We need to talk about tone.

So here’s why I’m not “nice”.

Do you know what “nice” gets you? Nice gets you harassed on the street by guys who refuse to acknowledge that you are clearly uncomfortable with them hitting on you as you wait for the bus. Nice gets you passed over for promotions because you were the weakling who didn’t put herself forward. Nice means that when you’re raped, people will say it was your fault because you didn’t say “no” loudly enough, often enough or quickly enough to your rapist (who wouldn’t have listened anyway, but who cares about that?). Nice gets you not taken seriously. Nice is the inch you give that leads to a mile being taken.

Nice gets you a whole lot of nothing.

You may take issue with my anger. I’m here to tell you that I could not give less of a damn about your hurt feelings if I tried. I’m angry for a reason. I’m angry because nice has gotten me and other women like me and other women who aren’t like me at all absolutely nowhere, no matter how many times we’ve tried it. I’m angry because that is the only way people will sit up and take notice.

I’m angry because I have a right to be, and if you want to come into my spaces and try to police that anger, try to make me act nice because it’ll make my message more palatable for you, then I kindly invite you to take a rusty farm implement and fuck yourself with it, because you have colossally missed a point that I am getting very, very tired of explaining.

There is nothing militant or radical about anger. Anger is an entirely logical and reasonable response to decades upon decades of oppression, marginalisation, silencing and dehumanisation at the hands of the privileged.  Anger is what keeps us going in the face of man after man after man telling us that we do not deserve the fundamental human rights we are being denied. Anger is confronting, yes. It’s meant to be. You know why? Because the facts we’re dealing with here are pretty confronting things, and sugar-coating them so that you’ll find them easier to swallow is counter-productive.

It is a fact that women are raped and sexually assaulted in horrifyingly high numbers across the globe. It is a fact that women are being denied access to healthcare by men who think they are the best arbiters of what a woman should be allowed to do with her body. It is a fact that trans women, sex workers and women of colour are disproportionate targets of violence and other hate crimes. It is a fact that the system, such as it is, is so firmly rigged against women that compared to us, Sisyphus had it easy. It is a fact that women are paid seventy-five cents on the dollar to what men are paid in comparable positions. It is a fact that rape culture exists. It is a fact that women of colour are hyper-sexualised and fetishised, their bodies reduced to props on a white woman’s stage. It is a fact that female genital mutilation leads to morbidity and mortality of thousands upon thousands of women across the globe, even in the so-called developed world. These are confronting facts. They’re worth getting angry about.

You want to tell women to tone it down, to be less emotional, but the fact is that this is not a matter for abstract academic debate. These are our lived experiences. This is the metric fuckton of bullshit that we are forced to wade through every day in an effort to live our lives the same way the other fifty percent of the population are allowed to without impediment. What function would be served by being nice? Do you honestly think that if we piped down, stopped yelling, stopped marching and protesting and refusing to back down, that men would suddenly realise that we had a point and we needed to be listened to? Is that how you think the way the world works? If so, that’s a spectacularly huge rock you’re living under, because you are so out of touch that I have to question whether or not you’ve ever come into contact with any semblance of reality at all.

Nice gets us nothing. Nice gets us ignored, pushed aside, relegated to abstract academic arguments that can be debated by people in ivory towers who do not have to live what we live, who have never had to experience what we experience, who have never had their identities and humanity denied by a society that considers them second-best. Nice gets us no further to breaking the glass ceiling, no closer to liberation. Nice gets us crumbs from a man’s table and a pat on the head. Nice is useless.

Anger gets us heard. Anger is confrontational and in-your-face and impossible to ignore, and because of that, anger makes men uncomfortable. It makes them want to turn away because having the truth pushed repeatedly and persistently in your face by someone who won’t just shut up when you tell them to is not how men are used to experiencing the world. Anger got women the right to vote, the right to work, the right to have sex with who we choose, when we choose. Anger makes you listen, and just because you don’t like what you’re hearing, that doesn’t make the anger less valid or less justified or less necessary, because without that anger, you’d never have listened in the first place.

There is no room for nice in feminism. There is no room for nice in any movement for equality, because all nice does is uphold the status quo. It’s anger that gets us places. The fact that so many men feel the need to police it, to silence it however they can, is testament to its effectiveness. Anger works. And you’re damn right, it’s unpleasant and uncomfortable. That’s because “unpleasant and uncomfortable” is the reality of female existence in this society. It’s unpleasant and uncomfortable to hear the truth because the truth is nasty and violent and shameful. It’s a truth you helped build and maintain. Don’t be so surprised that you’re finally being made to face it.

I could have written this non-confrontationally, and it would have made no difference, because when people say, “you need to be nicer,” what they actually mean is, “you need to stop talking about these things I don’t want to hear.” And that’s not going to happen. This is the truth of the world that we live in and I am not going to stop shouting and marching and protesting just because you don’t want to face the facts. This anger is the result of every catcall, every man who thought my sexuality existed for him and turned nasty when he was proven wrong, every friend I know who was raped and never saw their rapist brought to justice, every trans woman who has contemplated or carried out self-harm or suicide, every sex worker who has been dehumanised and degraded and treated like trash, every woman of colour who has seen her sexuality turned into a sick parody of itself for the entertainment of white people. This anger is because of you.

You can’t stop it. You can’t silence it. I’m damn well not going to let you police it. So you might as well listen, because I’m not going to stop being angry until you do.

13 thoughts on “We need to talk about tone.

  1. Pingback: Ten ways to be a better male feminist | Days Like Crazy Paving

  2. The folly of youth isn’t believing that they have the world figured out. it’s believing that they’re the first generation to figure it out. You’re young, you’re passionate, and that’s good. Your mistake is believing that your anger will create results by virtue of how strongly you feel it.

    What you don’t realize yet is that your anger only affects yourself. The people that you’re angry at don’t feel your outrage in their gut. They go about their daily lives blissfully unaware of your anger or indifferent to it, and you only end up hurting yourself. Venting on the web doesn’t further your cause one iota. It might be cathartic, and you might connect with people, but when you wake up the next morning it’s still the same shitty world, and you still don’t have a coherent plan for how to change it.

    You have every right to be angry about the way the world mistreats women. But there’s a reason why most people only remember Valerie Solanas as the woman who shot Andy Warhol rather than for her manifesto. She thought her anger would transform society by the sheer scale of it, and 25 years later you’re making the same error. Angry people alienate friends and peers alike, so they end up accomplishing very little.

    I know that none of this will convince you. Time will be your teacher. Hopefully you’ll get wiser before life catches up with you and you find all of your energy sucked up by the daily grind. You might fool yourself into believing that you feel things too strongly to let life take you off-track, but that’s another folly of youth.

    • Your mistake is thinking that anger is all there is to me. Anger is just my fuel. Anger keeps me going when things seem hopeless. Anger clears my mind so I can make the kinds of plans that change the world.

      I’ve reached out to hundreds – thousands – of boys and men of all ages over the past couple of years. Have I changed every single one of their minds? No. But I still get comments almost daily from men and women alike telling me that my words have opened their eyes. I have seen boys who thought rape jokes were funny grow into men who will defend feminism to the death because of things I’ve said and done. I have seen what happens when I let myself get angry. What happens is that I make progress.

      Age does not always bring wisdom. Older men and women than me have gone their entire lives without making a fraction of the difference that I’ve made in just a few years. Anger powers me, but I fight with every ounce of neuroatypical genius I have, and I get results. If that’s folly, then call me a fool. I’d rather be a fool making changes than a wise woman staying silent.

  3. “Nice means that when you’re raped, people will say it was your fault because you didn’t say “no” loudly enough, often enough or quickly enough to your rapist (who wouldn’t have listened anyway, but who cares about that?)”

    this comes across as very victim-blamey i have to say! i mean i don’t think it’s intentional but really… if someone is getting raped and they are too afraid to say no, too paralised with fear to say anything.. doesn’t mean they are being “too nice”. and in the case that they do say no, which i’m certain many do… well you said it yourself… the rapist probably wouldn’t listen anyway!

    i do know what you’re saying about anger and i agree that it is an understandable and logical response to oppression, but in my experience, unless the anger is transformed into an outlet for active or creative force to bring about change, then it doesn’t really get us anywhere. i wouldn’t tell anyone to “tone it down” though because i’ve been on the receiving end of that.. however i do know that when our responses become so wrapped up and based on emotional reaction then it can often make it difficult to get our points across and many people won’t listen because they just write it off as being crazy and irrational. I’m not saying we should just “be nice” either…

    i’m on board with a lot of the points made here but i do worry that a few of these sorts of sentiments, especially when they generalise about things like “making men uncomfortable” (which implies that ALL men are at fault and to blame for patriarchy) that it can be detrimental to the cause and counter productive. for example when you said “It’s a truth you helped build and maintain.”… who are you referring to? the men reading the blog post? you’re tarring them all with the same brush, and it’s not like there haven’t been women who have also helped to keep patriarchal and sexist ideas alive as well.

    just my thoughts.

  4. Pingback: Quick Hit: Angry = Awesome

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  6. Pingback: Quick Hit: Angry = Awesome | Hoyden About Town

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