Why I’m Tired of Being Polite

I like to think that, at least in the beginnings of things, I am generally a polite person.

As a woman, I have unfortunately been socialized to prioritize politeness, even when being polite is problematic.  I’ve been socialized to be friendly, even when I want people to go away, or to stop talking to me.  I’m socialized to stay quiet, when all I want to do is yell at someone that they’ve invaded my personal space and could they please move over two inches.  I’m socialized to be less confrontational, because confrontations cost me social capital; remember, women who call people out are “bitches”.

The problem is, I’m tired of being polite.  Being polite isn’t getting me anywhere.  And when polite conversation fails, I think the reality of the situation is that sometimes, you have to start yelling.

Bitches get stuff done

Soraya Chemaly wrote an incredible piece where she talks about the ten words all women need to learn to say: “Stop interrupting me”, “I just said that”, and “no explanation needed”.  In it, she talks about the ways in which women are frequently interrupted and ignored, how our perceptions about gendered talkativeness create the illusion that women are hogging conversation time when really they are being spoken over by their male colleagues, and how men tend to “mansplain” things to women.  In particular, she cites a story that Rebecca Solnit included in her fantastic 2008 essay, “Men Explain Things to Me”, wherein Solnit listens to a man go on and on about this important book that had come out, while her friend kept interrupting him to say that it was Solnit’s book.  And as both Solnit and Chemaly point out, almost every woman has a story like this, a situation where a man was given credit for the work they did, a case where someone kept explaining things to them even though they knew more than the man who would not stop talking.

Solnit raises an incredibly important point at the end of her piece: at the core of the feminist movement is a battle to make women and their stories credible, so that we will actually hear them when women speak their truths.  This is the most fundamental part of work to reduce and combat sexual violence, intimate partner violence, and other major issues disproportionately impacting women.  The problem is that even today, as we continue to battle to make women’s voices heard, and make our stories be taken seriously, we are being talked over.

We are being talked over by money, reputation, perceived social value.  We are being talked over when individuals like Bill Cosby and Charlie Sheen are permitted to have massively successful careers in spite of allegations and convictions which demonstrate that they are abusers.  We are being talked over when we celebrate and protect male student athletes at the expense of female student survivors.  We are being talked over when very real issues regarding consent education and the need for better response mechanisms at universities are overshadowed by schools desperately blaming institutions like Greek life.  We are being talked over when survivors are still being functionally put on trial because they need access to services, or simply want justice.

It sometimes feels, in fact, that I can only talk to people close to me about issues related to intimate partner violence, or even just to other survivors, because I’m sometimes unsure if other people will even take what I’m saying seriously.  That is unacceptable.  The movement has tried to be incredibly reasonable, pushing for better tools to help individuals cope with trauma, pushing for reforms to make the system more accessible, working to combat major media issues regarding reporting on sexual assault.  We’ve tried to be reasonable as we calmly point out why rape jokes are not funny, or how trauma impacts individuals in the classroom, only to receive push-back from the broader community, only to be told that we are overreacting.

I’m tired of having to be polite about these things.  Rape jokes are not funny; they legitimize the actions of rapists, if not in the eyes of outsiders than at the very least in the eyes of rapists, and that is not a joke.  Being triggered is not overreacting, nor is it psuedoscience (I’m looking at you, New York Times); it is a very real psychological phenomena wherein an individual experiences an uncontrollable reaction to their trauma, even though they are no longer in danger.  No one is telling soldiers who have survived in combat zones that their PTSD is illegitimate; it’s only survivors of things like intimate partner violence whose narratives and experiences are still being questioned.

I’m tired of having to defend the idea that I, as a woman, and as a survivor, have a right to exist in professional, social, and academic spaces, without fear that I will be personally attacked simply for existing.  I’m tired of feeling like I have to apologize for having lived these experiences, for caring about them.  I’m tired of having to apologize for being “rude” or “bitchy” when I call people out for belittling me, for minimizing my experiences or the experiences of others, for writing off intimate partner violence as if it does not matter.  It absolutely matters, and pretending it doesn’t is further proof that one exists in a place of privilege where they can afford to minimize an experience that has managed not to impact them or those they love.

Being polite isn’t getting us anywhere, and I’m ready to start being blunt.  I’m ready to start being sharp.  I’m ready to be called a bitch.  The truth is, I don’t care what you call me, because a blind reluctance to engage with the ideas I am putting forward, a stubborn insistence that simply because an issue has not impacted you I am “overreacting”, is the worst kind of intellectual cowardice. It’s a refusal to deal with a problem that you on some level know exists but for which confrontation would make you uncomfortable.  I want you to be uncomfortable-~-and why shouldn’t I?  (After all, you want me to be uncomfortable so you can have “meaningful intellectual debate” about issues that impact my daily life).  Recognizing that an issue is uncomfortable means that you’re noticing that something isn’t right here, and now maybe, finally, we can talk about ways to change it.

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~ by Randi Saunders on May 14, 2015.

One Response to “Why I’m Tired of Being Polite”

  1. […] 10. Why I’m Tired of Being Polite […]

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