“Your selfies are vanity run amok!”
“Your livetweeting of your experiences is horrible and un-ethical.”
“How dare you use hashtags to express your anger. It’s polarizing.”
“Your Facebook wall is incontrovertible proof of your raging narcissism.”
“Can’t you just be invisible? Can’t you just be quiet? Can’t you just die gracefully so that we can immortalize you rather than continuing to live and inconvenience us with your words?”
“Big thinking is what we’re paid for. You don’t need to worry your pretty little heads about it. We’ll solve it.”
Every time I open an internet browser, I’m being faced with hand-wringing about the downfall of civilization. Hand-wringing from erudite, expensive men, whose words are paid a premium and who receive premium space. The David Brookses. The Ross Douthats. The Bill Kellers.
They are truly worried about the decay of society. The downfall of the cultural ideals that hold up their lofty towers. And who is causing this downfall? Women and minorities. Women wanting to be judged by more than their look. Women wanting to be seen as professional. Women wanting to share their experience. In short, women having the temerity to live in a public sphere.
Our culture doesn’t know what to do with loud women. It never has never really known what to do. It can no longer send us to nunneries or to asylums. It can no longer fix our “hysteria” or our “loudness” through literally disconnecting us from pieces of our body, whether that be the clitoris or the prefrontal cortext.
So instead, it goes on the New York Times, or The Guardian or similar soapboxes of moral certitude and, through the hands of David Brooks, Ross Douthat, Bill Keller or any of a number of well-spoken, well-educated and calm white men, it wrings its hands at us.
It takes its megaphone and dispenses from on high the new commandments of the polite world. “Thou shalt not take selfies.” “Thou shalt not draw attention to misbehavior.” “Thou shall not call out misogyny or racism.” “Thou shalt not draw attention to continued inequality.” “Thou shalt not be too daring with your dress or your speech or your differences.”
“Thou shalt not celebrate thyself.”
“Thou shalt not make us uncomfortable.”
They want change, but quietly. They want to calmly discuss change in their smoking rooms and their gentlemen’s clubs. They will listen to women, if they’re the right kind: the similarly well-educated, well-spoken, nicely-coifed white women who marry Public Intellectuals, or stand next to them saying “Oh, those other women are so loud. How… tasteless.”
They think this is the proper order of things. Quiet discussion. Quiet disagreement between equals.
And they turn to us and ask “Why can’t you be quieter? Why can’t you talk like us and wait quietly for your turn?” “Why must you be so loud?
But here’s the thing: we’re not being loud at all. Our Twitter streams, our Instagrams, our Facebook walls, our Vines and our Snapchats. Our Tumblrs and our blogs.
They’re very quiet.
They may be screaming in their own little corner, but culturally, they’re whispers against the megaphone of society. Tentative toes into the waters of expression.
But, to a world accustomed to our silence, any sound is as loud as a roar. They are the water droplet that breaks the perfect silence of the cave.
Any noise is jarring when you have learned to expect silence. These new voices, they seem horribly loud. Horribly angry. Horribly… scary. But they’re not. Even the expressed anger is held back, knowing that we will just be dismissed as angry women if we dare say what we think.
They think that if we would just be quieter, more sweet, more agreeable, we would get further.
But we’ve been quiet, sweet and agreeable through the entirety of Western history.
It didn’t get us anywhere.
These men, they aren’t the only ones worried about the decay of civilization. I am worried to. But I’m not worried about the decay of civility. I’m not worried about the inroads of snark and anger into the hallowed halls of the mainstream media.
I’m worried about the decay of self-worth as yet another generation of women are told that they will never be enough. I worry about the internalize assumptions that they can’t be engineers or philosophers or even Public Intellectuals. I worry about the poor kids who are told by society that they deserve their poverty. That they should be pulling themselves up with their bootstraps, when even the traditional bootstraps of education and social mobility have been closed off to them. I worry about the collective intelligence, passion and innovation that is lost to society as we label black teenagers as dangerous instead of full of potential.
So, you can continue to wring your hands at me. I know you will.
You can continue to tell me that I am being too angry. Too loud. Too tasteless.
But we now live in a world where your megaphone isn’t the only voice out there. We live in a world where there are millions of activists of all genders, all races, all classes, all creeds. We live in a world where each of these voices has a platform.
It’s a small platform. It might just be a twitter stream or a Facebook wall. It might be a Vine or an Instagram. It might be a group of Tumblrs where a community gathers to share ideas.
It might be as quiet as a pin drop.
But the thing you forget about pin drops is sometimes they’re pins that were attached to grenades.
So you better listen to those pin drops because all of them together have power. All of us together have voices. And the more you try to silence us, the more those pin drops are ignored, the more likely you are to have the entire internet blow up in your face.
And that isn’t a sign that society is decaying, or that we are being too loud.
It’s a sign that you’ve just been shouting over us for too long, and we’re no longer willing to supply batteries to your megaphone.