Similar to you, I think that the mainstream liberal conception of political correctness is fucked up. On the other hand, I would venture a guess that our reasoning for this contention differs radically. In order to maintain the peace and avoid offending people, we are encouraged to censor ourselves.
This sort of argument generally assumes that some words are bad, and in order to rectify their badness, we should stop saying them. Unfortunately, not saying certain words does not lead to not thinking them or to not acting upon them. Words do not exist as inconsequential, superficial, and disconnected manifestations of our thoughts and actions. Rather, I would argue (and so would many) that they are only the tip of the iceberg.
To put it simply, ideas don’t precede language – it’s language that creates ideas. We see, hear and use words, but we forget the history and the context that underlie, inform, and enact every single one, finally to create the world in which we live.
That being said, I have a serious problem with people dismissing the anger generated by sexist or otherwise oppressive comments. True, not everyone will get pissed when you invoke ideas that imply women and femininity are inferior to men and masculinity. But if I do get indignant, don’t you dare tell me to lighten up. In a society where women and femininity are subordinate, it’s much easier to disregard sexist humour when you’re not the target. And when you call for the “free exchange of ideas (and jokes!),” what you seem to mean is, “I’m going to be as sexist as I see fit, and you’re going to take it.” This certainly isn’t new: a privileged group telling an oppressed group that oppression doesn’t exist whilst firmly reasserting it. You want to achieve “unity” through sexist humour? I wonder on whose terms that unity is going to be defined.
U4 Women’s Studies