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Michael Tharrington
Michael Tharrington

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When to Speak Up & When to Shut Up?

This question has been rolling around my brain for a while now in regards to wanting to be a better advocate for gender equity.

I won't pretend to have all the right answers, but I've decided to make a few notes on my thoughts below and I invite others to share their feedback! (That said, I'd rather not debate with nor hear snide takes from anyone that doesn't appreciate the values of WeCoded, so please don't take it there.)

When to Speak Up?

  1. If I see that women, transgender, nonbinary, gender-nonconforming, or two-spirit individuals are being mistreated, I need to speak up. Yes, I know this one seems obvious, but in the heat of the moment, it can be tough to know what to say and when to say it. But, I really think calling out the mistreatment in the moment is one of the most supportive things one can do. Each situation is different and requires an adjustment in tone, but when I see someone being hurt by someone else (whether purposefully or not) it's a good idea to address the situation (it's also part of my role here as a Community Manager, though this advice stands regardless). Sometimes I worry about the optics of “white knighting”, and while I do need to use my language carefully, I need to remind myself that it’s not about me, it’s about helping someone else; I can’t let these optics scare me from taking action. If I feel uncertain about the person wanting me to speak up on their behalf in a comment thread, I can always email them or contact them outside of the thread, offer supportive words, and listen to them. It's just as (if not more) important to speak up and offer supportive words to the person that is negatively affected by the abuse as it is to speak out against the folks mistreating others.

  2. If I know that a woman, transgender, nonbinary, gender-nonconforming, or two-spirit individual is doing good work, I need to advocate for them. One way to do that is to share praise about them publicly, be descriptive, and make sure this person is receiving my appreciation in front of other folks. Of course, it's always important to give credit to those who deserve it, but I know that it's particularly important to do so for those folks who have been marginalized and underrepresented in our industry and others for so long because it can help to uplift them and progress them to positions of authority. Something that I occasionally worry about is what the optics of me doing this might look to others. For example, do I look like I'm sharing this praise in a way that feels manufactured or like I'm doing it to try and make myself look better? In these cases, I need to remind myself that I'm being genuine and this isn't about how I look, it's about the individual I'm advocating for.

  3. If I'm around other cis men and I hear them down-talking or spreading misogynistic views about women, transgender, nonbinary, gender-nonconforming, or two-spirit individuals, I need to speak up against them and let them know that their behavior is not cool. I've witnessed this previously and I'm sorry to say that there are times where I didn't stand up and push back. I was afraid of confrontation; it's not easy to stand up against folks when they act like this, but speaking from personal experienc, if you don't, you'll regret it. It can be particularly disappointing and tough to deal with this, when it's a friend or family member spreading these views... it puts you in a super uncomfortable position and makes you question your relationship with them. I have to remind myself that it is a good thing to display my discomfort to them in these situations. And, while voicing that I'm upset with their views is hard to do, it's necessary. Yes, it may pass the discomfort back to them, but they need to sit with it for a little while and hopefully learn from it. Rejecting this behavior head-on is helpful in changing it.

When to Shut Up?

  1. If a woman, transgender, nonbinary, gender-nonconforming, or two-spirit individual is speaking up for themselves and I feel inclined to question their lived experience, then I should shut up and listen. Something that might seem like a small slight to me, could very well be a bigger deal to someone of a marginalized group who is experiencing constant microaggressions throughout their life. There's no way I can know what they're going through better than they do. As my friend @devencourt recently explained to me:

    Nobody is obligated to explain their gender or tell their life story or debate whether or not they deserve to exist. When you publicly challenge people without doing your own research, you're putting them on the spot to explain something when the onus isn't on them — it's on you to learn what all major medical associations and the global scientific community at large have already come to a consensus on.

    I want to affirm that no one has the right to ask a stranger of marginalized identity to explain themselves or their right to exist; however, for example, if you have a trans friend that expresses that they're fully comfortable answering questions, at that point it's okay to respectfully ask about their identity or expression.

    I need to remember to listen intently and continually try to empathize with others’ experiences, avoiding any pull to judge, disbelieve, or otherwise question them. If I do want to ask questions that are going to put a person in a vulnerable place, I need to do the research and speak with someone who is comfortable speaking with me in a setting that they approve.

  2. If a woman, transgender, nonbinary, gender-nonconforming, or two-spirit individual calls me out for using hurtful language (even if that's not my intention) and I feel inclined to defend myself (or worse, go on the offense) then I should shut up, take a breath, and apologize. I'm an ass sometimes. There are times where I've been insensitive with my language and hurt folks without meaning to. For instance, I've misused pronouns before and been called out on it, and knowing that it wasn't my intention to hurt someone, my mind has jumped to defense mode. Why do they have to call me out like this? I didn't mean to... We all get defensive, but it's important to take responsibility for our mistakes, apologize, and move on, rather than worrying about the bruise our egos might've taken. My intentions don’t excuse the result of my actions, and the quicker I take responsibility and apologize, the quicker I can mend fences, move on, and hopefully learn from my mistakes so I don’t make them again.

I'm sure there are more instances than what I've listed above. I'd love to hear y'all's takes on when to speak up vs. when to shut up in regards to being a better gender equity ally.

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