I’ve been thinking alot about tone policing this week. It’s a term I learned in an anti-racist context, as in white people tone police people of color when they’re talking about their experiences. In essence, it’s saying, “I can’t hear you unless you can talk about this calmly and rationally.” It’s just another way to hold power in the conversation- I don’t like what you’re saying so I’m going to find a way to shut it down by attacking the delivery instead. (Please see excellent comic below)
Here’s something: As a woman, I’ve been tone-policed my entire life and I’m tired of it.
In a religious setting, I’ve had to pretend that I’m not surrounded by piles of misogynistic shit my entire life just to have access to my faith community and even have access to God. (And if you’re offended by the word ‘shit’, what would be better for you? ‘poo-poo’? ‘doo-doo’? #2? How can I make it cuter for you so it’s not so hard to hear? (Sidenote: this is literally the point of this blog))
To my left, we see a pile of “Sure, men and women were created in the image of God, but God is a MAN and don’t you forget it!”
To my right, we see the massive, “God created men to be leaders and women to be followers. He mandated it” pile of shit.
Straight ahead is the much more pernicious, “Yes, I know that Jesus flipped tables in righteous indignation, but you don’t get to because it makes men uncomfortable” pile of shit.
Behind me is the “Men are visual creatures who can’t control themselves so it’s on you to dress modestly so that they don’t go crazy with lust. Love your Christian brother!” monster pile
And then, of course, there are the smaller land mine piles of shit like tokenism, “See! We have a woman in leadership now. Problem solved!” or micro-aggressions “Wow, you seem really theologically sound…for a woman.” My favorite recent one has been that women talking about faith from their viewpoint is an “ideology” that we have to be careful of, as if the Christian faith hasn’t always strongly, without moving, been expressed from a male point of view. We don’t see the ‘male ideology’ because it’s always been the default.
To be honest, I don’t even think most men understand that I’ve been forced to endure these piles of shit just to participate in Christian community, that I internalized that dealing with the shit was just part of my Christian duty as a female Christ follower. ‘Be submissive. Don’t get angry. Don’t rock the boat or make any of your fellow believers uncomfortable. Suffer in silence.”
Yeah, I’m done with that.
I’m frustrated, hurt, and angry that I’ve been forced to live this way, especially in a community that claims to be gender-neutral. It’s clear that I feel a sense of urgency to clear this shit right out. I am in crisis and I’m telling you I’m in crisis and men have responded with, “Oh, well. I’m sorry about all those piles of shit but you’re being kind of mean right now so I can’t help you until you’re calm.”
Do you see how awful that is? Do you see that response is just a dump truck full of more shit that you’ve just dumped all over me? I’m asking you, a person with the power to help me clear the shit out, for help and you told me no because I can’t be calm in crisis.
Men (especially in the church), women need you to LISTEN. We need you to hear us, even when we’re angry and frustrated and tired of playing nice. We need you to help us clear the shit out so that we aren’t angry in the first place. Help us get rid of the reason we’re feeling so angry and then we won’t be so angry. We need you to talk to the other men who are continually dumping hot piles of shit on our heads because they’re not hearing us. We need you to do the work of learning to be less fragile, to understand that if we’re asking you for help or trying to point out what you said was hurtful, whatever the tone we use, it’s because we see a glimmer of hope in you- that maybe you’ll listen and help.
And no, I’m not saying that women have a free-for-all where we get to crush skulls and kick penises with no limits. I resent the implication that women somehow can’t decide when they’re being assholes for no reason or when they’re responding from a deep well of hurt and it’s gonna come out ugly. We can discern the difference. Like good Christian people, we try not to be assholes for no reason and we can apologize when we mess up.
This is different. Talking about oppression is different. I don’t need to apologize for being angry about the piles of shit that have been my spiritual home almost my entire life. I don’t need to apologize for talking about the piles of shit, even if it makes me uncomfortable or angry. I don’t need to apologize for setting boundaries and saying in a strong voice, “NO! You don’t get to dump more shit here. I just cleaned that spot up.” (AS IF I DON’T DO THAT ALL DAY EVERY DAY IN EVERY NOOK AND CRANNY OF MY HOUSE)
Can you hear me now?
(Double-side note: White women, heterosexual people, people with citizenship status, people who aren’t disabled, we aren’t off the hook here either! We tone police others and it’s important that we learn to recognize when we’re doing it (or apologize and move on when other people call us out on it. The graphic below applies to all forms of tone-policing.)