Markkula Center for Applied Ethics - Better Choices

The Big Q Blog

You Don't Say That

The first 20 student comments on “You Don’t Say That” win a $5 Yiftee gift to a local business. Use your gift to try out that new flavor of ice cream or spend it on two slices of your favorite pizza. Entries must be received by midnight, Sunday, May 11th, 2014. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by e-mail in the right hand column) for updates.

**DISCLAIMER: All characters and scenarios in this post are fictional.**

Linda attends a large public university in Oregon. Before coming to college, Linda was a closeted lesbian. In her hometown she never felt comfortable opening up to anyone, be it family, friend, or mere acquaintance. When she arrived at her university, Linda was able to find a safe haven with the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) club.

As Linda got more comfortable at her university, she began to go out at night to meet individuals outside of her LGBT community. She was able to find friends involved in different parts of her college campus: multi-cultural club, Greek life, student government, and more.

One day, Linda is at a fraternity party with some of her friends in Greek life. While dancing and enjoying music, Linda overhears a conversation occurring at the beer pong table. One of her friends, Justin, is disappointed that his teammate is taking so long to finish his drink. She overhears him say, “That’s so gay.”

Linda confronts Justin and expresses her distaste with the language he used. She tells him “gay” shouldn’t be a slang-term for lame or stupid. Justin doesn’t understand what the big deal is. He tells her that he is fully accepting of homosexuality and didn’t mean any harm with his words. Linda doesn’t accept this, refuses to speak to Justin again, and leaves immediately.

A few weeks later, Linda and Justin are at the same nature hike with the Wilderness Club. At the end of the hike, there is a waterfall where you can jump into a lake below. Justin overhears Linda telling one of her friends to “Man up.” He confronts her about the term, saying that man up implies gender norms. Linda doesn’t understand why he’s so upset with this term. She says that it is used universally and isn’t supposed to insult anyone.

Do you think there is a difference between using the terms “That’s so gay” and “Man up?” Is it okay to use either of them? Does American culture condone this type of language? Does the unconscious use of these terms contribute to harmful stereotypes or does everyone understand that they don’t really mean anything? 

Useful Resources:

A Framework for Ethical Decision-Making

Duke's 'You Don't Say' Campaign Reminds You Which Words Shouldn't Be Used As Slang

Photo by Gian Franco Costa Albertini available under a Creative Commons license.


Subscribe to The Big Q

* indicates required