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What' in a Name?
Tashi D Shakya

"What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

                                                                                                           William Shakespeare

“I was on parole when I was arrested,” said Mike, a self-proclaimed writer and my internship coordinator. “I was making this deal with a prostitute down the streets in Williamsburg until I realized she was a cop in disguise.” He was arrested again while he was on probation.

Wait a minute – prostitution is not legal in America? Wow! That is some show of morality! They have amongst the highest rate in teenage pregnancy and they bother about individualistic decisions like prostitution.

I couldn’t understand it… a country which has no culture, or let’s put it “a free country” that has no boundaries and limitations when it comes to sex, has laws against prostitution. Why is prostitution such a big deal?

I couldn’t understand it… a country which has no culture, or let’s put it “a free country” that has no boundaries and limitations when it comes to sex, has laws against prostitution. Why is prostitution such a big deal? What ever happened to their “rights” factor? They have gay rights, women rights, child rights and numerous “strange” rights – “I, me, myself” rights. I mean they allow an adult over the age of 18 to make any and I repeat any decisions, so what about the women who are over the age of 18 who decides to be a prostitute? What about her rights? Is it any worse than having topped the world in teenage pregnancy rate?

It was such a heated discussion with Mike, the all-American guy who was trying to explain to me their attempt to “inculcate moralistic values” to a free country, which is good but is that ever possible? In such a wide span of diversity, what is moralistic to one may not be moralistic to the other – especially for example, we often see the clash of religious values nowadays. In the country of “so-called” evangelicals, they don’t think twice before flushing down the toilet-bowl, copies of the holy Quran. But yet again, here I never want to be the one to comment on the morality of prostitution. It’s just that Americans do not see the things as we see them. And so Mike and I never really came to any conclusion.

During the conversation, I told Mike that we in South Asia, address the prostitutes as “sex workers” as a politically correct way to address them and to deem it as a profession, irrespective of the question whether it’s moral or immoral. But this is not me speaking…I mean in a politically correct way. This is what Americans with whom I have worked with earlier in various non-governmental organizations in Nepal suggest and insists that we speak ‘in a politically correct way’. They set the rules for the whole world. They can decide which country can have peace and which goes to war. I mean do they call it a war, if one has hi-tech, high-powered arms and ammunition, endless number of soldiers when the other side has just few guns and homemade bombs. I thought that was called oppression. Do they call it a ‘war for peace’ when civilians and innocent women and children are killed? Anyway, this again may be American’s politically correct way of talking about war.

But we, as an organization for protection of the right of sex workers, only adhered to this term “sex-worker” because the constitution of Nepal for hundreds of years to come will not legalize prostitution and won’t care about protecting their rights. But one has to understand that Nepal, as a poverty-ridden country, which is doomed in the civil war, has lots more to do than work on giving sex-workers’ protection. But this term that we have been using, to address them for the last many years, did them proud– if not anything.

I hate to admit that we live in a world that needs to water down everything, even that which doesn’t need watering down. The ‘Politically Correct Police’ are always out there waiting to point out the proper and improper ways we express ourselves.

I hate to admit that we live in a world that needs to water down everything, even that which doesn’t need watering down. The ‘Politically Correct Police’ are always out there waiting to point out the proper and improper ways we express ourselves.

They are being euphemistic in order not to hurt the other person, in order to be or appear polite. The problem I have with the usage of some euphemisms is that they are often used in an effort to be politically correct, which I think results in just plain fake words. Don’t confuse my dislike of euphemistic language with an overall dislike of political correctness, but “politically correct” could be seen as a euphemism for politeness and sensitivity. But in euphemisms, I think the effort at sensitivity goes a bit too far.

According to critics of "PC", this is a form of coercion or social engineering; Critics see it as particularly embraced by advocates of certain forms of identity politics, especially gay rights, feminism, multiculturalism and the disability rights movement. Political correctness in public discourse is sometimes perceived as inhibiting freedom of speech of individuals, particularly the expression of opinions that risk offending some group. And in a country like America, say the right word or just shut up!

The problem I have with some euphemisms is that they assume the replaced word to be “harsh, blunt or offensive.” For example, for a handicapped person, they now refer to them as “differently-abled,” or “handicap-abled.” I have only come across those who want to be treated equally and in the same manner, or at least not any differently. So why would they want to be called ‘differently-abled’. Is “handicapped” any worse?

In yet another incident, it was an interview I was doing with a representative of the International Labor Organization in Nepal; we had some discussions about how to address people with HIV and AIDS. They now call them “people living with HIV and AIDS,” whereas initially we just addressed them as victims of HIV and AIDS. A number of responses flew through my head but what I said was this, "Now I want you all to think about this. Do the words ‘living with HIV’ bring to mind a different image than the word ‘victim of HIV?’ Don’t they have the same meaning? In fact I feel the latter has a more sympathetic note to it… compared to the former which seems more like an obvious decision…. to live with HIV?”

I was inappropriate, guilty of perjury and the representative gave me the stares, the looks, the I-wonder-where-these-people-come-from looks.

Let's get to some of these other non-victims. You probably noticed there are lots of weight watchers in this country. You cannot call fat people “fat” anymore. That again, if you don’t get it right, you might offend them. But what else can you call them? They're not large; they're not stout, chunky, hefty, or plump. Because of their weight mismanagement, they are not considered healthy also.

In short, “PC” is a direct result of diversity. While on one hand it’s an attempt to be polite and, on the other hand, it’s also a demand for respect. And now it seems telling the truth is only politically correct on the witness stand… because almost 100% of everything said in a politically correct fashion requires a degree of lying. We are now, through socialized pressure, expected to lie… to whitewash everything. Are we ready for that?

Tashi D Shakya can be contacted at tshakya @ gmail.com. [To reduce spam, please copy and paste email address and remove spaces.]