My husband jokes that I like to start shitstorms for a living, and while that might not be too far from the truth, I think my intentions are a little better than that. I don’t shy away from a good shitstorm, true – but I’m not just addicted to drama. I don’t enjoy shaking people down or trying to cause disagreements purely for sport. I simply don’t feel the need to censor myself for the comfort of others. I’m always polite, kind and inclusive in discussions – but I don’t beat around the bush. I think it is important to be outspoken in your world, and to always point out when you see an example of injustice, prejudice or cruelty around you, even when it is an unpopular opinion, or when it’s more convenient and agreeable to stay silent.
Since I’m outspoken, and more than willing to say the things other people would are afraid to, I’ve been called out more than once for being “bitchy,” “aggressive,” “holier-than-thou,” “self-righteous,” and various other terms that people use to demean those of us who aren’t willing to sit down and shut up. I can’t tell you how many times some annoyed person has lost an argument only to accuse the other of being “on a high horse.” People don’t like it when their wrong behavior is pointed out. They feel threatened, and they strike out. The older I get, and the less patience I have for ignorance and prejudice, the more people seem to be annoyed with me. Apparently I speak out too much. It has become a liability in my social life to an extent.
Recently I bristled at a fat joke on a friend’s thread and was told to “lighten up” when I pointed out its offensiveness. When I pressed further to try to get my opinion heard, the entire thing was turned into a big joke to see who could offend me more. My entire complaint – the fat joke – was reduced to being a “female” thing and completely ignored and belittled.
I hadn’t thought of it as a female issue until that derogatory comparison was made, and then it was like a light bulb had gone off in my head. Suddenly, I was curious. Had a man taken offense to the fat joke instead of me, would he have been dismissed in such a disrespectful manner? Doubtful. His concerns would have been acknowledged, if not agreed with. But because I’m a woman, and one who unabashedly wears a feminist hat and takes up “pet causes” (another term I’ve been blessed with by my lovely, insensitive peers), it’s annoying and the best way to deal with me is to make fun of me and force me to go away.
How many of us have been told to “lighten up” or “chill out” when something offensive hits our ears and we talk about it? That seems like the standard, go-to response for when you know you’ve said something repugnant and just don’t want to deal with it. Tell the person to lighten up and hope they go away without making much of a fuss. People are so lazy these days they can’t even bother to explain themselves when they make a faux pas. Just because it’s a casual atmosphere like Facebook doesn’t mean that you aren’t accountable for the statements you make. If you choose to participate in a public forum and voice your opinions openly, then you must accept responsibility that your words can cause hurt, anger or confusion. You shouldn’t put your words out there if you refuse to hold yourself accountable for them.
I know this firsthand. Just a few weeks ago I used the word “crazy” in an article I wrote for this magazine. I offended more than one person with my use of the word and I faced strong criticism from several readers as well as a reprimand from the editors. Did I tell anybody to “lighten up”? No. Initially, I bristled at the fact that I was being held to task for something when I definitely did not intend to be hurtful. I defended myself and felt sorry for myself for a bit. But then I thought. Not everyone knows me. They don’t know that I have a good heart and would never willfully cause pain or anguish. They just read my piece, saw a word that offended them, and pointed it out. Rightfully so.
So, I apologized sincerely for my use of the word, spoke with fellow writers and peers about why the word was offensive and sought to educate myself further on the topic. If I choose to be a writer, especially one that publishes her work openly on the Internet, I have to be prepared that sometimes, I might accidentally cause offense to someone. When that happens, being gracious and understanding of the person who is offended is so important. Even if you don’t fully understand why they took offense, even if you don’t think what you said is offensive. That doesn’t make their feelings any less invalid. If you refuse to take responsibility for the hurt your words cause, then you lack even the most rudimentary social skills. To be that devoid of compassion for other people’s feelings is something I just can’t fathom.
I’ve been told before that I take everything too seriously, and I’m too quick to get up in arms about things that don’t even affect me. “You don’t belong to (social group) so why do you care about their cause?” That’s just another way of telling someone to “lighten up.” It isn’t that you care that they are outspoken about these things – it’s just that you don’t want to be challenged. You don’t want their eye to fall upon you, lest the flaws in your own character be pointed out and you be forced to examine your behaviors.
But what’s really so wrong about examining your behaviors? I have to examine mine all the time. As quick as I am to admit that I love a good argument and will fight for many causes I believe in, I’m also quick to admit that I have a whole bunch of flaws, say words that I probably shouldn’t, can’t break a few bad habits, and am far from perfect. I’m a work in progress. That’s part of the reason why I care so strongly about social issues, and am so outspoken about things that I care about. I feel like I’m molding my own character, educating myself and becoming a better person every time I talk about important issues with others. It doesn’t mean I’m holier-than-thou, or a ball buster, or an annoying feminist (OK, maybe I am that last one a little bit ). It just means that I care enough to actually put myself out there, face criticism and educate myself and others. I don’t care if I annoy people, or they want me to just be quiet and let them be comfortably ignorant and silent. I’m never going to “lighten up.” I’m just getting started.