This is a little different to my normal blogs. This is for a couple of reasons. A) I want to open up the content of this blog a little and B) this is something that’s really gotten under my skin.
I was asked to censor myself today. No – that’s not strictly true, I was advised to censor myself. To ‘tread carefully’, to not mention something, to keep my feelings to myself. I’m not going to go into details because it’s complicated and frankly they’re boring. All I will say is that it was in the context of a private conversation – and one where I was hardly going to jump right in in size 10 doc martens.
I was advised this way, I think, to save potential embarrassment for someone who had actually acted in a bullying and aggressive manner towards me.
He is male.
I am female. And, more to the point, I am a female who is perfectly capable of making her own decisions and working out what details are appropriate to be shared and what are not. My adviser meant well (he is, I should point out, not the bullying character) – but why did he feel the need pass comment in the first place? Why should one person’s desire not to rock the boat trump someone else’s desire to get advice and help over a situation that is decidedly not right?
(It is hard to explain without going into too many details. Bear with me).
My point really is, would he have advised a male in the same way? Perhaps so – I can’t know for sure but I suspect not. But perhaps, even if he had, that male wouldn’t have been advised multiple times throughout nearly every day to keep certain opinions to themselves.
I’m asked to censor myself quite a bit. This is sort of a by-product of being an opinionated person. And again, it mostly comes from well-meaning males, who wish to save me, or someone else embarrassment. I do comply sometimes – I would never be knowingly rude to someone. I also try to steer clear from starting conversations about topics that are controversial, but they do come up (of course they do!). Time and time again, I feel the expectation to either apologise for my opinion, or hold back what I really think. There are times when it’s appropriate to sit back and nod, but the older and grumpier I get, the more I think that, actually, censoring yourself does more harm than good.
(I am less likely to sit back and nod these days).
I don’t want to gratuitously jump on a bandwagon here, but the male/female dynamic – especially at work – is something I deal with, and have to accommodate every day. Women are constantly told to change the way they communicate, to try and adapt so they come across in a different way, and to be understanding when a man doesn’t treat them with respect. But does this work the other way too? I’m not so sure it does. My ‘no’ when it comes to meetings or social events after work seems negotiable. My male counterparts is not.
Censorship is not a uniquely female issue of course, and I am lucky enough to live in a very liberal culture where by and large I can say what I like without repercussion. I don’t take this for granted. And the rising issue of men’s mental health is certainly not helped by censorship in the form of toxic masculinity and hiding their feelings.
However, the message I seem to get is that when men are advised to censor themselves, it’s to ‘save the woman’s feelings’. But when a woman is advised similarly, it’s with the warning that ‘because if you don’t, it’ll have bad repercussions for you’. A subtle, but important difference. And it plays out all over the place – work, play, personal life – well meaning men give me unsolicited advice as to how I should present myself. I can’t think of a time that I would have done the same to them.
It leads to a lot of introversion too – particularly at work. ‘Perhaps if I’d have phrased that email in a different way, we’d not be in this situation.’ ‘Perhaps if I had done XYZ, he wouldn’t get so frustrated that he shouted.’, ‘Perhaps I should be the bigger person and meet them over half way.’ Compromise is, of course, a fact of life. But it’s only compromise when it’s on both sides. A woman who refuses to change her mind on something work related is often seen as hysterical, emotional, difficult, unreasonable. A man? All too often they’re seen in the same situation as strong and decisive.
So while there is a place for being considerate, and kind, and not deliberately upsetting people, please trust me to have the intelligence, the tact, the social understanding to make my own decisions about what I speak about and to whom. Sometimes, the boat needs to be rocked. Let me decide when I’m going to do that.
I didn’t end up censoring myself, by the way. And the world hasn’t yet come crumbling down. And maybe tomorrow I’ll have the confidence to tell my would-be-censors exactly why I am no longer going to follow their advice. We’ll see.