Thursday, June 3, 2010

on learning how to STFU

I argue with people. A lot. Sometimes I raise my voice and shake my fists while I'm arguing. I say inflammatory things and I swear a lot. Often, I'm told, I seem very, very angry while I'm arguing. This is usually because I am very, very angry.

I get mad because there's a lot to get mad about. I argue because certain issues matter to me. And I say inflammatory things sometimes because I'm impulsive, and I'm impulsive because the things that make me mad pop up spontaneously and unexpectedly. If you're not mad, after all, then maybe you haven't been paying attention.

I'm also a woman, by the way, and one who was successfully inculcated into a cultural belief system that prefers its women to STFU. Good job, patriarchy: You did your job well. I want people to like me. I don't like making waves. And I hate making people mad.

But I'm also doing my damnedest to kill that part of me that wants to be seen as cute and polite and deferential and modest. I've written before about the challenges of choosing this path; over in that blog post, I wrote this:

If you're a woman and you want to be heard, especially in academia, you have to knock on every door, announce your presence to everyone, and holler your qualifications at everyone in earshot. And if you do it right, people will hate you.

I've been thinking recently about the extent to which "doing it right" leads to silencing of other people or groups of people. I'm such an enormous loudmouth that I suspect that, for example, my presence in an argument means other women in the room are less likely to be heard. When I speak to my experience of prejudice or oppression, I always run the risk of silencing someone whose experience is different from mine. I understand oppression from the perspective of a queer woman, but as a white, thin, able-bodied queer woman I often speak from within the tower of privilege that comes with these features.

So how do I balance my desire to kill the deference I was enculturated to embrace while still knowing when and how to STFU and let others speak?


Ironicus Maximus said...

Two sides to that coin there Ms. Semi-Doc feisty lady ma'am. On the one hand you may be causing others in the room to be less, shall we say assertive in their views as you are sucking all the argument out of the room.
On the other hand you may be providing some with a role model of a woman who is engaged (or is it enraged?) outspoken and willing to take on the bozos.

Of course that's just our opinion. We could be wrong. Please don't hurt us.

idagain said...

From one white, thin, able-bodied, cuss-mouth queer woman to another: never STFU. Perhaps some moments of deep breaths and pauses to allow some other voices a chance, but never, never, never STFU. There IS a lot to get mad about, and the reasons for that anger should be voice and addressed. There is too much silence already for fear of upsetting the status quo. Better to be the bitch than the doormat. Just sayin'

Jenna McWilliams said...

aww, thanks, guys. I like thinking of myself as an argument vacuum, sucking all the argument out of the room. It's true that I seem to draw all the argument toward me no matter what room I walk into.

Chuck said...

Holy Moly............. forget the story-telling: we have a lot to talk about on this topic. So many words, so little time. and I am coming from a side of the spectrum that generally might prove to be your antagonist - though surely you know that I hold you in the highest esteem and regard.

A lotta loud talkin' to be done...



lauramcwilliams said...

Ah, I'm told that in the legal world, some of the most successful female lawyers are the ones who speak quietly and with reserve. The jurors, you see, have witnessed the bombast from the male lawyers. They've seen the judge control the courtroom from on high. The jurors lean in to hear what the quiet voice in the room is telling them. I'm not saying it's right; I'm just saying that's how it is. Different arena, I know, but still an interesting observation.


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