The Word “Stupid” and Why You Shouldn’t Use It

The word “stupid” exists to justify discounting and disenfranchising individuals and groups. The idea behind it is “Some people are inherently inferior, so I don’t have to treat them with basic human respect.” The supposed mental inferiority of women, black people, people with disabilities ranging from cognitive to physical to emotional, fat people, and convicts has always been a primary argument and justification for their mistreatment.

Now, I know people are going to object to this. They’re very attached to their “right” to use the word stupid without critique. They will defend their use of the word and what they “really mean” when they say it. But if what you really mean is “willfully ignorant”, then say “willfully ignorant.” If what you really mean is “what you say is hateful and hurts people”, then say “what you say is hurtful and hurts people.” If you mean “that makes no sense”, say “that makes no sense.” If you mean “that’s factually incorrect”, say “that’s factually incorrect.” “Stupid” is not a precise label. The reason you want to use it is the exact reason you shouldn’t: Because it has power. And that very real power has been used to hurt very real people.

The concept of stupidity was used to justify keeping the right to vote from black men and women and from all women. Around the world disabled people are denied the right to vote, based on their presumed mental incompetence. The idea that cis women and trans men are too inherently “stupid” to make their own reproductive choices in regards to birth control and abortion is alive and well today. The idea that cognitively impaired adults are “stupid” and therefore worth less helps enable the subminimum wages paid to those same adults.

Calling someone “stupid” is no better or different from calling someone “crazy.” It has the capacity to do tremendous splash damage and it is not a word devoid of baggage. The word and the concept behind the word are both ableist and they have both been used to subjugate real horrors on real people. Horrors like institutionalization and incarceration, forced sterilization, political disenfranchisement, job discrimination, wage discrimination, and higher rates of bullying victimization.

“Stupid” people, whether that means people with a low IQ, women, fat people, racial minorities, or people who couldn’t afford to go to college in this economic reality, are more likely to be unemployed or under employed, more likely to be politically disenfranchised – yes, here in the US too – and are more likely to be bullied.

Lay the fuck off “stupid” people. “Stupid” has been used as a weapon and as a tool of oppression long enough. Let it go.

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