This blog post has been languishing in my ‘drafts’ folder for 18 months or so now. I couldn’t work out what I was trying to say. I think it’s about time I published it though.
Over a year ago, I got an email from a distro with some critical feedback for one of my zines. The basic gist of it was that, although I made some interesting arguments, I made no attempt to “own” my ideas; instead, I prefaced everything with “I’m not sure about this” and “I’m still working this out“, and similarly cautious statements. This, he argued, took away any power that my words had. I hadn’t really considered that before, though as soon as I read the critique I knew that he was completely right. I thanked the distro owner for the feedback, but kind of forgot about it soon after.
Then, a few weeks later, I read a very critical review of the same zine, which also touched upon that critique, adding that it annoyed him how I kept referencing stuff instead of actually writing about it by making statements like “I could talk about…”, ”…I can’t write about [it] publicly…”, and “…maybe in a later issue…“.
(On reflection, I found the whole review overly-critical and nitpicky, and it upset me for the rest of the week – I’m too frightened to link to said review in case you all read it and think, “Ah yes, he’s so right, her zine is actually a load of rubbish! I’m never buying a copy again!“. Ack, I know I’m just being overly-sensitive. I guess I felt the review was tactless… and I’m the kind of person who knows that critical feedback is important, but when confronted with it experiences a knee-jerk negative emotional reaction. I’m working on that.)
Moan over… these comments got me thinking about how I so frequently doubt myself and make qualifying statements whenever I write/say anything that might be construed as vaguely debatable or controversial. Yes, whenever I write, I stop short of making any bold claims, hold myself back, stay safe – especially when writing about feminism, which is sadly still seen as something debatable and controversial (there’s a lot of hostility even between feminists - but that’s an entirely separate can of worms). I think it’s because I know so many feminists who are much more eloquent and well-informed on feminist theory than I am, and I’m so afraid of making a poor argument that will get torn apart. I’m afraid that people will laugh at my primitive attempts at a systematic argument, and I’m afraid that they will lose respect for me if my writing or my verbal contributions in debates are poor. At least if I preface everything I say with “I’m still working this out, I don’t really know what I believe“, then people may cut me some slack. Otherwise, I find myself unable to speak out at all.
I hadn’t considered how refusing to own my ideas removes any impact my voice may have, makes it more moderate, gentle, and inoffensive. How stereotypically ‘feminine’ of me! And why should I conform to the idea of how a woman “should” speak – cautiously and always open to being swayed by others? Why can’t I speak loudly and proudly, even if I don’t have everything worked out exactly to the last detail? I want to be able to say: fuck it. This is what I believe. This is what I want to do. I don’t care if you agree or not, and I don’t care if I’m wrong.
But I can’t. Even writing that feels uncomfortable for me.
Then again… maybe I’m being too hard on myself here. After all, I am unlearning an entire lifetime of enforced shyness and demureness (little girls shouldn’t be brash and arrogant, but dainty and sweet! Any obnoxious behaviour was punished and I was swiftly put back in my place, whereas my shyness/cuteness was often rewarded by the adults around me, even in my late teens; I have memories of frequently being called “a little lady“). Perhaps it’s ok to be cautious at first, as I take steps towards being stronger and more confident?
*sigh* This blog post doesn’t have a neat conclusion, I’m afraid. I’m just having a bit of a ramble really.