Being Silent

I’ve been following the backlash from the media coverage of the Steubenville rape case pretty closely. I’ve read all the important articles and blog posts. I’ve read all of my friends’ statuses and comments. I’ve seen my friends’ anger, their commitment to rationalism, and their frustration with patriarchal systems.

I’ve always struggled with what I should be saying about things where I don’t resemble the victim. What should I say about male-on-female rape or sexism or racism? I like to talk about these issues but am I limited to parroting what female, minority, and/or LGBTQ friends and/or scholars say about them?

My friend, Tyler Borchers, pointed me to “Dismantling whiteness: Silent yielding and the potentiality of political suicide” by a professor here at Ohio University named Dr. Jungkunz.

Jungkunz writes:

To reiterate, part of what privilege has involved in garrulous contemporary settings has been a monopoly over speaking. We have witnessed this surrounding sex, sexuality, race, class and gender. Masculine, white, ‘heterosexual’, wealthy men are privileged speakers. So, to engage insubordinate silence along any of these components of intersectionality is to engage several transformative contestations and participations. First, silence can demonstrate a protest against racism. Such protests can entail: silence instead of an encouraging laughter as a response to a co-worker’s racially offensive joke, or an organized silent protest involving duct tape over one’s mouth to call attention to oppressive quiescence. These silences can cut off the air (speaking) that gives life (via racist stereotyping) to white supremacy. Block de Behar notes, ‘that only silence can offer a means of avoiding the automatism of language’ (1995, p. 4). Second, silence can act as a democratic yielding. This yielding is insubordinate as it challenges norms that try to dictate who should and should not speak – so, to remain silent as a way to allow the ‘other’ to speak is inherently resistant to a whiteness-speech configuration of power. This is a silence for empowerment and transformation. Finally, silence as a refusal can seek to end one political existence – whiteness – only to open up the possibility of an alternative to a racialized polity for the future. This silence as refusal can involve the following: not claiming a race on the census questionnaire, remaining silent when someone asks for racial identification over the phone or upon a personal ad and not engaging an entire array of racially offensive names, topics, movies, songs, discussions and so on. At an even deeper level, this silence can be an active refusal of aspects, characteristics – white personality traits if you will – that slowly but importantly begin to kill off one’s whiteness. For instance, the urge to speak up and out can be refused; the exuding of confidence can be refused; and even the lack of racial self-consciousness can be refused.

I am really bad about this. I am really bad about being okay with silence. In fact, I’ve found myself knee-deep in discussions about Steubenville the past couple of days. And every time I get frustrated with one of those discussions, I try to move to a discussion with someone who I know will agree with me. This, I think, is both incredibly prideful and incredibly damaging.

Too often, I start to believe that the only way to affect political action is through speech. Through action. But that’s not true. Often, the way I can be most subversive in my privilege is to yield my voice to oppressed groups. My voice is not unimportant or worthless. It’s just that there is nothing of value my voice can add to the debate. I am not a survivor. I know survivors, but I know them as friends. And I think they are far more qualified to talk about their experiences than I am. My role should be to encourage other non-survivors to listen. To listen. To be silent.

I think of all the times I’ve laughed at a rape joke in the presence of other people. That’s not alright. Or all the times I’ve agreed when someone calls a girl a “slut.” That’s not alright. Or all the times I’ve been part of a community that encourages people to make decisions about sexual partners while under the influence of alcohol. That’s not alright. Silence would have been better.

Silence is probably better now.

Note: When I typed “silence” into Google to try to find a picture, I most often found pictures of women being silent. Yikes. Then when I typed in “silence man,” I got photos of scantily clad men sneaking up on sleeping women. um wut.

An Evening Promenade, or, “You a bitch?”

“You a bitch?”

This is Ohio University. This is where I live.

They are standing on the corner of a street when I see them. I am hunched over from the heaviness of my backpack. I am supremely self-conscious of the fact that I am the only one uptown with a backpack. But I just finished an assignment at the library, and I like taking the crowded way home just for the possible opportunity of running into someone I know. This night, I don’t. Instead, I run into them.

In my memory, he is wearing a black Ed Hardy t-shirt. But I think I put that on him retroactively. It’s part of his stereotype. When he comes into my line of sight, he is pumping his fists in the air, yelling at his buddy who just passed me, girl in hand: “Brady! Get some!” It is deep and staccato.

I’m not close enough to see her, but I imagine the girl standing next to him (Ed Hardy man) rolls her eyes. She is clearly intoxicated, stumbling as she stands still and hanging onto his arm for balance. She is wearing a dress that is the perfect mix of alluring and modest. I like her. There is something optimistic about her.

When I walk home at night, I try to keep my head down. It’s easier that way. But my curiosity often gets the better of me, and most of the time, I walk around looking like an old-fashioned sprinkler, spinning my head from side to side so that I can see everything that is going on around me. And so as I walk behind this couple, I can’t help but look at them.

I lag behind, not wanting to awkwardly pass them. We cross a street together. We start heading down the hill.

“But she’s my best friend!”

“Fuck that!” the boy answers throwing his hands up in the air. He’s short, probably not much taller than me, but more muscular.

They stand still and argue for a moment. I slow my pace even more. They have a brief discussion about an Olivia whom the girl absolutely adores and whom the boy accuses of being controlling. The boy grabs her hand, and they start walking again. Their voices bounce from decibel to decibel. They cross the street. The girl pulls her hand away every once in a while, but the boy always forcefully takes it back.

We pass house after house. Many people see them. No one says anything. This is Ohio University. This is where they live. This is not unusual.

When they turn down a side street, I decide to follow. I don’t know what I’m thinking. He’s drunk and in a violent mood. He’s bigger than me. If I speak up, I’m probably going to get beat up. I keep waiting for things to escalate, though. I hide behind mailboxes, willing the girl to say “No” or “Stop” or something that would be a call to action.

They turn into Palmer Place, the site of some of the university’s dirtiest laundry. Broken lawn chairs are scattered around the patios. Empty beer cans are everywhere.

I want to say something to them. I want to ask the girl if she’s alright. I want to tell her that she doesn’t have to go home with him. I want to call the police. My phone is dead, but I’m not sure this warrants an emergency call anyway. But there is a crime, here, certainly. Someone is hurting someone else. I’m not sure what it is, exactly. It might just be a boy living out his role in patriarchy, but it’s hard to tell.

I kick at leaves as I pass them, putting my head down for real this time. I am approaching a party. Five large men sit on a patio. They make lewd remarks to two women who go to a side yard to have a private conference.

“Hey man, I like your backpack!” says one of the men to me.


“You a bitch or something?” All of the men laugh. This is Ohio University. This is where I live.

Turning the Other Cheek Turns Emotions Into Justice

I’ve always kind of struggled with the concept of turning the other cheek and all that.

Our God is one of justice, right?

The Lord works righteousness
And justice for all the oppressed (Psalm 103:6)

So why then are we not allowed to help with that whole justice thing?

A lot of people try to explain this away by saying that we don’t really know what justice is – that only God can judge. I don’t know about that. I know that rape, murder, and slavery are wrong. That’s a judgment. I think I am capable of judging. And we forget that turning the other cheek has to do with someone slapping you. Slapping is pretty wrong, I think. I know that I don’t like it when someone slaps me.

I’m in a Psychology of Gender class this quarter. In that class, we are learning about pro-feminist men right now. Pro-feminist men are men who actively support feminist women to push gender equality. I think pro-feminist men are pretty awesome. Feminist women are pretty awesome, too. It takes a lot of courage to stand up against oppression. But I’ve been thinking a lot about pro-feminist men. I’ve been thinking about how they don’t really have a lot to gain from gender equality. Men are on top. In fact, a lot of men fear that gender equality would mean loss of status for themselves. Pro-feminist men have to believe that gender equality is intrinsically more important than having a wife who stays at home or who is submissive.

There are studies out there that show that the shackles of oppression begin to fall off when members of the oppressor group begin to speak out for the oppressed. Sexism is most successfully combated when men correct their friends when they make a sexist joke or when men refuse to take a job that they have obtained based on sexist hiring practices.

Like most things Jesus taught, the turn the other cheek policy shows a keen insight into human nature. It’s easy to be angry when you have been attacked. It’s easy to clamor for justice, then. But mostly, that’s just emotion. When a friend makes fun of me, I am not mad because my friend has violated the intrinsically moral rule that making fun of people is wrong. I am mad because I was the subject of the ridicule. And if I say anything, it is easy for my friends to say that I am making a mountain out of a molehill. But what if I never got mad when people made fun of me? What if, instead, I made fun of myself?

Then, when someone was making fun of another friend, I could say something. Because people would say “Hey, Spencer is usually so chill about joking around. We must really be out of line if he’s not okay with this joke.”

That’s what turning the other cheek does. It creates a world in which people know that your emotions are not tied to your sense of justice.