The tone policing needs to stop

I follow Stuff Christian Culture Likes on Facebook, and the other day, Stephanie linked to this post: Are Christian Feminists Hurting Their Cause?  If you would like to feel the rage along with me, just click that link.  Also, Sarah Moon wrote a brilliant response, which you can read here.  I normally think that when someone as cool as Sarah writes something as dead-on as that, there’s no need for me to follow up–I just link to it in my Friday “best of” post.  But when something sucks as hard as Mike Duran’s post, the more people saying so the better.

Actually, I don’t really want to rehash Mike’s words and explain how ridiculous they are.  There’s no need; they speak for themselves.  What I want to talk about is the specific thing he did that just makes me want to throw heavy, breakable things at the nearest wall: tone policing.

I’ve endured my fair share of tone policing.  It annoys me because it derails the conversation.  If you want to argue with a point I’ve made, then do so–but don’t come over here to tell me, “If you’d said it this way instead, I would have agreed with you!”  If you have time to comment on my blog about my tone or individual words I’ve used, then you have time to go write your own thing about the same topic, using any words you like.

What I’ve discovered is that it doesn’t really matter how “nice” I am or whether I use a specific configuration of words.  There will always be people who simply don’t agree or don’t like what I’ve said.  Demands to say things a certain way reduce vital conversations about people’s humanity to some kind of polite disagreement about whether or not those people deserve respect, particularly within religious communities.  For example, when women are oppressed by patriarchal systems within the Church, politely requesting that it stop merely leads to continuation of that system by way of “agreeing to disagree.”  It works with other forms of oppression, too.

I also find it frustrating when people try to bring Jesus into the tone policing.  I’m sure you know what I mean–that thing where people tell you that Christians are “nice” about things.  Guess they forgot the part where Jesus called the religious leaders a “brood of vipers” or that time he upended the money changers’ tables or that incident with the fig tree.  (Ironically, these same people seem to love literal readings of Revelation where Jesus wields a sword; go figure.)  It goes hand-in-hand with a faulty reading of “turn the other cheek” wherein being nice becomes a way to prove to your enemies that you can win the holier-than-thou fight.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being nice or polite or carefully measuring one’s words.  That’s a natural part of some people’s personalities.  It’s not good form, however, to point to those people and ask, “Why can’t you be more like her?”  If those are the people you are drawn to, then why are you here (or on any other blog written by someone who is naturally less gentle)?  I love discussing issues; I do not love discussing specific words or phrasing or tone.  Come here to challenge what I’ve said, not how I’ve said it.

Mike Duran has two choices.  He can either stop reading Christian feminists he doesn’t like and ignore us, or he can be truthful about the fact that he doesn’t agree with some of the arguments being made.  In his blog post, he did neither of those things–he tone-policed the comments on a months-old piece that nearly all of us (Christian feminists) agreed was a horrifying example of abuse apologism.  Of course, what it really seems like is that he just doesn’t agree with us, so he’s avoiding coming right out and saying it by criticizing our tone instead.  After all, he does say in his introduction,

While I think it’s pretty clear Scripturally that Men and Women were designed to complement each other and that, in that union, men were called and equipped to lovingly lead, I also believe there’s far too much evidence (both Scriptural and sociological), that women are entirely capable of leading men and teaching men, exercising equal authority, and pretty much occupying any office or role that a man could. That said, the longer I remain here and watch the debate escalate, the more I’ve found myself inching to one side.

Mike and others just need to be honest rather than using “how [we] come off” as an excuse to disagree.  Meanwhile, I’m going to go adjust my comments policy to reflect my distaste for tone policing.

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15 thoughts on “The tone policing needs to stop

  1. You go girl!! You give me courage and validation…I have heard crap about “how” I say things nearly my whole life…need to let that all go on MY own blog and just go for it =0)! Preach it girl!! <3

  2. Amy, I can’t thank you enough. You said some things here that really made a lightbulb go off for me, even though my current issue has nothing to do with Christianity or feminism. Just…thank you.

  3. I am here on a blog that is less gentle than I sometimes like because “I” need to listen to you and other feminists to become a better person.

    No feminist needs ME or any other man to listen to them to validate what they are saying. It’s we men who NEED to listen to feminists to become better people. (You already know that but I still felt the need to say it.)

    Sometimes I don’t agree, and sometimes I won’t like the way you say something but that doesn’t change MY need to be listening.

    I was an English Major so some of my not liking the way you say things might be grammar policing unread of tone policing. :-) lol.

    (Sorry for that semi tone policing comment I left the other day on this blog BTW. It’s your blog and if I had know how much that bothered you I would have reserved my distaste for your word choice for MY twitter.)

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  7. You need to say “PLEASE give me my rights”….now, “PRETTY please”….now “pretty please w/ sugar on top”…AND “sprinkles”…

    Whoops! You forgot the whipped cream & cherry, so we don’t have to give you your rights!

  8. always i used to read smaller articles or reviews which also clear their motive,
    and that is also happening with this post which I am reading here.

  9. Pingback: Are Christian Feminists Hurting Their Cause?

  10. The common thread through all of this is that policing is the desire to dominate and to control. That can be self-domination and control, including to escape, in terms of one’s own emotions, discomfort and anxiety, which manifests in the urge to dominate and control another in terms of emotional or tone policing. This can extend up to one’s group or society at large.

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