Friday, July 6, 2007

Silence and All Submission

Inspired by Renegade Evolution's question: "Does ones documentation of their lives, experiences, and mistreatment at the hands of others lead to silencing?" But deviating more or less substantially, because I was pleasantly tipsy whilst composing this.

I think I've mentioned I've only had one formal "women's studies" class before. And that some of the readings/discussions made me feel like clawing my eyes out. The lockstep, "you will believe this or you aren't one of us" vibe wasn't ringing true in Metra's ear. The tone of "how dare you think something different, that makes you a threat, and quite possibly a helper in the oppression, especially if you claim we are ignoring/inadvertently damaging you" -- yeah, I wasn't buying. Anyone who thinks that simply because a person disagrees with one, that person is attempting (or somehow magically managing) to silence one -- BS! (By the way, I think the same thing about the Creationists whining that they are being censored by the academic community.)

Not that there isn't such a thing as being silenced. It happens frequently. But it seems to me at least, that to be silenced requires that who have considerably more physical or perhaps social force directed against one.

I don't know fully what it means to be silenced because I was born into a family of oddballs who just live in the marginal of 'Shire society and do their own thing and have been doing so for more than a hundred years. So while I learned that the church would treat me differently from the boys and not let me led songs or speak, I was also reassured by virtually everyone within my family that while the Cathey's Creek CofC elders might think that, it wasn't actually true -- just play along and then think what you want to think anyway. And, I spent much/most of my formative years with my spinster great aunt who was known for wearing pants to church and removing snakes that had crawled into the building when the menfolk were too scared or too slow to do it, so maybe I didn't even have to play along all that much. But I am still trying to explain to my family that there are massive differences between the experience my father (who remained within the CofC) had and the experience I have. The most salient one -- he was actually permitted formal and public speech. And when one congregation stripped him of that right, he could in fact find another congregation that continued to recognize that. Conversely, I was forbidden to speak (or really act independently) in the public forum of worship even after I had well passed the age at which my male peers were invited (or in some cases dragged) into it. And, I bet that there are a number of people who would justifiably laugh out loud at my declaration of knowing something about being silenced. Because this is a silencing extremely limited in scope.

But, because the scope was limited, I know the difference being being forbidden to speak and being allowed to speak but vehemently disagreed with. I had a few forums in the old CofC. Limited, yes, but I loved the preacher at the congregation we were at (and actually, the youth minister too) because I knew that I could speak with them in private and they would both take me seriously. They might not understand, and they probably wouldn't agree, but both would have allowed me to have my opinion. I could and would speak in some of the classes (they ain't worship after all). This, actually, was why I was ostracized by the my peers, accused of not having a heart, and interrogated on my sexuality at the tender age of fourteen (which considering I still don't really have one thanks to year upon years of repression, makes me giggle). Oh, and that whole, going to hell/oh, you'll just grow out of this thing. But the fact is, none of that was silencing even though the goal was to persuade me to change my mind or at the very least, to stop raising cain. Yes, it was discouraging but not silencing.

Silencing was the fact that I was forbidden to speak at any official service. Silencing was the fact that I suspect that if I have ever gathered up the courage to stand up in the middle of a service and explain why I was firmly convinced that points x, y, and z were very wrong, I would have from my little self escorted out by several burly deacons. In that forum, I was -- in fact -- coerced into silence. The threat of being physically prevented from speaking was there. I would be silent, and I would submit, or else I would be made to do so. And to tell the truth -- compared to the much greater forces exerted around the world on numerous people to keep their mouths shut -- that is such a watered down form of coercion that it is like unto nothing. No one would have broken my jaw or tried to kill me, and I could walk away.

While the other tactics used to instill or create cooperation amongst the youth or females (peer pressure, discounting opinions, the threat of going to hell for eternity, God's supposed phallus) were attempts to minimize disagreement/free thought, they were something very different. None of those had the power, ultimately, to prevent me from speaking. Even being accused of being an evil influence on my sister and being responsible for her not being saved isn't silencing. Annoying as everything, but the only way those tactics could actually shut me up was if I allowed them to get under my skin. And then the people who would listen to what my opinion was and then reply with the reasons why they thought differently -- well, I've never had a problem with them. Some disagreeing with my speech does nothing to silence me or even encourage silence on my part.

The badly made point is, it takes a heck of a lot more than someone disagreeing with your opinions or your actions -- or even outright mocking what you have said or done as sheer foolishness, stupidity, or bigotry -- before you have actually been silenced. A gun to the head, the possibility of being taken down physically, the threat of stoning, deprivation of liberty, physical violence, starvation in the streets, being thrown out of your community into the desert -- these can all legitimately be called silencing. Just being told you're a flaming idiot, whether rightly or wrongly, or that you have mistreated others -- nope, that is not being silenced.

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