Someone started a thread on a forum I frequent about how afraid they are to say anything at all lest they be jumped on and have someone climb up their ass about every misstep and just generally be super mean. I am going to assume that anybody reading this is already well aware of why The Tone Argument (in Capital Letters!) is basically considered its own autofail trigger in social justice conversations. If not, be aware that dismissing the content of a post because a free education about how fucked up your behavior is wasn’t delivered as sweetly as you feel you’re entitled to? That means you just lose, automatically, and if you have a problem with this, I suggest you read the following before you bring your shiny new never-heard-before objections here.
The Tone Argument entry from the Geek Feminism Wiki gives a good overview. That entry links Geekosophical’s Toes of Conduct, which explains a particularly useful metaphor here, so I will actually pull it out and quote it.
If you witness someone stepping on someone else’s toes; do not harangue the person with the bruised toes for being hurt, simply because you did not feel the crush. If you step on someone’s toes; apologise for stepping on their toes. Resist the urge to point to an inconsiderate witness, or people whose toes you have not yet stepped on, as excuses for not apologising.
[Activist Modus Operandi] Methods of Communication by Genderbitch on why it’s tactically unwise to force all activists to use the same tone, even if the tone you’re pushing for is a sweet one that seems like everybody would respond well to it.
The Privilege of Politeness on why demanding that marginalized people always give more consideration than they receive is unsustainable, unjust, and an action so callously willing to sacrifice the authenticity and voices of the marginalized that it can only be called supremacist.
The Tone Argument by abagond does a good job pointing out that the Tone Argument is generally used as a way for people who don’t want to listen to blame anything but their own apathy. It’s a way of saying, “It is your fault that more people don’t care, that I don’t care.” It’s a tactic of people who do not want to take responsibility for their own priorities, and would be BS for that reason alone even if it weren’t such a gross silencing tactic.
So yeah, if you didn’t immediately recognize why the Tone Argument is an automatic critical failure, read a couple of those and then come back.
Someone started a thread on this forum about how afraid they are to say anything at all lest they be jumped on and have someone climb up their ass about every misstep and just generally be super mean. There were many many good responses to the failures of the thread, so I don’t want to give a bad impression of the community, but there was definitely a lot to respond to.
Prize excerpts include the following:
It feels to me that any little mistep can result in a hugely disproportionate negative response. It sometimes feels like walking on eggshells dipped in liquid nitrogen. -Person A
For my part, I’m fearful of posting in many areas because I’m afraid if I make a mistake, I will be denounced as a bad person, a failure, a privileged asshole. -Person B
I constantly and consciously avoid entering into discussions because I’m afraid that I can’t disagree without being seen as an enemy. -Person C
Here’s what I said, reproduced here because I think there are a lot of people who are tired of being afraid that they’re going to be jumped on if they say something busted without realizing it, and consequently limit their involvement in certain discussions for fear of potential reactions to their screw-ups.
There are people in the world (myself included) who do not participate in certain conversations for fear that we’ll do something wrong. There are a couple of reasons for this that I have seen. One is pretty well beyond reproach in my opinion, and the other is frigging appalling.
The good reason not to participate in a conversation for fear of doing something wrong is that sometimes doing something wrong hurts people. I don’t get into a lot of discussions about mental illness and disability because that is an area where I am highly likely to show my biases in a way that will do real harm to real people in a space where they are trying to develop a trusting community. I don’t participate in those threads because I am not at the level where I trust myself not to hurt people while I am still learning. I read and I form private opinions and I will often see them either reaffirmed or refuted, all without anybody needing to be faced with what was in my head. I do this because sometimes it’s more important to me that I could hurt someone else than for me to squeeze someone who’s hurting for a free education and assurance that we can still be friends.
There is a bad reason. The bad reason goes something like, “I am afraid to say something wrong because people will jump all over me!” The fact that some people even see that as what’s happening sort of bothers me. It’s a little like saying, “I am afraid to throw rocks in the backyard when my baby brother’s out there with me because my mom will yell!” You notice how it doesn’t say anything at all about the risk to the little brother that is the real reason for the yelling? It’s all “me me me someone’s going to yell at me and that’s terrible.” If you do this and are not actually a five year old, shame on you.
I am going to be perfectly honest and say that if someone in this thread is more concerned about the prospect of a hurt person being harsh with them than they are about the prospect of hurting that person in the first place, I don’t know what to do with you but I certainly wouldn’t start by recentering the whole conversation on what a tragedy it was that someone swore at you with startling vehemence after you ran over their personal foot.
There is such a thing as reaching toxic levels of anger where there’s just lashing out in all directions and yes that is counterproductive. I have been hit with that unfairly and I have been there myself, so that is not a foreign concept to me. I’m really really sick of seeing people accused of being too hurtful, though, by people who don’t care whom they hurt. Hurtfulness does not only matter when someone is getting “jumped on” (AKA being exposed to the actual scale of the harm they’ve caused in a way they find jarring and unpleasant).
You know what, here. I think some people need to reread The Privilege of Politeness, which has a great section about the fact that doing something hurtful means that an unpleasant response doesn’t come out of nowhere. If I say something triggeringly ablist and nasty (and I am sure I would if I participated in those conversations at this stage in my own process of dealing with shit), I have already lost the moral high ground to start demanding that the community be gentle and kind and comfortable, because I just screwed it up for someone else.
What’s most important here, though, is that I am sick and goddamn tired of people saying that the reason screwing up is bad in an accountable environment is that you’ll have to deal with the authentic response to it, the one that comes without smiling and shuffling and apologies and buttpats. The reason screwing up is bad is that you hurt someone. Stop making this about how hard it is for you to face how you made someone feel.
I am sure you all would never come out and say that it matters less to you that you hurt someone than that you’re having to see what you did, but considering how many people are insist on focusing on the latter thing… well, accurate or no, it says something about your priorities. We are working from the only data about your priorities that we have available to us.
If the chief thing keeping some of you from waving your ignorance around is the fear of getting yelled at rather than the fear of doing harm, all I can think is that clearly people need to keep yelling at you.
For more excellentness on this subject from the people who have taught me things, please see On Taking Offense by naamah_darling, I Don’t Care if You’re Offended from Fineness and Accuracy, Annoying are the Peacemakers, for They Will Call for Our Silence by SparkinDarkness, and “Omg Ur So MEEN!” PseudoAlly Tears And Why We Don’t Care by Genderbitch.