When Silence Is Supportive

Greetings, fellow male and male-adjacent (i.e. living with a greater or lesser amount of male privilege) westerners. This post is addressed to us, not to anyone else. Everyone is, of course, free to read it, but this is more about keeping our own house in order than anything else. It’s a post about a piece of advice.

This is not a revolutionary piece of advice. This is not “woke.” This is very explicitly old advice that I keep seeing us not taking, and often see myself not taking, which is why I’m bringing it up. Here’s the advice:

Give underprivileged voices space.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is shut up and listen.

Here’s what I mean.

***

CUE SCENE

Woman 1, tweeting about her day: Ugh men are such trash.

Woman 2, sympathizing: God, I know, what now?

Woman 1: Dick pic. Again.

Woman 2: Don’t they know that it’s repulsive?

Man: [says literally anything]

Woman 1 and 2, simultaneously: *hit block button*

END SCENE

***

In this scene, there were two women having a conversation about a shared negative experience at the hands of a demographic (in this case, men) that you, a man, belong to. There is very little you can say in this instance that is helpful. You could #NotAllMen them, which is highly inadvisable for reasons that ought to be pretty clear to anyone who can use google at this point. You could also try to be supportive, something like “I’m so sorry that you had an awful experience (Again. At the hands of people like me.),” instead. This isn’t the worst response, but does insert yourself into a conversation where your presence isn’t required.

Instead, sometimes the best thing you can do is stay out of the way. That’s what I’d advise.

Is it hard when you want to be helpful and reassuring to sit on your hands and say nothing? Sure. It’s so tempting to insert yourself into a conversation with even the best of intentions. I screw up a lot, too, because I was raised to think that everyone wanted and/or needed to hear my opinion, and I’m still trying to undo the way that arises out of my own privilege. Also, Twitter flattens social hierarchies and makes you feel close to people who you’re not, and that’s a challenge, too.

And I get the irony, I do. I’m saying this in a blog post that I want people to read. I’ll probably tweet about it, too. On the other hand I made this space and set it out from the beginning of this post to not be up in someone else’s mentions about it.

What can you do, then? Well, you can listen and learn. You can make a separate conversation with other people about how you can change the cultural norms that have led to these women’s shared negative experience. You can boost their voices, too (with their permission), seeking out and sharing pieces written by those like them who have put their thoughts into words.

But all of this relies on, first, you backing away a little and asking yourself “is my input really required here?” and “will my input replace the voice of someone else?” and “would my silence be more beneficial than my speech in this instance?”

Because while sometimes silence is complicity—not speaking out against oppression, for instance—at other times it’s actively supportive.

Sometimes giving people the space to have a conversation without you is the best thing you can do. So think about it, I guess. And try to be good.

Signed: The Remixologist.

***

Featured image of a cosplayer making the finger to lips “shh” gesture: Jennie Park, CC BY 2.0

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.