When I was a child growing up in Fiji, my mother often used to tell me “muuh nai chalao” which is a way to say “don’t talk back.” However, literally it means “don’t move your mouth” which basically means “don’t speak.” I remember asking, precocious as I was at 9 or 10, “how am I supposed to talk if I don’t move my mouth?”
My mother is an amazing woman and I love her dearly but she is not one to challenge the status quo. She’ll maintain the peace by maintaining her silence and she tried, bless her she did, she tried to teach me silence but that was one lesson I refused to learn. Growing up in a culture where women are, I’m not going to lie, often expected to be quiet and accept the man’s dictates did not sit well with me. I fought and I spoke and often that was construed as bad behaviour and disrespect because speaking out and making my opinions known was somehow impinging upon the patriarchal rule.
The silencing is less explicit here but oh it is so very pervasive. In the book world, in the uneasy medium inhabited by authors, readers, reviewers, bloggers and publishing industry insiders, a rabid culture of silence and silencing exists–often disguised as the “be nice” faction.
Be nice. Say nice things. Even if inside you disagree wholly, on the surface, be nice. Be kind.
Earlier on Twitter I talked about how much I loathe this “be nice” trend that those in power feed to those not in power. This trend implies that all criticism is borne of malice. It trivializes legitimate issues, detracts from what could become involved discussions about relevant issues, transforms what could be relevant dialectical interactions into trite and maudlin periods of brown nosing. This “be nice/kind” trend becomes a lot more sinister when you consider the power, privilege and gender of the people who are behind this trend. It doesn’t take much to understand that this trend is an implicit way of silencing the masses.
I call to your attention the brouhaha that arose after the last Divergent novel was released and the fangirls threw a giant tantrum to effectively illustrate their displeasure of the ending. John Green told them they were “wrong” to feel that way. Yes, a lot of the fangirls went beyond what was acceptable but the majority of the fans didn’t. They simply spoke out their dissatisfaction and they were told not to, they were told they were wrong to feel the way they did.
Many bloggers have felt the heat when miffed authors gripe about negative reviews and mumble about reviewers not being kind. I call you attention to the stop good reads reviewers blah blah group whose whole raison de etre is to silence women who have something to say. Because “they are mean.”
We live in the 21st century and I live in a culture which is vastly different in some ways to my little village in Fiji. But hey, some things never change.
The Andrew Smith drama brings that point home rather superbly. Where people in power tell those who don’t have power or privilege to shut up. To be understanding. To be kind. Never mind that the majority of people weren’t being unkind. They were, as other bloggers have said before, simply having discussions about what he revealed through his interviews. That’s what literary people do, you know. We talk, we discuss, we analyze and deconstruct. We work with words, whether they are considered to have meaning and weight or not.
The culture of silence and silencing is deeply entrenched in everyday actions and interactions–it is often normalized or disguised as insidious but more accepted movements (be nice).
I’m not going to be silenced though. I’m through with being quiet. Aren’t you?