I started my corporate career as a technical editor.
I worked with rocket scientists at the Missile Defense Agency; retired firefighters, police and EMS at the Federal Emergency Management Agency; and software engineers and architects at a variety of companies.
Every one of them was convinced that their particular set of obfuscatory* jargon was absolutely essential to include in every document.
“My audience will understand this!” they’d insist (while often making it very clear that they considered their young, female, very fat editor unqualified to engage with their materials).
The core of my job was to manage and push back against this tendency, for a few reasons:
- Often, their audience wasn’t people with the exact same background, but managers, prospects, end users or legislators.
- Using jargon is often a way to limit audiences to those the author approves of.
- Plain language is more effective communication, period.
I did this work for ten years.
In other words, I know audience-limiting bull when I see it.
There was a period of time in which both Lindo Bacon and Lucy Aphramor were releasing essays and statements left and right about reinventing Health at Every Size®.
I agreed with the statements being made around these essays. HAES does indeed need fixing. It desperately needs a stronger anti-racism framework, among other things.
So when Lindo and Lucy spoke, I listened hard. These folks were long-respected leaders in my movement, and I trusted them to lead. I assumed they’d done the work to back up their claims of solving the problems.
But when I earnestly dug into their essays, I found that there was no there there. These essays, among their other issues, threw fat people under the bus. They were wordy, incredibly paternalistic and condescending, and the suggested replacement frameworks included no input from fat people or BIPOC.
Lucy’s essay, in addition to using deep academic jargon, just made up words. An example: “Obgobbing,” defined as “when we use oppressive language around a group of people.”
I earnestly reached out to each of them, convinced that if I politely shared my expertise with language to help them improve, they’d be eager to do so, since the goal was liberation, not personal gain, right?
You’ve seen what resulted when I reached out to Lindo. I was informed that I didn’t have the education necessary to even engage with them.
I’ve never reached out to Lucy privately, but I did add a gentle comment to the discussion when Lucy shared one of their essays in a fat studies group.
The response felt very familiar: I was informed that I didn’t have the education necessary to even engage with them. And other academics jumped on me until I slunk away.
In hindsight, the exclusionary nature of the essays was a feature, not a bug.
The input of riffraff like me (and other marginalized people who aren’t able to access academia) wasn’t wanted.
These essays were designed to make the eyes of non-academics glaze over (praxis! dogma! heightened reactivity! obgobbing!) so that the real experts could continue to consolidate power and discuss things without the little people getting in the way with their demands for justice and inclusion.
Both Lindo and Lucy like to talk about replicating oppressive frameworks. Weaponing academic jargon and subject matter expertise does exactly that.
If my bachelor’s degree in English and career in editing aren’t enough background for me to engage with you, then what about the people who don’t have my privileges?
Let me put it as clearly as possible: Plain language that includes everyone, or GTFO.
*I, too, can use the big words.