It’s a familiar scene. A Facebook comment thread has gone off the rails and you’re locked in a debate with someone you only seem to know online. You kind of knew them in real life, at least in the beginning, which you’re now seriously questioning.
Such was the case with me this last week. My sister posted something on Facebook and the comments, as they have done in this political cycle, devolved into that unlovely blend of entitled misinformation and smugness that conveys the message that they, unlike you, are one of The Good Guys.
And my sister and I have had it. This year has broken us or freed us, or a little of bit of both. So, instead of being the Backyard BBQ/Jackie O versions of ourselves, we cried havoc and let slip the dogs of war.
We were immediately smacked down – not because of what we said – but because of the tone in which we said it. I was a ‘thug.’ I wasn’t being ‘diplomatic or caring.’ My sister needed to work #together and ‘travel the high road’ with ‘intelligent and calm discussion.’
Keep in mind, the women who said these things had contributed nothing of substance on the subject at hand. No solutions, no opinions. Their sole (and self-appointed) job on that Facebook thread (in their eyes) was to judge and monitor the tone and manners of other women, while placing themselves above the fray. Which was where someone of their high moral character belonged, not down in the muddy arena with the rest of us war dogs.
It’s a fun thing we do to each other.
Three years ago, I wrote an article for Hello Giggles called, The Science of Mean-Girling, in which I tried to unpack this dynamic. Yet, in the years since I’m no clearer on why certain women are fighting so hard to shush, minimize and shame their sisters into silence. What I do know, is that it’s nothing new.
Depicting a ‘mouthy’ woman as unladylike, shrill, unattractive, a bad mother and wife (if they’re lucky to be married at all) and inelegant is a tale as old as time. But, what fascinates me is how effective and potent the barbs continue to be.
Because, their punches landed.
Tossing and turning, eyes popping open at 4AM – ever since my little Facebook scuffle, I’ve been plagued with doubts. Rewriting my comments. Editing. Massaging. Softening. Until this morning. Pacing around my dark and quiet house I mumbled, “I should’ve just not said anything.”
I should’ve just not said anything.
That’s what happens, right? It’s another fun thing we women do. Minimize our own voices – or that of other women – until we disappear all together.
Because how many times has someone said the following to us:
“It’s not worth it.” “I don’t want to make it weird.” “They probably didn’t mean it.” “It’s no big deal.” “I’m just being melodramatic.” “I’m overreacting.” “Calm down.” “Relax.” “You’re being hysterical.” “You’re so emotional.”
Now, how many times have we said those things to ourselves.
But, then I thought of Theodore Roosevelt’s famous Man in the Arena speech.
(I’ve made a few small changes. It helps if you imagine Lady Mormount from Game of Thrones saying it.)
Woman in the Arena
“It is not the critic who counts; not the woman who points out how the strong woman stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the woman who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends herself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if she fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that her place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
I am in the arena. Hear me roar. I AM IN THE ARENA.
And I have no time for people who aren’t.
Join me in the arena, won’t you?