"I don't like your tone, young lady!"

: or, why gender "justice," and what is "angry hope"?


  1. In the newly reinstated and relocated gal328.org "Forum" (now a Facebook group; if you're looking for a supportive community for discussion & encouragement re gender issues in Churches of Christ, contact gal328 via email!), a member asked an important question that prompted an excellent discussion and multiple points of view on issues of "tone," diplomacy, framing, and effective communication.

    The question was, "what is added to the discussion by couching it in language of justice? Is it possible we turn off more people than we win over? If not, how can we best win over those in agreement with us who are skeptical of the language?"

    In other words (my paraphrase), why is "gender justice" the tagline for gal328.org and not the more common "gender equality" or the CofC phrase "gender inclusion?" Does "justice" language come off as too adversarial, too accusatory, too, well...too angry? 
  2. Not a Pretty Girl - Ani DiFranco
  3. I am not an angry girl
    but it seems like I've got everyone fooled
    every time I say something they find hard to hear
    they chalk it up to my anger
    and never to their own fear
  4. Here's how this discussion of what we call "tone policing" usually breaks down. Position 1: the burden of communication is on the speaker/writer; it is up to her to get through to her listeners, and not to alienate them.

    In an wonderful and prolonged twitter exchange on tone policing, anger and effective advocacy for change, Rachel Held Evans suggested that part of her success as an advocate for women within the evangelical world is due to the kind of carefully modulated tone she consistently employs.
  5. Position 2: the burden of understanding is on the listeners, because the speaker/writer is addressing a painful topic which will undoubtedly be difficult to hear regardless of how the she expresses herself.

    Sarah Moon employs the analogy of someone suddenly stepping on your foot--accidentally, on purpose, you don't know--and then, because you fail to ask "nicely" enough, refuses to stop stepping on your foot until you apologize for making them feel bad for doing it. (My gloss, you can read the full blog post below).
  6. Quiara's illustration below suggests that if anger seems out of place in confronting oppression, then it may be a sign that we're part of the problem.
  7. The problem is that all of this is true. Without saying how things ought to be, in practical terms, the privileged set the standards of so-called "civil engagement," and the oppressed carry an extra burden in trying to meet those standards, under suspicion, in order to get a hearing. 
  8. It's not fair, and what's even worse, many times successfully meeting that extra burden, without the benefit of the doubt, doesn't work. The presumption of anger can mean that even if you're as nonreactive as a noble gas, nothing you say, however calm and reasoned, will be heard as calm or reasonable. 

    In other words, there's no "nice enough" way to tell that person standing on your foot to get off it, if they're going to interpret whatever you say as angry.
  9. And this feels like a hopeless stalemate. No amount of polite gets you heard--you're default angry. But expressing anger justifies the already present presumption of anger. And...so?
  10. So. I want to contest the assumption that the stalemate is necessary. Maybe it's inevitable (see what I did there, theology nerds?)--but if it's inevitable, it is so because of the way we enter the dialogue and construct the interaction. And so, of course, that's what we need to change.
  11. I'm still trying to think my way through this, so hear this as a sort of ongoing musing about difficult conversations and how to better have them, rather than an authoritative, prescriptive pronouncement. I'm in the middle of this and muddling through.

    You may note that in the following muddled musing I use the inclusive "we." That's because, like so many people, I find myself on both sides of difficult conversations. In some--scratch that, in most contexts, I occupy a position of privilege. It is within my church context (and oh, how wrong it is that I write this sentence and that it is true) that I most clearly find myself on the other side--the anguished, angry hoper working for justice for women called to ministry in a tradition that refuses to value them.
  12. First suggestion: nobody's off the hook, everyone is responsible. No one can claim impunity or innocence. 
  13. (Oh, this makes me anxious in a way I haven't experienced since first blogging. Yikes.)
  14. What does this mean, in practical terms? It means, for one thing, that we must be willing to "listen well." And, that we must recognize this isn't something we can take for granted we know how to do, always. And, that we're going to have to let someone who knows, teach us.

    Read this whole series by Christena Cleveland. And then, follow her on twitter and basically read everything she writes. Including her forthcoming book, The Priesthood of the Privileged.
  15. It also means that we must be responsible for our anger. I don't mean that we must let go, deny or suppress anger. Or, I guess, that we must manufacture it if we don't feel it--though it's hard for me to imagine confronting injustice without anger. But if we're angry, it doesn't do any good to pretend we're not. If we're angry, we need to be able to say so, and say why. We must be honest with ourselves about it, and honest with others about it. We must be responsible for it.

    In the twitter exchange, Rachel asks,