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Is body shaming hate speech?
One of the things I like about the Substack community is the sharing of ideas and conversations going on in some of the comments and responses to articles.
There seems to be a cordial approach to discussions, held with a level of civility not seen on other platforms. While people might not agree with each other, the communications don’t descend into a shitstorm of unreasonable arguments and name-calling and in today's fast media environment, that is an unusual pleasure.
The lack of hostility and the level of courtesy towards various viewpoints allows for a deeper discussion and I believe results in people considering alternative attitudes more openly.
We might not agree with everything, but at least we don’t cancel people or block them in a heartbeat.
On man boobs, grey hair and dangly stuff, and why feminists should stand up for nonsexual male nudity. (Link here)
The blog is now archived and behind a paywall, but the gist of the article mentions that, for some, a naked man is seen as intimidating and while a naked group can be viewed with humour or polite indifference. A lone naked man may be considered threatening. The article looks at the language used to describe male genitals (junk), as well as media comments around male nudity. Reactions on tv and in movies where people are powerless to “unsee” an unexpected nude male are common and accentuate the perception that male nudity is offensive.
One reader commented in response to Fred’s post:
Any insinuation that a man's body is "obscene" or "indecent" or "scary" or "ugly" for being a man, or for being human, is hate speech and a personal insult. We are the most beautiful species, all of us at any age or sex.
I responded with the following:
Hate is such a strong word, and the term hate speech, in my opinion, is thrown around too easily. I agree that considering any naked body obscene, indecent, scary or ugly is wrong and damaging both to the individual being commented on and to society as a whole. Calling someone out for using hate speech immediately gets people on the defensive and may cause them to dig in on their position. Calling out someone for body shaming seems far more appropriate and might be more likely to cause people to consider their words more carefully.
Hate is a strong and visceral word but is body shaming hate speech? Perhaps hate speech is defined not by what is said, but by how the recipient hears the message. Does the right to freedom of speech override the right of the recipient to not be offended by the content?
There doesn’t appear to be an agreed definition of hate speech and for many, any definition may be subjective.
The Cambridge Dictionary:
Public speech that expresses hate or encourages violence towards a person or group based on something such as race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation (= the fact of being gay, etc.):
Speech or expression that denigrates a person or persons on the basis of (alleged) membership in a social group identified by attributes such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, physical or mental disability, and others.
The Council of Europe:
A term used to describe broad discourse that is extremely negative and constitutes a threat to social peace. According to the Committee of Ministers, hate speech covers all forms of expressions that spread, incite, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance.
Hate speech is not defined under international human rights law.
The UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech uses the following guide:
Any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender or other identity factor.
The distinction between hate speech and opinion can be cloudy, and there may well be a grey area between hate speech and freedom of speech.
We might not be able to articulate and define hate speech, but I am fairly sure that we know it when we hear it.
Newton Lee once commented that:
There is a fine line between free speech and hate speech. Free speech encourages debate whereas hate speech incites violence.
By Lee’s definition, body shaming might not be hate speech as it doesn’t incite violence, but it does cause harm and division. It may not meet the threshold of free speech as I’m fairly confident that it doesn’t encourage debate. If it’s not hate speech and it’s not free speech, perhaps it is simply bigotry or discrimination. Whatever it is, it is cruel, unkind and unacceptable in today's enlightened world.
Thank you for reading, have a comfortable day.