On silence

The thing I’ve learned in the past year is that yes, people can bear different things that don’t feel right to them for a long time – listening to the same unfair criticisms over and over, staying in unhealthy relationships, injustice of any kind – but there inevitably comes the last straw, a final realisation which tips the scales. It doesn’t matter if it takes a month, a year or ten, it happens. If that doesn’t ring true to you, I now know that it’s true for me, and you never know… maybe the last straw just hasn’t happened for you yet. As with most things, it unfortunately can’t happen because somebody else says it must, or when you vaguely think something isn’t right and has to be better. When it really happens, the words stop and you can finally take action.

Bearing that in mind, I have always believed in equal rights for women and men, liked and agreed with most written and spoken thoughts or depictions of any kind that showcased girl and woman power. I ‘liked’ and ‘shared’ them on social media, talked about it with people who felt the same and even sometimes with the ones who disagreed – but it was definitely all very passive. In the back of my mind I felt uncomfortable and even ashamed when a woman spoke out about how she felt or what her opinion was, loud and in public. I’ve been taught, as probably most children are, that being loud in public isn’t very polite, who the heck is going to listen to a child screaming outside and enjoy it? After all the socialisation happens, at home, school and in society, it somehow turns out that if men are loud and outspoken it can be overlooked, but for women it’s frowned upon. During the course of passing from a teenager into a young adult I have also been immunized to all kinds of unsavoury comments from the male sex, I mean, how energy consuming would it be if you made a conflict out of every ‘ooo look at those boobies’ or ‘wouldn’t I like to tap that ass’ line you hear? So I mostly stayed quiet and honestly, didn’t give the whole feminist issue much thought.

And then came my straw. It could seem banal to others, but it wasn’t for me. The setting was appropriate, a very typical Slovenian (countryside) combination of a cross-country hike and a lot of drinking on the way. It was a guy, sitting at a nearby table at a food-stop, who just needed to comment because my friends, a couple, were fighting: “You know sometimes I just want to dig a hole in a ground, bury you women in it and cover it with snow.” This didn’t sit well with my female friend, so she stood up to him, and loudly at that. In the ensuing shouting match I asked him what we did to deserve those words. He replied he was “only joking”. And that wasn’t even the worst part – what put a thorn in my side was the only sentence coming from the only female at the other table: “I’m ashamed to be a woman.” It’s so textbook, woman-on-woman hate, and I’d known of it from before, but this really brought it home. How can we even try to be perceived on fairly equal terms when it’s not only members of the opposite sex who look down on you for trying, but also your own?

That question has probably been asked a gazillion times, and of course I don’t have an absolute answer or a solution to it, but I have some thoughts. So how did this particular straw change things for me? For one, as one of my more trolling male acquaintances would say, I was triggered. After the incident it was fierce, but now it dialled down to a slow burning anger, a healthy one. I don’t think I’ll ever be silent again when people cross a line which I defined cannot be crossed. How I’d advise for that to happen for others is: hang out with women who you respect and who aren’t afraid to speak their minds, out loud! Even if it scares you and you don’t want to do it yourself, no matter. Don’t be frightened to defy what society defines as ‘ladylike’, for me that’s a remnant from another age. Of course defy it within your own boundaries and use sense, I’m not saying “pee on the street in the middle of the day”. The best way for an individual to produce change, even if it’s very small, is by example, by showing how it could be done. To think big, about actions on a larger scale, like what education about these ideas could do when you introduce it to children, or like what a women’s only political party could do (it’s happening already in Iceland), but that’s for another article. Right now, for yourself, do what you can and try it without fear or shame – laugh without restraint, speak against small-minded stereotypes with your friends of any sex, don’t hate on another woman standing up for herself even when you don’t agree with her and most importantly –

don’t stay silent.

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