gillpolack (gillpolack) wrote,

On unintentional silencing

I can't stop thinking about some of the lateral damage from some of the blokes who are standing up for women's rights in various current controversies (the Gillard, the SFWA and more - there are a lot of these things around at the moment). There are some amazing gestures of solidarity, but a few of these gestures are misfiring.

I wasn't going to talk about it, but then I realised that in four of them (4! all by men I had regarded as fellow-travellers) I felt silenced. I felt as if my voice was not supposed to be in there. That I didn't have a legitimate thing to say because I wasn't the male lead of that conversation and because the conversation was (in each and every time) about a guy who had been offended at someone else when he had stood up for equality.

If our support silences or diminishes the people we're trying to help, then we're derailing conversations that need to be had by making ourselves the centre of other conversations.

I always wonder what we're doing when we do this. I can see what we're doing in Australia, when we make Indigenous issues about the rights of majority of Australia to speak, for that led to the NT Intervention and a lot of suffering. That's an extreme case, but one that's still going forward and unravelling lives. I can't see why my SF friends don't get the difference between defending someone and asserting one's own position. I'm always a little behind on this. Or I feel as if I am.

It's not that we shouldn't all speak. We should. We all have the right and need to speak up for ourselves and for others and to be vocal in our defence of human rights. It's that when we speak and we come from a position of privilege as regards a particular issue, we need to be super careful not to derail when we speak up about that issue. We need to make sure that the conversation doesn't become about us and our emotional needs instead of remaining about the people we want to defend.

I'm not naming anyone, for they were doing good things in speaking out. I just wish (and want, and write this post because of this wishing and wanting) that, if someone spoke out in support, they would follow through. The initial speech is just the start. If you really want to help the people you're speaking out for, then it has to be not about you the whole way through.

I want to say more, but that would entail talking about specific conversations. Two of these conversations silenced me at once, and the other two silenced me along the way. In all four instances, I belonged to the group the initial statements supported.

If you silence someone who you're supporting, then your support is more to make you feel good than to change our reality. How bad can that be? We just lost our first female Prime Minister over it, so I say it's very bad. I could talk about the effects of silencing on rape, on abuse, on life choices. I'm Jewish, and I've met supporters who silenced from Nazi Germany - this is the extreme case, where caring but silencing meant decades of guilt when the caring failed. It's a big subject with little happiness. The bottom line is that we all bear responsibility when we silence through making the conversation about ourselves and our good will, even if our silencing was a side-effect of something done with the best intentions.

Like some of my friends who have spoken out on related issues, I feel really bad writing this post. I was silenced, but the people who silenced me were people I care for who were trying to help. So I'm unsilencing myself, but it's difficult. One day I shall write about why it's difficult, but for now, I'm writing this post and it's stretching me as far as I can be stretched.

If we want to change our misogynist society, we have to understand that good will is not enough. Intentions are not enough. If we want to change our society for the better, we have to monitor the consequences of our speech and make sure we don't do damage.
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