A conversation doesn’t end when you bow out

I’m sorry, but I’m also not sorry about the need to talk about this some more.

Julie wrote something last night that brought tears to my eyes: your silence is protection they do not deserve. If you have not read this, and if you have not read Jessica Olin’s piece about not being sorry linked above, please do.

I’ve been thinking about those two posts and at the same time, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be likable or unlikable, as Reynje wrote about last week, and as I’ve linked to before where it relates to fiction. Both of these pieces are tied inherently to our social beliefs about gender and gender roles.

Every day I struggle personally with being nice. I believe in being critical, in being thorough, in being thoughtful — and being critical sometimes comes across as being mean and negative, even when it’s not.  Sometimes being critical means being unlikable. This isn’t just in a reading and book context. It’s not just about how people are going to react to or take in what it is I choose to write about on my blog, in my space. It’s in a bigger, social, I’m-a-person-living-in-this-world sort of way. I’m critical of everything because I see being critical as being part of a conversation. This doesn’t mean I’m dissatisfied all the time (though I believe wholeheartedly in the ways that dissatisfaction can be motivating). It means that when I’ve got a stake in the game, I’m going to give it my all. I’m going to find those things that need to be discussed and discuss them. It may be in my own introverted way, but I am not shy about speaking up when I need to.

Sometimes this makes people not like me. Sometimes it makes me not like me. Writing and posting a critical review gets me wound up and makes me question what I’m doing and whether or not it’s even worth it. I’m not beholden to anything nor am I obligated to speak up and share my thoughts. But I do it anyway, even when it hurts sometimes. Even when I know there are consequences to be had.

And sometimes those consequences suck.

But a conversation doesn’t end when you choose to bow out. A conversation doesn’t always end when you feel as though your own needs have been met.

There’s no need to rehash the gender in librarianship conversation again. But maybe there’s something worth thinking about in this conversation about the way we’re having the conversation. About the way we have conversation more broadly.

What is the line between being dramatic and having a serious, sustained dialog? Is there one? I’m legitimately curious about what happens when a hypothetical male librarian, who has earned a reputation for being a partier or for being a rock star or for being well-known in the field, states his case and a female librarian states a similar case but finds herself being labeled as jealous or dramatic for raising the same issues. Wherein she’s hysterical for wanting to be critical about something and wanting to bring to light some of the thoughts she’s having. Worse, why is it she gets bullied for having those thoughts?

And again, let’s remember for the record that there are thoughts and there are feelings. Sometimes one can impact the other, but never is a person, male or female, having thoughts that should be dismissed as feelings. Thoughts are informed by feelings, as feelings can be informed by thoughts. Both are legitimate. Both are okay to have. Neither are worthy of dismissal, period.

Let me be clear about something else, too: bullying someone for their thoughts has come from both males and females. Both are equally responsible for downplaying the thoughts and the larger dialog going on right now.

Both are equally responsible for suggesting these conversations are “kerfluffles.” That this dialog more broadly is about being dramatic, about being sore losers, about not putting one’s time in yet.

Why is it that when the discourse is itself about discourse that the arrows are sharpened? When a woman stands up for herself and says she’s tired of being treated this way and that she’s tired of having to constantly defend her own thoughts and actions, she’s called a host of names. She’s seen as unlikable. She’s seen as someone who is nothing but drama. She’s so often talked down into silence. Worse, she’s talked into feeling as though she has something to be sorry for, even when there is absolutely nothing to be sorry for.

And when a lady doesn’t apologize, help us all.

There are people this field who stand up and admit to saying things simply to get a rise out of people, even if it means taking other people down in the process. It ups their stats. They continue to earn time in the spotlight and draw attention to themselves and they do so without so much as being called what they are: a troll.

A line can be drawn between playing devil’s advocate and being an asshole. We all know where that line lies. Even those who participate know. They just choose to continue acting on one side of the line and not the other.

Because they have the privilege to do so.

I’ve been chewing these thoughts over in light of Julie’s post about silence. I’ve been chewing it over in terms of being an introvert and about how sometimes, silent time with someone else is the most intimate and most revealing time. It’s satisfaction and comfort.

Silence is nice.

Silence is likable.

The only way to change the conversation and the only way to change the broader dialog is to keep having it. The only way to enact change is to be an agent of change, to keep speaking up and to keep calling people out.

It’s not a matter of jealousy — no one is jealous of “rock star” status because we’re all rock stars at what we do by simply doing it every day and constantly striving to do it better. These conversations start because people want to do it better. But by belittling someone’s passion, by telling them they’re being silly or are being dramatic, the dynamics of power and privilege shine through loud and clear.

Just because you got yours doesn’t mean everyone did. Just because you got yours, it doesn’t mean the conversation is over. And just because you’re tired of having it, that doesn’t mean other people are.

Sometimes, the conversations will never end — sometimes, the conversations about gender, about power, about what it means to be seen as a leader or what it takes to earn recognition don’t have an end point.

But it doesn’t stop them from being important.

What we do at this point is keep talking. We keep lifting one another up, and we keep celebrating the achievements made through the course of living our lives day to day. We continue to support and encourage one another to speak up and out and do so in the exact way that they need to do so — that we acknowledge the value in and of speaking, of conversing, of approaching this dialog as a dialog. Because it’s not only about what’s being said. It’s also about how it’s being said.

I’m not tired of lifting people up yet.

I’m also not sorry for keeping this dialog going.

Anonymous comments are off. You can own your words. 

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    • says

      Your post yesterday was fantastic and enlightening and, at the same time, incredibly sad. What can we do other than continue to talk and continue to keep it going. That's the only way we make progress, right?

  1. says

    This is such an excellent post, Kelly. As an introvert, someone new to blogging, and someone who suffers from social anxiety, I've been giving a lot of thought lately to what I say and how I say it. In the past, I've found myself stepping out of conversations, or not speaking up, because I'm afraid to rock the boat. Or because I'm afraid to have my opinion thrown back in my face, or being called "too sensitive" (because I'm a woman, of course), or "too critical". I'm trying to change that, to learn to speak when I need to speak, and not apologise for it, when I think it's important.

    • says

      It's not easy at all. I still apologize. I still step back when I could step forward. I get afraid to say things all the time because of the potential consequences, even though the GOOD consequences are often worth the short-term uncomfortable ones. I don't think it's a fear/challenge that ever goes away. You just…keep trying.

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