Speaking Up (is harder than it sounds)

A few weeks ago at work I found myself in a situation I hate being in: the one where you know you really should say something, call someone out for something, and you don’t.

The situation was something like this: I was mopping the fruit shop floor, chatting to one of the women I work with (who is my pseudo-boss) while she was filling up the bananas. She’s generally pretty nice and I get along with her well at work. But she tends to harp on about the other girls who work at the shop on a casual basis, who come from very diverse backgrounds and some of whom aren’t native English speakers. I generally just keep my mouth shut when this happens. However, when she said “you know, in ten years this country is going to be ruled by those Muslims” I kinda felt like losing it. Even more when she went on about how in “our” country, “they” ought to follow our rules about how to dress and act and live.

Seriously? I felt like asking. Do you know how racist that sounds? Do you realise how bigoted you seem, how ignorant of your own privilege?

What particularly peeved me was that she said “our country,” when I know that she was referring to her white, Anglo-Irish heritage, ignoring the fact that European settlers basically invaded this land in the 1788. That she in another conversation told me it was perfectly fair that as a non-citizen but lifelong resident, I had to pay all my uni fees upfront (all three thousand dollars per semester), because I wasn’t born in Australia.

But what peeved me even more was the fact that I shut up. And didn’t call her out on it.

I have trouble speaking up sometimes. Generally this is for two reasons: either, I don’t want to make a scene with someone in a situation where speaking my mind could potentially make my workplace very uncomfortable. I have to work with this person, so I try to get along to make work more enjoyable. Or, I feel like I don’t know how to argue my perspective convincingly enough, and I know I will end up even more frustrated because my arguments are turned against me and I don’t know how to respond. (This happens to – for example trying to talk about why rape culture is so systemic to someone who just keeps pointing out that men are sexually assaulted too and not all women tell the truth about being assaulted or raped.)

And I get really mad at myself about not speaking up. In this situation, all I was able to do was refuse to engage with that topic and change it to something more neutral. But I feel like a coward to choosing to avoid rather than refute.

It’s something I’m really trying to work on. This whole process of being a newbie feminist is working towards that. I’m really trying to read a lot and educate myself about issues and how to respond to them and how to communicate about them. But it’s not always easy, because I fall into the trap of thinking that everyone’s opinions are valid, and for people who are older than me, that their opinion is better-reasoned and thought out than mine. I’m hoping that this blog will help me with the latter – figuring out what my opinions are and how to get them across clearly.

I found this really great video linked to from a blog I came across somewhere (need to start bookmarking everything I stumble across for reference).

Help a newbie out: What are your strategies for speaking up and managing to sound eloquent and educated? How do you effectively deal with situations like this?

One thought on “Speaking Up (is harder than it sounds)

  1. I couldn’t view your clip as it’s a cloudy day and my connection is 2 slow (satellite b/band- ha!).

    I think it’s really hard in a work situation. I think it’s best to just say quietly and calmly that you disagree – you don’t even have to sound too educated – many people with racist/sexist leanings wouldn’t get finely tuned arguments anyway. But merely letting them know that you think otherwise gives a vote for the other side. At work, I’d be calm and mild, but firm. You don’t happen to feel that way.

    Not at work: give it to ’em with both barrels. Or send them up. I once interrupted a man about to tell a joke at a dinner party by saying, ‘I hope this isn’t an anti-gay joke.’

    He shut up, sheepishly. I think it was going to be.

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