us, it was a life changing TV show. Back then, Carrie and the girls empowered women. We were encouraged to talk about our bodies, pushed to close the gender gap at work, and at home, and in the bedroom. It was, at the time, revolutionary and inspirational. Fast forward 20 odd years and they’ve launched a reboot. Many of us were wondering how they were going to attempt this when today’s audience have already criticised the old SATCs as tame, problematic, not being diverse, and being unrealistic (i.e. a freelance journo affording an apartment like Carrie’s in NYC). 

Well, in the first episode we were introduced to Che, the nonbinary and fiercely funny co-host of Carrie’s podcast, who makes the previously sexually outspoken protagonist clam up and blush, and then we had the absolutely cringeworthy interaction between Miranda and her new professor, a strong minded and fabulous woman of colour, Dr Nya Wallace. I won’t give you spoilers, but you will need to watch this bit from behind your hands… Miranda, bless her, is trying to be so aware of discrimination she ends up being offensive herself. A position I know a lot have found themselves in, especially in the work place. And they killed off the sexist old white guy whose behaviour has been problematic from day one… So to bring the show into 2021 they overhauled the writing team to ensure people from all sorts of different backgrounds were represented, who can draw on their own experiences to push the show away from its white girls only perspective and bring it fiercely into the here and now. Why? Because they want the show and the characters to be a success, and to demonstrate that people can grow, develop, and improve. Change, is possible.

Why am I waffling on about a reboot? Well because we too can all grow, develop and improve ourselves and our perceptions. We need to embrace some diversity in this industry. It’s tough when you hear about captains who won’t hire anyone who isn’t NZ, Aus or SA (true story that one) or is an out and proud homophobe. I just keep on doing my little bit to attempt to educate those extremists in the hope that one day they’ll realise their views are not just out of date, but actually harmful.

On the flip side, I would like to see those who are feeling constantly offended by everything also consider a bit of a reboot. Yes, it’s fine to get offended, but if you’re constantly getting offended by something that doesn’t affect you in the slightest, perhaps you might need to assess your own feelings. It’s like every single year without fail the UK press run a story about someone removing “Merry Christmas” from something because it’s offensive to non Christians. Has anyone met a non christian who’s offended by this? Or are the press looking to just wind people up for no reason? Again? Heaven, or any other celestial place depending on your particular beliefs, forbid.

But with the constant (berating) excuse of “it’s just banter lighten up snowflake” how do we decide what to be offended about? Well for me, banter is something involving people of equal standing, where there’s no malicious intention to cause harm, and no hurt feelings. Example? A group of friends calling each other rude words. Some would even say it’s a term of endearment. I know for me it is. But, would I call someone I don’t know very well in a work environment something derogatory? No. Should seniors call their juniors offensive names at work? No, never. Should this be common sense? Yes. But it’s not. So do we need to start teaching people how to behave in decent society? Probably. If you feel that what you’re saying could be construed as harmful, then simples – don’t say it. Save it for when you’re with your mates. Is it racist? Sexist? Homophobic? Then definitely don’t say it. Would you say it in front of your Mum? There you go then.

It’s exhausting isn’t it? Although there is plenty to shout about right now in the world, recently it certainly feels like some people just want to be offended by something for the sake of feeling relevant. Now, this could be down to the fact they’re manifesting their own insecurities. Run a search on being offended and you’ll find a lot of people have asked the question: “how can I stop being so easily offended?”. So it IS a thing. If you’re often the only one who’s constantly offended, maybe you need to have a check in on yourself. Firstly, consider what the big picture is. Ask yourself if what’s been said really matters to you. Take a step back – that person was expressing their opinion, and it doesn’t matter if it’s different to your own. Empathise, think about how that person feels and perhaps you’ll start to see things from another perspective. Try not to be too judgmental on others’ perspectives and practice acceptance of their “imperfections”. If we stopped talking to everyone we had a different viewpoint on the crew mess would be very quiet…

Similarly, if we allow ourselves to get offended by every single thing we hear we’d be a miserable mess of emotions. I’d say pick your battles. It’s ok to be offended, and often we should be – but you don’t need to fight everyone’s fight today. Have a day off.