Tomorrow begins an experiment in social media protesting. Dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of Twitter users will avoid the social media site for 24 hours. This is being done largely in response to the seemingly growing number of stories the media is showing about internet bullying and the myriad of violent threats targeted at women who date to have an opinion.
In theory, this is supposed to highlight the number of powerful, creative voices who would be silenced forever if we let threatening, misogynistic asshole-trolls win. This just pushing all my Cognitive Dissonance buttons, though.
Threats like this aren’t new. They’ve been going on since the dawn of civilization. They’ve been aimed at women, at minorities, at opposed religions, at warring nationalities, at anyone who has ever been an other. Yes, the battle du jour is against misogyny, but I’ve been threatened just as much for being of mixed ethnicity as I have for being a woman. And let me tell you, every one of those threats has been foul and frightening, and silence has never stopped them.
My silence has never been taken as strength or a message. Over the years, it has been seen as weakness, as a sign that I’m too stupid or too weak to know how to defend myself, as silent and shameful agreement, as acquiescence. All silence has ever done is give enemies of equality, enemies of humanity, a brief moment to bask in the satisfaction of getting us to stop disrupting their perfect little world for a moment.
I will not give them that satisfaction. Silence is not my answer. I have a voice to speak and fingers to type and I plan to use both until God see fit to take them away from me. And even then, I’ll probably find a way, because fuck my creator for getting in my way.
Silence didn’t stop the boy in 4th grade from making “jokes” about how fat I was, or stop his “your mama” jokes that always ended in rape. But a sharp tongued rebuttal about his fat empty head and the abortion his mama would spend the rest of her life wishing for eventually did the trick. I had to learn to not be ashamed of fighting back.
My silence only encouraged the boy in 5th grade who kept talking about my “udder-like” boobs and who tried to touch them while asking when I was gonna cry. Telling the teacher about it, though, and encouraging my classmates who’d heard him to back up my story even though they were embarrassed to get involved, got me an apology and him a call to his parents real quick. I had to learn that getting help was not a bad thing.
In 8th grade, silence only encouraged the teasing of my smug, white classmates who couldn’t understand why a fat little Spic was in their classes instead of ESOL, who spread rumors that I wore my hair down because I was a whore. But after the last time they asked “What are you?” like I was some strange alien species, I finally spoke and said “I’m a human being. What the fuck are you?” No one ever questioned me about my race after that, and by the end of the year, a few other girls were finally daring to wear their hair loose.
I have a hundred stories like this – about my gender, my race, my faith, my health – ranging from Pre-K to college. I could fill pages forever about threats and abuse and violence and silence and how it has never worked for me. It has only kept a bad situation the same.
I’ve had to teach myself to speak, to overcome my fears of drawing attention to myself and of being thought poorly of. But speaking out gave Mom the push to finally divorce my father and save both of us from his abuse. Speaking out got me in trouble in school a lot but I learned about the empowerment and self respect that comes from standing up for the right things. And conversely, speaking out got me respect from teachers, and support and leniency when things in my home life got rough. Being a loud mouthed pain in the ass for 7 years finally – FINALLY – got through to my grandfather that I was my own person and not some weird chimeric blend of my mother and his sister, sent to haunt him for his misdeeds. By speaking, I learned to handle my depression and to stop being ashamed of it. What has saved me is speaking.
As far as the motivations for #twittersilence go, let me tell you what I’ve seen. I see brave women who face this systemic violence everyday and don’t bow to it. I see them overcoming societal pressure to keep silent about unpleasant truths. I see a growing number of news stories about this and a growing awareness that this is something horrible that happens to a lot of people for the most superficial reasons possible. I see knowledge being spread because we are finally talking about this, not as something that just happens that women have to deal with, but as something that happens and is wrong and has to stop. I see progress and I’m not going to stop shouting just when people are starting to pay attention.
I wish the best of luck to the people who participate in #twittersilence. I hope they find whatever it is they’re looking for in it. But its very notion is anathema to what we say. How can we, the people who tell girls again and again to speak up when they encounter misogyny, to not sit down quietly and take abuse, up and disappear for a day in reaction to those very same violations of dignity and spirit? How can we advocate, even for a day, shutting up in reaction to people who hate and denigrate and try to stop every word we say?
My own silence in the face of adversity has always been a hurdle I have to jump to make my life better. To make it safer. How can I retreat into that self-destructive quiet and pretend it’s for the greater good when I know in my soul it isn’t? I can’t. I know my own truth.
I have a heart. I have a brain. I have a voice. I have an opinion. So I am not going to shut up. Not even for one day.