So, despite my best intentions to take a break from the usual stress-and-rage-fueled adrenal fatigue of my day-to-day existence, yesterday I had an episode of raw fury, sparked by a couple things I bumped into while toddling through the afternoon. I have been pondering since, and enjoying (sort of) the reminder of how important language is. And now, I must rant.
I am beyond tired of the way our language is designed to promote the norm, the average, and the assumption that people are all alike. I understand the cultural impetus to support certain standards, but among people who value social justice and are working against patriarchy and broad frameworks of power-over, I think it's critical to find ways to tell individual stories, with respect for multiplicity and an abundance of diversity - as opposed to gross generalizations that inherently deny or devalue alternate experiences. And I think examining how I speak and the language I use is a really important first step towards that goal.
When I was first learning about nonviolent communication, I felt very challenged by what seemed to me to be unnecessarily fine parsing of phrasing and pronouns. I mean, what difference is there in saying "you know how sometimes you feel like life is total shit" and "sometimes I feel like life is total shit"? As I eventually started to recognize - a fuckload of difference. I started seeing how so much of the language I encounter daily is instructive and directive - not just giving me orders, but essentially defining my experience. I think this is why I used to spend a lot of time angry, without ever knowing precisely why....now, I can see how constantly being told how I think and feel would leave me generally and vaguely upset. Particularly since I'm the kind of girl who hates taking orders.
Yeah, I'm talking about marketing and commercials and print ads and mass media....but I'm also talking about conversations with friends and acquaintances, professional interactions, everything. Since shifting my perspective on language and communication, I've pretty much got a running commentary in my head that goes, "No, I don't feel like that. That's not what I think. Nope, that's not how it works for me. No, I've never done that. I don't say that." It's kind of exhausting, actually, because I have to keep reminding myself that my story is not the story I'm being told it is.
In becoming more aware and more sensitive to social justice issues, I've found my awareness of this phenomenon expanded again and again, as I encounter more and more perspectives that are new to me. I mean, I'm an urban-dwelling, non-Christian, middle class, white, fat girl...there's only so much I can understand from where I sit, and I really value hearing other stories that are not mine. I sometimes even like hearing the stories of other urban-dwelling, non-Christian, middle class, white, fat girls, because often their stories are so very different from mine - which is a really great reminder that stereotypes are not gospel, and people vary wildly, even within comparatively narrow demographics.
I find it incredibly frustrating, though, when other people tell their story as if it is universal, or even universal for everyone within some comparatively narrow demographic. I mean, some urban-dwelling people have never milked a cow or seen the Milky Way - but I have. Some middle class people have never lived in a trailer park or eaten government cheese - but I have. There are as many backstories as there are non-Christians and fat people. Operating under the assumption that my story is anything but MY story is delusional, and does a disservice to me and anyone who hears my story.
In particular, I think it's really important to be careful about making assumptions and recommendations based on assumptions. I can't tell every poor girl from the country that if she drops out of college, she'll still wind up making a decent living and doing music on the side - because, sure, that worked for me, and I don't have regrets about it...but every individual case requires its own room to breathe and grow and develop in its own way. Everyone has to consider their choices from their own unique circumstances, and make decisions based on their own hopes and resources and boundaries and willingness to engage in challenging norms.
In short: speak for your fucking self, and stop giving me advice on how to solve problems I don't have, please and thanks. I'll do my best to return the favor.
Loud-mouthed liberal feminist. Anarchist knitter. Tequila-drinking artsy-smartsy fat chick. Bluesy folk-rock singer-songwriter. Rebel with too many causes. Quirky eclectic pagan poet. Paradoxical intuitive smartass. Sarcastic brainiac insomniac. You know, for starters.