Thursday, November 29, 2007

Reality Check

Today I was silenced.

Normally I leave this stuff for my paper journal, but I'm sitting here at the computer and still processing, so here it is.

This evening, I stated my opinion amongst a mixed group of friends. We were discussing a possible protest occurring on campus tomorrow morning, and I said that I didn't think it was an effective method. I hadn't fully thought about why I thought this, and so, when the two males in the room started talking about how it would be effective and seemed like a useful idea idea to them, I stopped participating in the conversation. In my head I thought, "Well, clearly my opinion is not important. I'm not going to say anything else." And then I completely checked out of the conversation and read the newspaper. Soon after, I left for my house, totally disgruntled by the event that had just occurred.

I am a feminist. I believe that patriarchy oppresses women, and have actively felt oppressed in the past. But I had never really understood my role in the process. Patriarchy is not something that acts on women, leaving them helpless victims. Women and men both play a role in perpetuating the system. As I discussed the situation with one of the men in the conversation afterwards, he said he hadn't really noticed me withdraw. He agreed that there is a certain tone of voice some men subconsciously use (because of their privilege) that makes it seem like there is no room for another view. After I told him how I perceived the conversation, he realized that something had gone wrong.

I am really troubled that I allowed myself to be silenced. In conversation with one of my housemates, I realized that these situations mostly occur when my own opinion is not fully articulated. Often the males around me state their own opinion quickly, in a matter-of-fact tone of voice that leaves me feeling like there is little reason for me to state how I feel. I hate feeling powerless and deflated. I consider myself to be a very confident person who will fight to make her voice heard. But sometimes my interactions with some males make me want to check out. Make me think I have nothing to say.

The ironic thing? I had just finished reading some perspectives in the record about the silencing of females in the classroom.

When I came home, I wanted to throw up. The realization that I play a role in perpetuating patriarchy left me feeling physically ill. At the same time, I felt good, because I realize that as terrible as it is to see what is subconsciously occurring, the truth is that I wouldn't want to be clueless. Awareness is painful, but it allows me to change things. It also felt good to realize that I walked away angry at the system of patriarchy--not angry with the two males who were part of the experience. It felt good later, when I was sharing the experience with my housemates and a couple male friends, and realized that everyone wanted to hear my story, to discuss the issue, and to figure out what could be done.

"So who helps fix the problem?", someone asked. "We all do", another housemate answered. And it's true. I can work on saying, "Give me a moment to formulate my opinion," and telling those I converse with when I feel like the way they state their feelings leaves no room for my own thoughts. Teachers can work on changing their classroom climate so that conversation, not debate where the words used must be perfectly planned, can take place. Men can work to change their tone of voice to invite conversation. Together we can learn that it is not individual men and women that should be called out for their actions, but the system that must be called out. Presenting the problem in a way that makes men look like the enemy will not help. You don't want to help a cause that villanizes you. But we also cannot make excuses. As I talked with my housemate, we began to discount the situation by saying that maybe it was just personality issues, not a gender issue. No. We cannot change unless we identify the problem at hand and call it what it is: the unjust system of patriarchy.

Awareness is the first step. I am ready to move to social change. What can be done? I can't change everything, but I hope some little changes that I can make will become clear.


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  2. Hey!

    I just discovered your new blog through Abby's and was caught by this entry. Well said. Thanks for putting that out there.