Since about the age of 15, when I started to learn the basic principles of feminism from extensive amounts of time spent on Tumblr, I have been described as “opinionated” by pretty much anyone who interacts with me. Some have said it kindly, to my face and some have said it unkindly, behind my back. I’ve never known quite how to take it, but it seems to be etched into my personality at this point.
My “opinionated”-ness only intensified when I started studying sociology, race and gender theory at university - I became a walking, talking spout of depressing facts and statistics, trying to explain white privilege and rape culture to a bunch of people who had absolutely zero interest in hearing about them.
I started a lot of arguments - through passion, empathy and intense frustration, and they almost always ended in tears (my own, every time). I knew it bothered people how fiercely I held my beliefs, and how I could never resist saying my piece, but I didn’t really care. I believed that what I was saying needed to be said, and it didn’t matter how many times I ended up crying at a party because I tried to talk sense to ignorance.
In many ways, I still am that “opinionated” girl. I’m not done arguing. I’m not done fighting. I’m not done trying to help people see a different perspective. I mean… I quite literally spend my spare time writing opinion pieces, so, clearly, not much has changed.
However, as I’ve grown older, I feel like one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is when to pick my battles.
These days, I let a lot more things slide than I used to, even when I have a zillion thoughts that are dying to be set free. If someone says they love Ariana Grande, I don’t have to mention the blackfishing! If someone wants to watch a Johnny Depp movie, I probably wouldn’t be able to stop myself from grimacing, but it still might not be worth it to say anything! If an old man makes a “joke” about female drivers, maybe I’ll just let it go.
I’m not saying I’m any good at controlling this impulse, but I do spend a lot more time weighing up whether it’s worth it to say anything. If someone says something naive but harmless, do I need to rain on their parade? If the person I’m talking to is someone who would never listen and has no desire to learn or grow, do I need to put myself through the stress of running up against that brick wall? Is it worth it for me?
I’ve decided there are essentially two scenarios in which it is imperative that I do speak up.
The first is when I’m talking to someone who I know respects me and is willing to listen to what I have to say. As long as I let them know that I respect them and I’m willing to listen, too. Even if they don’t want to change their mind, there’s always value to be had in a conversation that is thoughtful and considerate.
The second is when something needs to be said and I know I’m the only one in the room who’s going to say it. If my uncle says something racist at a family event, and there’s no person of colour there to speak on their own behalf, I would be a bad ally if I let it slide just because I didn’t want to start an argument. Same goes for any group that isn’t represented in the conversation. If I feel like members of a minority group are being misrepresented or denigrated, I’ll say something.
Other than that, I’m playing it by ear. I still say what I’m thinking more often than not, but I also try to let things go a lot more than I used to. I haven’t stopped being opinionated - trust me, no one would argue that.
But I do think that I’m a better person to know, a better ally, and an all round happier person, because I’ve learnt when to bite my tongue.Support Villainesse