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Why Are the Tone Police Only Called on Women?

11/26/2014 05:51 EST | Updated 01/26/2015 05:59 EST
Daly and Newton via Getty Images

"You're too sensitive." "You're too angry." "Stop getting upset."

When you're a woman, tone policing is rampant. Amid the hate and abuse, we are expected to stay as calm and eloquent as possible. Our justified rage is always attributed to over-sensitivity, hormones, or PMS-ing. We are treated as emotional, not intellectual beings, when the truth is we are emotional AND intellectual beings. Intellect without emotion is dead inside.

There's a whopping double standard regarding tone between men and women (and of course others along the gender binary and non-binary folk). Men who are angry are passionate and driven. Women who are passionate and driven are just angry.

Our anger, though justified by the systematic oppression that women face on a global level, is often presented as irrational and something that lessens our points. Why should the opinions I have about the oppression that I, and the women around me, face be lessened because of my reasonable anger? And why must I persevere through society's discrimination against me with a big 'ol smile on my face?

Though tone policing seems trivial to some, it can be incredibly frustrating for women and other marginalized folks expressing their views. We're told to simply ignore the comments, but these comments constantly derail our points. To boil our arguments and insight down to meaningless anger is a form of censorship, and it trivializes the significance of our lived experiences. We write with passion, with undercurrents of rage, because the true lived experience of a marginalized person is one that is difficult, to say the least. For others, their lived experience of discrimination proved fatal, and we tell their stories to honour them and to convey our grief.

It's not to say that we walk around every day angry and scowling at the state of the world, but when we write, we write with not only with our own frustrations but with the collective frustrations of so many women.

Tone policing is a way of silencing, a way to demean and dehumanize women and other marginalized people as illogical, irrational products of anger without intelligence. Tone policing is verbal violence. It's the reason women of colour especially are expected to be polite model minorities who feel the need to replace our "I'm tired of the privilege you enjoy at the expense of my oppression" with a sanitized "let's just all join hands and love each other."

While the latter comment seems perfectly nice and ideal, speaking out against oppression and dealing with it on a daily basis is anything but nice and ideal. We speak with anger because we are channeling the reality of oppression; it is ugly, it is hurtful, it is scary, and we need to show that. How can we write like ending racism is all rainbows and lollipops, when it's anything but?

And even when we don't speak with anger, when we are articulate and assertive, it is portrayed as wild anger regardless. No matter what we say or how we say it, if we question the status quo it is warped as the silly mad rantings of the bitter woman. It could be fantastically researched and deeply moving, but if those in power are questioned or criticized in the slightest, all that insight is reduced to a mere "what an angry bitch."

There are some experiences that women go through that are simply too horrifying and traumatizing to phrase in a calm way. They are experiences that shake us to our core and we see them hurt our friends and our community. If we express them in the most polite, clean-cut manner, we do a disservice to those around us who have been affected by gender discrimination, sexual and domestic violence. If we choose to sanitize their experiences by phrasing them "kindly", we do a great injustice by not presenting their struggle and survival in a truthful way.

Before you tone police, consider the realities of the people who are writing these so-called irrational rants and think, even just for a second, what they have lived through. Before you tone police, understand that is a form of oppression and that tone policing, more often than not, will have an opposite effect: it will make us louder, more passionate, and more driven than ever before.

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