I was reading this article on a woman who spoke up during a comedian’s bit on rape jokes, and subsequently became the butt of a rape joke/threat and my absolute first reaction was, “wow, she actually spoke up.” I’ve been noticing in myself and in people (mostly women) around me that there’s a trend towards not saying something because, as this woman even admitted, it’s “disruptive.” But what does that “disruption” really mean?
To continue with the example of this woman, she was probably feeling in every fiber of her being a sense that what the comedian was saying is truly wrong. (“rape jokes are always funny”) I suppose this because I got this feeling in my gut just from reading her synopsis of the story, and it’s that feeling that will make me speak out. Whether or not she was justified in her perspective is actually not the point I’m trying to make here; the point is that she felt a strong opinion in a certain direction.
I have the experience that I feel these types of things all the time, and often they’re in contexts I don’t deem as “safe” to bring up my opinion. For example, a large auditorium with an audience full of people laughing about rape is not a “safe” space, in my perception, to contradict the crowd. (Why do I perceive it as not safe? Because I fear precisely what happened.) At Occupy Seattle, or Gender Bender Blues Recess I would be much more likely to contradict the flow of the crowd.
Now obviously, addressing crowds is a difficult beast. But I see this also happening in little day-to-day things. Let’s take dance, as an example. There are countless times when I experience or hear someone else’s experience in which we experience discomfort (physical, or a social faux paus or space-bubble invasion) that we do or say nothing about. In the moment I often find myself frozen in a mental loop of “How do I change things so I can be comfortable without being impolite or hurting his feelings?” When I stand back and think about it, though, the actual meaning of that thought is “How can I become more comfortable without making him uncomfortable?” When I look at it that way I start to realize that I’m sacrificing my comfort for his. It might appear beatifically self-less of me to sacrifice my comfort for him, but come on people, this is dancing not church! My comfort is the only thing in the equation that I actually have control over. [I could ask if he’s comfortable, but even still, I don’t have control over his choice to lie or not lie in answer to my question.] In an effort to preserve his comfort I will do everything in my power to address the issue in a polite and gentle way, but when all is said and done, my comfort has to come first. Why are we afraid to ask for the space to be comfortable?
Let’s flip this on it’s head for a second: you are dancing with someone and having a great time. If s/he is not having a good time; if s/he is uncomfortable and you could do something to make her/him more comfortable, wouldn’t you do it?
So then: Why are we so afraid to address our discomfort with someone who could help? or conversely: Why are we hurt/upset/shaken when someone asks us for something that would make them more comfortable?
I really don’t have the answer to these yet. I’d love thoughts and feedback and I’ll probably post more in the future while I chew on this.