Taking offence and the right to offend – two sides of the same coin?

I’ve been prompted to write this post by something that happened to me earlier in the week

It started innocuously enough with the casual sharing of what I saw as a humorous link (but with a serious message) onImage Facebook. The link had appeared on my timeline having been liked and shared by someone who I knew to be a passionate supporter of breastfeeding and an advocate of the rights of women to feel comfortable nursing their babies in public. I was further reassured by the unanimously positive comments of other women who had seen and responded to the original Facebook post. To be honest, I also thought that it was one of the funniest things that I’d seen for a while, and it had brought a smile to my face on an otherwise pretty serious day in work

Initially, responses to the shared link on my timeline were also positive and supportive, with a small number of my (female) friends liking the image and message, and/or referring the link to their friends in turn. I was surprised therefore to receive some feedback later that day suggesting that my decision to share the link on my Facebook page was damaging to my personal credibility and would be a cause of embarrassment to my children. I was taken aback by this. Whilst I had considered the possibility that the featured product might be pushing at the margins of good taste, I had been reassured that those who’d shared and commented on it had seen it as a subversive but positive reinforcement of the importance and social acceptability of breastfeeding, rather than something that was somehow shameful or capable of damaging reputations

The negative feedback had suggested that I should remove the link immediately. In the end, I decided to leave it where it was and to see what (if any) further responses there were. Typically (and in common with most of the stuff that I share on Facebook!), following the initial very small number of likes and comments, there was no more interaction. Of course, it’s hard to know whether this is because the 70 or so other people who I am friends with on Facebook were so appalled that they simply couldn’t lower themselves to comment/respond; whether they saw it, smiled and moved on; and whether they simply weren’t bothered by it one way or the other. For the record, my daughter thought it was a bit weird, but she certainly wasn’t embarrassed by the fact that I’d shared the link. It was a useful opportunity for us to discuss some of the issues around breastfeeding in public and why there’s still some work to do to tackle the negative responses that too many women have to overcome to give their babies the best possible start in life

I’ve drafted this blog post several times over in my head in recent days. Initially, it was a very indignant piece – railing against what I saw as the narrow-mindedness that could lead someone to conclude that sharing a picture of a crocheted hat could undermine my personal credibility or be a source of embarrassment to my family. Subsequently, it became a more ‘preachy’ piece – rallying the reader to challenge prejudice wherever it is encountered (and especially amongst friends and family) as part of a process leading to a better society for all of us (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/power-and-prejudice/201311/speak-or-stay-silent-5-reasons-confront-prejudice). But in the final analysis, I have arrived at a more considered position

Ultimately, each of us is the sum of those opinions, thoughts and perceptions that has been formed by our experiences, and by what we have seen and learned as we live from day to day. We each have the right to be offended by the ideas and actions of those around us, and we each have a duty to challenge ideas and actions that we believe to be wrong. And if we accept that we each have a right to take offence, then we must also accept that occasionally others will exercise their complementary right to offend

So – if my sharing of the boob beanie link was offensive to you, then I’m sorry for any distress caused and I accept your right to be offended by it; but I’m not sorry for sharing the link, and please be assured that I plan to continue to be moderately offensive whenever and wherever I feel that the end justifies the means!


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