On “owning” your ideas, and sharing your voice.

Posted by blatantblithe on April 5, 2013 Blog posts | Personal | | 10 comments

This blog post has been languishing in my ‘drafts’ folder for 18 months or so now.  I couldn’t work out what I was trying to say.  I think it’s about time I published it though.

Over a year ago, I got an email from a distro with some critical feedback for one of my zines.  The basic gist of it was that, although I made some interesting arguments, I made no attempt to “own” my ideas; instead, I prefaced everything with “I’m not sure about this” and “I’m still working this out“, and similarly cautious statements.  This, he argued, took away any power that my words had.  I hadn’t really considered that before, though as soon as I read the critique I knew that he was completely right.  I thanked the distro owner for the feedback, but kind of forgot about it soon after.

Then, a few weeks later, I read a very critical review of the same zine, which also touched upon that critique, adding that it annoyed him how I kept referencing stuff instead of actually writing about it by making statements like “I could talk about…”, “…I can’t write about [it] publicly…”, and “…maybe in a later issue…“.

(On reflection, I found the whole review overly-critical and nitpicky, and it upset me for the rest of the week – I’m too frightened to link to said review in case you all read it and think, “Ah yes, he’s so right, her zine is actually a load of rubbish! I’m never buying a copy again!“.  Ack, I know I’m just being overly-sensitive.  I guess I felt the review was tactless… and I’m the kind of person who knows that critical feedback is important, but when confronted with it experiences a knee-jerk negative emotional reaction. I’m working on that.)

Moan over… these comments got me thinking about how I so frequently doubt myself and make qualifying statements whenever I write/say anything that might be construed as vaguely debatable or controversial.  Yes, whenever I write, I stop short of making any bold claims, hold myself back, stay safe – especially when writing about feminism, which is sadly still seen as something debatable and controversial (there’s a lot of hostility even between feminists – but that’s an entirely separate can of worms).  I think it’s because I know so many feminists who are much more eloquent and well-informed on feminist theory than I am, and I’m so afraid of making a poor argument that will get torn apart.  I’m afraid that people will laugh at my primitive attempts at a systematic argument, and I’m afraid that they will lose respect for me if my writing or my verbal contributions in debates are poor.  At least if I preface everything I say with “I’m still working this out, I don’t really know what I believe“, then people may cut me some slack.  Otherwise, I find myself unable to speak out at all.

I hadn’t considered how refusing to own my ideas removes any impact my voice may have, makes it more moderate, gentle, and inoffensive.  How stereotypically ‘feminine’ of me!  And why should I conform to the idea of how a woman “should” speak – cautiously and always open to being swayed by others?  Why can’t I speak loudly and proudly, even if I don’t have everything worked out exactly to the last detail?  I want to be able to say: fuck it.  This is what I believe. This is what I want to do. I don’t care if you agree or not, and I don’t care if I’m wrong.

But I can’t.  Even writing that feels uncomfortable for me.

Then again… maybe I’m being too hard on myself here.  After all, I am unlearning an entire lifetime of enforced shyness and demureness (little girls shouldn’t be brash and arrogant, but dainty and sweet!  Any obnoxious behaviour was punished and I was swiftly put back in my place, whereas my shyness/cuteness was often rewarded by the adults around me, even in my late teens; I have memories of frequently being called “a little lady“).  Perhaps it’s ok to be cautious at first, as I take steps towards being stronger and more confident?

*sigh*  This blog post doesn’t have a neat conclusion, I’m afraid.  I’m just having a bit of a ramble really.

10 Comments

  • Emma F said on Apr 5, 2013 7:04 pm

    I can relate, but I don’t think anyone would accuse me of being a timid flower, and I’ve never been called ladylike, ha.

    I actually hate it when people are too forthright and bold about their opinions, and phrase everything in absolute statements. Often it looks like they haven’t thought it through, and are coming to hasty conclusions and dismissing any other evidence because they have decided what they think and they don’t want to know any more. I always use hedging language because I like to be accurate, and I know that I don’t know everything about the topic I’m talking about, there’s always more to find out and consider.

    Also, why do women have to relearn how to speak the way men are brought up to, to be considered confident? What’s wrong with learning to listen and consider what you say carefully, rather than phrase things like they’re god-given truths?

    Also, were the reviewers americans? They have a weird obsession with making all your sentences “active” and “strong” that they get taught at school. All American 100% Beef, 100% Man sentences, no passives or qualifiers here!

    • Catherine said on May 18, 2013 10:21 pm

      This has given me lots to think about, thank you! One reviewer was american, and one was australian. both male.

  • powerspowers said on Apr 5, 2013 7:37 pm

    Me too! I’m a reasonably confident person, or at least I come across that way, yet I’m so scared of my own ideas I can’t even tweet them! You have inspired me to go write something and not be afraid to put it out there. I do think Emma makes a good point about men’s voices though- why is it so bad to listen, to take time to think, to lead e room for diversity of opinion and experience? At the risk of sounding wishy-washy, is a happy medium the answer?

    • Catherine said on May 18, 2013 10:22 pm

      Thank you for the comment! Yeah, I think Emma has made a lot of good points, I’ll have to have a think about this again!

  • Kiri said on Apr 5, 2013 8:42 pm

    I’m glad I’m not the only one with thoughts like these. I’m seriously thinking of making a zine soon (my first! :D), and I really worry about harsh criticism (*wince*), and I do also find myself sort of holding back (“sort of”? :P). It’s sort of (augh!) hard to boldly state something because, yes, what if you get torn a new one because you’re wrong? But why let fear take control, why not just state what one believes, straight up?

    Ahh fear.

    And the “fuck it!” part you wrote, yep, it’s rare when my mind and feelings allow me to say that and mean it. Some might say to toughen up. But I dunno, I’ve tried, doesn’t work. 😛 Anyway, sorry for rambling, but I just wanted to say that I feel what you’re saying. (And that I doubt -I’d- call your zine a load of rubbish, now I’m curious about it. ;D).

    *found this link to your blog through @iamfiction on Twitter btw* :)

    • Catherine said on May 18, 2013 10:24 pm

      Hi, thanks for the comment! I worried a lot about facing harsh criticism when I first stated up my zine series, but the amount of support and positivity I’ve felt has far outweighed any criticisms! You should definitely make a zine soon, that would be awesome. :)

  • marandaelizabeth said on Apr 5, 2013 11:07 pm

    I actually often make a point of not making the most bold statements, or at least, not making definitive statements; my thoughts, feelings, and politics are constantly evolving, and I don’t feel like I’m ever gonna come to this big magical conclusion, and be able to say, I Believe In This & This Because X, Y, & Z. I can only speak to my own experience. I would much rather be unsure of something, and go through the (never-ending) process of figuring it out. Especially with feminism & politics; while it’s rad to have steadfast beliefs on some occasions, it’s also important to be open to new-to-me ideas. But, obviously, it’s equally important to have confidence in your words & your voice. I think it’s possible to integrate each side, it’s just hard work (I’m still learning). ♥

    • Catherine said on May 18, 2013 10:25 pm

      Thanks for the comment! Yeah, that’s a good point about constantly evolving politics and being open to new ideas. Everyone’s comments have given me plenty to think about!

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