Being P.C. Isn’t for Wimps

by | May 13, 2020 | General | 3 comments

I had a conversation with one of my writer’s group members about political correctness and censorship. She self-publishes through a major online book source, but I won’t say which one. She told me that not only have they tightened their standards on sexual content, they have begun censoring book covers. Their most recent edict states that covers for books they publish can display shirtless men, but if a woman’s body parts are even slightly exposed, they won’t allow it. I found this odd, because the traditional publisher I’m with uses shirtless male models and teasing flashes of bare breasts on occasion.

A few years ago, one of the major credit card providers threatened to drop online book retailers that posted sexually explicit excerpts on their sites. As a result, we all had to edit what our publishers had posted. I’d never seen so many asterisks flying around. The decision was eventually reversed, but we were still told to exercise caution when we submit an excerpt. What was interesting about this was that the company seemed more concerned about the words we used than the actual content. I noticed they didn’t propose the same ban on depictions of violence or racism.

A related item I ran across was courtesy of the Associated Press style guide. Apparently, it is now politically incorrect to use the word “mistress,” because it implies submissiveness and a subordinate relationship. I don’t mind retiring that word because mistress is really a bit old fashioned. The guidebook suggests that terms like companion, friend, or lover are acceptable substitutes. They didn’t mention “friend with benefits,” “girl on the side,” or “f***-buddy,” so I assume those are still safe. Some Realtors have also been told to stop using “master bedroom” and “master suite” when they write home listings. The thinking is that the word “master” could be construed as not only sexist, but racist. Where does this end???

We who write adult romance for a living now need to add these two m-words to our list of unacceptable euphemisms. It’s becoming a long list. We already have the n-word, f-word, s-word and c-word, among others. Soon, we may be using letters to communicate. That would make news reporting a lot of fun, wouldn’t it? “The President declared that the opposition was a bunch of b-words, and the opposing party leader replied that his speech was a steaming pile of s-word and that he was an a-word.” That’s almost as frustrating as deciphering someone’s butt-dialed texts. The AP guide also decreed that it’s okay to use “they” as a singular pronoun in some cases, but they didn’t say which ones. Who decides these things, anyway?

For a long time, it’s been considered somewhat insensitive to refer to a singular person as “they.” I’ve always been taught that “he” or “she” is the proper address. To refer to a person as “they” seems to lump them into a group or category, and to me, it’s cold and impersonal. There is also some confusion over how to refer to someone who is transgender. Do you reference them by their birth gender, or the one they’ve adopted? Is it considered insensitive to ask which they might prefer? Thanks to legislators who can’t make a decision over which restroom a transgender person can use, this is going to be with us for a long time.

Does anyone remember George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say on TV”? The rules have eased up since he wrote that skit in the 1970s, especially on cable networks, but there seems to be a double standard. If I watch a drama on one of the major broadcast networks, I won’t hear the s-word. If I watch something on USA or TNT, neither of which are pay channels, there it is. I recently watched an episode of the USA drama “Suits,” where profanities frequently fly. One of the characters used a variation of the f-word. It was silenced on the soundtrack, but you could see the actor’s mouth forming the word, so censoring it seemed pointless. That same episode also contained a character using a religious slur that breaks one of the Ten Commandments, but they let that one through.

You know, if the above-mentioned trend continues, we may have to change that to “The Seven Dirty Letters.”

A while back, I wrote a newspaper story about the Dayton LGBTQ Pride Festival. I interviewed a representative from a local drag queen cabaret group that would be performing. The man I spoke with gave me his stage name and his real name. To be considerate, I asked him which one he would prefer that I use in the story, to respect his privacy if he so wished. He said it didn’t matter and to use whichever name I wanted. His stage name was—drum roll, please—Fonda Peters.

I just couldn’t use that one and keep a straight face.

Tim Smith

Tim Smith is an award-winning bestselling author. His books range from romantic mystery/thriller to contemporary erotic romance. He is also a freelance photographer. When he isn't pursuing those two careers he can often be found in The Florida Keys, indulging his passion for parasailing between research and seeking out the perfect Pina Colada.


  1. Rupert ramsgate

    The bigger issue, which represents a dysfunctionality in our society, is the tolerance (nay, embracing) of images and descriptions of violence on humans by humans, but the disapproval and censorious shut-down of images and descriptions of sex between consenting adults.
    I have limited respect for any organization or individual that seeks to perpetuate that value judgment.

  2. Lisabet Sarai

    One of the advantages of self-publishing is that you have fewer masters (or mistresses) to keep happy. Of course Amazon can still throw you in the dungeon, and any outlet is free to object to any aspect of your story (Kobo refused to publish Sin City Sweethearts because it includes a ONE LINE incest fantasy) but at least you don’t have to worry about “house style”.

    Different words have different connotations. “Companion”, “lover”,”girl on the side” are not the same thing as a mistress! It does connote a relationship with unequal power, especially in the economic realm…. but it is what it is. Calling it something else is just confusing. (Not to mention silly.)

  3. Jean Roberta

    I agree. Actually, a specialist in linguistics in the English Department where I teach once told a group of us that “they” as a singular pronoun has a surprisingly long history. Apparently the censors are scrambling not to offend anyone who might complain.

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