Thursday, May 28, 2009

Silence is not an option

It's so easy to tell someone to shut up, to write their opinion off as invalid just because it is different from your own. I quickly learned that just because something is easy, doesn't mean it's right. I used to have problems with writing people off when they disagreed with me, but I have worked hard to overcome this and make sure that my own views on subjects are as strong as possible by hearing all sides of the argument.

For other people, though, listening seems to be a very large, nearly insurmountable challenge. Especially when they know they are talking to an outspoken feminist. This has happened both in my real life and my time spent as a feminist blogger. I didn't really realize how readily people will tune you out and try to shut you up, though, until last night.

I wasn't prepared for what happened to me. A young woman I am very close to hurt me, using the same tactics that anonymous trolls have used on this blog. It started with me stating my opinion on a tattoo that she wanted to get. Swiftly, her boyfriend swooped in and (to give a very much abbreviated version of what happened), told me I was wrong and that she could do whatever she wanted. He said several times that I supposedly think I am better than people because I think I'm smarter than everyone. He finished with a hearty, shut the fuck up no one gives a shit what you think about this, or anything else.

He wasn't listening to me as I tried to explain why I felt the way I did about things. Instead, he swore at me, changed the topic to something completely unrelated to try to discredit my character, and tried to silence me by telling me that no one cared about my opinion. The young woman saw this happen, and when I got a moment alone with her, I told her that what her boyfriend had done was not right and that it hurt me deeply. I told her that silencing me and insulting me was not acceptable on his part. She didn't acknowledge my feelings and justified his actions by saying, "He was standing up for me!" I tried once more to get her to acknowledge that the way her boyfriend had behaved was wrong. I had handled myself civilly. It's possible to steer clear of personal attacks and silencing techniques, but he had chosen to use them. She still refused to acknowledge my feelings or that he was wrong, and told me that my opinion means nothing to anyone other than myself, implying that I should just keep my thoughts and ideas to myself.

And this all ties into blogging because the theme of me being overly opinionated ran throughout the whole awful ordeal. The young woman asked me, as soon as I stated my displeasure with her idea, why I have to be so opinionated all the time. She soon showed that she associates me having opinions and being unafraid of telling and standing behind them with me acting like I'm better than people. She made it clear that she feels that because I have a blog, I must think I'm smarter than most people.

This blew my mind. Because I don't always agree with people, and because I will not tolerate being called names and being silenced merely for disagreeing, somehow that makes me the one with the superiority complex? Because I take the time to make sure my discussions are as civil as possible, I am the one with the problem?

I get accused of this a lot in comments on this blog, too. When someone leaves a comment that insults someone and it doesn't make it through moderation, a wave of comments comes in from the same reader saying things along the lines of, "Oh you think you're so smart, so much better than everyone. That's why you won't post my comment! You obviously think that you're never wrong!" But trust me, hearing those sentiments hurts a lot more when it comes from someone you're close to.

And even while I was being told that by blogging and having opinions, I am acting like I am better than other people, I was thinking. The idea of women's voices can be so very troubling to people, especially when those voices are challenging or critical of, well, anything. It's much easier to tell women who are criticizing gender roles, tattoo ideas, or the Patriarchy to shut the fuck up than to acknowledge that their opinions are valid. The picture on the left is me speaking at my second open mic at Take Back The Night at Knox College. I was discussing some unpublished blog comments that had attempted to get me to stop talking because what I was saying just wasn't important.

I will not shut up. I will not accept that my opinions only matter to myself. My power comes from my voice, and my unwavering committment to use it. If what I say doesn't please you, I don't care. You can disagree with me without silencing me. And I will not be silenced.

21 comments:

Tasha said...

Have you seen the "Knox feminists make me ashamed to be a woman," Knox postsecret and the over sixty comments following? It's an interesting and infuriating conversation. In a strange way, I find it infuriating on both sides of the argument. I will write a blog post about it.

Ashley said...

Yay for not being silenced! Even at Knox!

Tiberius said...

That's it, Amelia! Don't listen to bullies who'd rather throw rocks from a distance than battle hand to hand. I suggest you post some of the more ignorant comments in another blog post talking about the importance of open discussion and listening to what both sides of an argument have to say. It is possible to have a debate without regressing to fourth grade tactics.

FeministGal said...

Amelia, i am sorry about what happened to you - it's a shitty situation to be in when you lose friends for what you believe it. trust me, i've been there plenty as i got more and more involved with feminism during and after college.

"I didn't really realize how readily people will tune you out and try to shut you up, though, until last night." It's true. i can have the most civil and intelligent conversations with people and the second i mention that i'm a feminist i get tuned out. like my identification with a social and political movement should nullify and discredit my point of views - it's infuriating (and also why my blog is named what it is) ;)

Don't let anyone silence you! And this woman will (hopefully) realize that her partner acted badly, and maybe even apologize down the line. To tie it into blogging: i think that blogging teaches us about all sorts of concepts like silencing and trolling and keeping our cool. a lot of people outside the blogosphere haven't had these experiences or know these ideas - it takes someone to teach others this but if others don't want to listen it's their loss - you just keep on keepin on ;)

<3 much love!

Kels said...

aimee you need to chill. this is not worth debating - not everyone is going to listen to your ideas all the time, not everyone is going to agree with you all the time, and most importantly - you need to know when to share your views, and when to keep silent, especially in this matter. you are acting so childish.

Amelia said...

@Tasha: I have seen that Knox PostSecret post. I commented for the first couple of times on it today, firstly just to get people to cool down to make sure that the discussion was productive, and then to answer some questions posed by someone. A blog post about it would be excellent.

@Tiberius and @FeministGal: Thanks so much for the support! I think that Kels's comment really illustrates what FeministGal said about people outside of blogging who don't seem to fully understand the concepts of silencing and unfair debate. All she had to offer "you're acting childish" (why? because I brought up this problem) and suggested that my post was irrelevant and that I should just shut up about it. She illustrates that quite well, I think.

But thanks for the support. It's refreshing to see that. :)

Amelia said...

And thanks to you, Ashley! Sorry! I posted your comment later than the others. :)

FeministGal said...

Kels, i don't mean to be rude but "not everyone is going to listen to your ideas all the time" and "you need to know when to share your views, and when to keep silent" is EXACTLY what is wrong with people who don't think through the effects of oppression and privilege. Who the hell are you to tell others when they're allowed to speak up and when they should shut up? You don't get to make those decisions. Even though i may not agree with your point of view i will fight hard to make sure you have a chance to speak it. Because everyone deserves that right, regardless of whether they hold your same belief or not. Frankly, i think YOU are the one acting "childish" here, because adults should be able to discuss all sides to an issue without trying to silence and oppress one another's beliefs.

Samriah said...

i'm curious - what were you really upset about, that a close friend did not admit that her boyfriend treated you rudely, or that you wanted an apology but did not get one? some suggestions a) do not assume that just because someone did not want your opinion, it was because of Patriarchy or because they did not want a woman to speak her thoughts; simply, it is most likely because of the growing irritation that your friend was feeling towards you, and b) welcome to this world where there are lots of people who do not care for what you or I or the next person would have to opine on. it has nothing to do with Patriarchy; simply, it is because people just don't want to be told that their opinion is not valid, or they perhaps just want to be left alone. just like you were hurt that your friend did not seem to support you or want to admit that her bf was wrong, there are others who also do not want to admit that they are wrong and equally believe that they are right. but i am sorry that you were treated uncivilly.

Amelia said...

Samriah, I was very upset that this person did not seem able or willing to admit that her boyfriend had been out of line. And I clarified with both of them exactly why I felt the way he behaved with inappropriate. I tried to make it very clear, and still no apology was offered. Both offenses were very troubling to me.

And about your suggestions.

a) do not assume that just because someone did not want your opinion, it was because of Patriarchy or because they did not want a woman to speak her thoughts; simply, it is most likely because of the growing irritation that your friend was feeling towards youIn this post I was merely drawing a parallel between my personal experience with this young man and my experiences as a blogger. Because when I get anonymous comments telling me, "Shut up! This doesn't matter! Why don't you talk about something that's actually important, like x," it is indeed a side effect of the Patriarchy. If a (presumably male) commenter can come into a feminist safe space and feel entitled to boss around the writers, sometimes calling them names, typically telling them that what they write about isn't important, that has everything to do with privilege that is bestowed upon males in the Patriarchy.

b) welcome to this world where there are lots of people who do not care for what you or I or the next person would have to opine on. it has nothing to do with Patriarchy; simply, it is because people just don't want to be told that their opinion is not valid, or they perhaps just want to be left alone.I still find it odd that many people who have read this post (and haven't commented here, but have talked to me off this blog) come away from it thinking that I somehow think that everyone who reads this should agree with me, and that they should want to hear my opinion.

Well, first of all, all of those people obviously did care about what I had to say to some degree because they took the time to read this post. But where did I say that everyone has to agree with me and has to want to listen to me? I do think that if you are insulting to someone, and they tell you how they feel, and you refuse to apologize, you should listen to them and right your wrongs. But that's just common decency, which I think all people should subscribe to. All I said was that I'm not going to shut up just because someone tells me to. I will continue blogging and speaking up regardless of who listens.

And again, if a woman is involved in a conversation with a man(which takes two people, mind you) and he flat out refuses to listen to the woman, yes, that does have to do with Patriarchy. Again, with male privilege, of being able to assert that his voice is more important than the woman's, for no good reason.

Vetiver said...

Please don't ever be silenced. You're inspiring.

Amelia said...

Thanks, Vetiver! What a compliment. :)

Change said...

Good to know that you refuse to be silenced.

Anonymous said...

And again, if a woman is involved in a conversation with a man(which takes two people, mind you) and he flat out refuses to listen to the woman, yes, that does have to do with Patriarchy. Again, with male privilege, of being able to assert that his voice is more important than the woman's, for no good reason.To assume it always has something to do with "patriarchy" is flat out wrong.

When I was out on a smoke break, and a woman came up to me, and told me I should quit, because my future kids might not have a father if I die of lung cancer, and I told her that I don't care what she thinks about my smoking, and I don't care for her opinion, because I don't even want kids, that's because her opinion is worthless to me. Not because it came from a woman. Not because of "patriarchy". Just because the opinion was given without me asking for it, it was just dropped on me as if I should somehow be grateful to have it.

Just because a woman is the one saying something, doesn't mean what she's saying is suddenly of value, and that anyone male HAS to listen. Being uninterested in someone's opinion is quite a common thing, and has nothing to do with any sort of "patriarchy".

Unless you think that if a woman speaks to a man, he MUST let her present her opinion, no matter what.

Amelia said...

@Anonymous:

There are several assumptions you make that are incorrect. First of all, it's short-sighted to assume you know more about my personal experiences than what was presented in my post. I feel like I will have been on repeat when I explain that I never claimed that people had to listen to me. I said that I will not be silenced by those who don't want to listen to me. If they don't want to hear my opinion, they can leave. They don't need to spend time reading my blog. That does not, however, mean I will stop stating my opinion, even if no one wants to hear it.

Also, in my personal experience, which you claim to know more about than you actually do, I first stated my opinion after the young woman told me her idea. She offered her idea, I gave mine back. The problem was when her boyfriend jumped in and started telling me to shut up merely for responding to this woman's opinion with my own. That's not right.

I'm not even going to address your problems with me talking about the Patriarchy because I have talked about that in other comments.

Anonymous said...

I said that I will not be silenced by those who don't want to listen to me.And that's what I'm talking about. You can and WILL be silenced by someone who doesn't want to listen to you. That's their right. You have no right to barge in, and demand they listen. Someone not listening to you isn't the same as them silencing you.

You're still quite welcome to give your opinion where it's welcome.

You say you aren't demanding people listen to you, but then you say you refuse to allow people to NOT listen.

If they don't want to hear my opinion, they can leave. In public, why should THEY leave? Why wouldn't YOU leave?

If you approach someone to present your opinion, and they don't want to hear it, it's your responsibility to go somewhere else, not theirs.

You specifically said that if a man flat out refuses to listen to a woman, that it's "patriarchy", as if men are required to listen to you because you have a vagina. This is not the case. It has nothing to do with any sort of "patriarchy". Don't try to create a world where everything a woman does is important and must be taken note of, simply based on the fact that she's a woman.

If you say something I don't like, I don't care if you're a he, a she, an it, a they, or a them. I will tell you what I think about what you're saying, and it's not patriarchy. It's freedom of speech, and the fact that I have just as much right to express an opinion as anyone else.

Yours isn't any more valid because of your gender.

I just can't fathom why you believe that if a man doesn't care about a woman's opinion on something, that it must be "patriarchy".

It sounds like a lot of matriarchy to claim that a woman's opinion must be heard simply because she's a female.

Amelia said...

@Anonymous:

I will answer this one last comment, but because you keep bringing up the same issues that I have already addressed, I will not be tolerating more. You've said your bit, repeatedly, I might add.

Being silenced by someone who doesn't want to listen to me is not their right. I have the right to talk. Especially on this blog, which I created and invited people to come into for purposed of discussion. You telling me that I have to deal with other people's "right" to tell me to shut the fuck up is not acceptable here. This is my space, I will speak when as how I please. And in my personal situation (which sparked this post) the man who told me to shut up was barging in on a conversation that should have been kept between me and the young woman who originally told me her idea (which I commented on). I wasn't forcing my opinion on him. I was stating it to someone else, who basically asked for it, and he told me to shut up. Not okay.

You're still quite welcome to give your opinion where it's welcome.If people had to make sure their opinion was welcome before they stated it, there would be no discussion on any issue that had more than one side to it because those who disagreed would silence others by saying, "Your opinion is not welcome here." That is so absurd I can't really believe it.

And anyway, it is not your place to come to my blog and tell me how to conduct myself in my life. Even though the truth behind my actions goes against every false claim you have made against me (forcing people to listen to me, not allowing anyone to disagree with me), you still feel entitled to tell me that I am wrong and that I need to modify my behavior. Male privilege, anyone? (And yes, that is a symptom of Patriarchy)

Yours isn't any more valid because of your gender.Again, with you making false assumptions about me. When did I say that because I'm a woman my opinion is more valid? I didn't. That is why I will probably not be posting more comments from you. You are basing your arguments on things about me as an individual that are not true, assuming that that is how I think, when I do not.

Oh, and the idea of me having to leave if someone doesn't want to hear my opinion? Absurd. As this relates to this post, it makes absolutely no sense, since the people telling me to shut the fuck up involved themselves willingly in a conversation they were not originally part of. I will not be told that I should have left them when they entered the conversation on their own. Absurd, absurd, absurd.

Renee said...

I agree telling someone that they are opinionated for defending themselves is a classic silencing tactic. It is particularly common to have this aimed at women while at the same time ignoring the role that gender has to play. Patriarchy needs women to be submissive ad collude for it to continue in its hegemony. When we stand and demand to be counted it is seen as a direct revolt.

Jha'Meia said...

Amen.

I'm sorry to hear your friend allowed you to be thusly silenced =( It's rough when people you consider friends don't think you're worth defending, and feel threatened by your opiniated attitude.

Thank you for your voice.

Lauren O said...

I am cracking up at Anonymous's comments. A woman who wants the same right to be heard as a man CLEARLY just wants special treatment. I guess that makes sense if you think that the natural order of the world is men being above women. How telling that he sees equality as an unfair advantage to women. No wonder he doesn't want to assign a name to his comments.

lindsay said...

We encounter it all the time online - the dismissal of opinions, silencing, being told to sit down and shut up. We chalk it up to the anonymity of the internet and tell ourselves that people behave better when they're in person. Your encounter blasts that out of the water - people are still jerks and still engage in silencing tactics (knowingly or not) in face to face conversations.