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Do we have to listen to everyone?

Do we have to listen to everyone?

Chris (my husband) always tells me that I am very passionate about things when I argue or discuss. That I always think that I am right. I am always surprised at this statement because of course I think I am right! Why else would I passionately defend something?

It doesn't mean that I am necessarily always right. Actually, I have changed my mind so many times before! but when I change my mind I defend my new, updated and more informed opinion, with equal passion. 

Chris sometimes uses this as a way to show that I might be wrong, or I shouldn't defend things so strongly. "well, you were defending the opposite not so long ago" but to me that argument doesn't add up, especially when it comes from a place where I used to be. 

I have no problem saying “I don’t know enough about it” and I also have no problem not arguing at all about things that I have no interest in. You won’t catch me arguing about rugby or brit pop because I don’t care. I am also happy to listen to those that know more than me about topics that interest me, I might ask questions, or share where I am in that process, but I wouldn’t passionately defend it or think I am right.

I wonder if men get judged as much for speaking with authority or conviction?

This whole idea, is similar to the "you need to listen to other opinions" or "all opinions should be given the same airtime' arguments we hear these days, which are very valid (in theory) but I think are often missinterpretated. Yes, I need to listen to other opinions, but I need to listen to opinions that are forward in the journey that I am on, not behind. I don't need to listen to men's opinions about women's issues. I need to listen to marginalised women's voices about women's issues, because their voices matter and are invisibilised. They have something to say that I need to learn. No matter how much I try I will always have blind spots and things to get better at. I will always be willing to stop and listen to them.

I find that this is a key piece for me and one that I keep encountering and having to explain over and over. Yes, everyone has the right to their opinion, but it doesn't mean that they have the right of me listening to it, or caring about it. I don't have to listen to people that know less than me about sexism explaining why they think feminism has gone too far. I can choose to have the conversation with them (which I do most of the time) from a place of an expert who knows what she is talking about and wants to engage and debate, but I can also choose not to. And that is ok.

But when I state that I come across as arrogant, as if the "nice thing to do" would be to act and engage in conversation as if our opinions were equally valid. I find that even if this is my career and expertise, stating that I am expert in the topic is non socially acceptable. Sometimes it even happens to my sister, who is an orthopaedic surgeon; she is expected to listen to her patients' opinions about how to proceed based on a google search that they did while in the bathroom. We can (hopefully) see how that is absurd, but just because social issues are not perceived as important as medicine, it doesn’t mean that not as equally absurd for me.

I have found myself (oh surprise!) arguing with some men this summer. Men that have no clue of what they are talking about, that have no data, no personal experience, no understanding of how things work but just a gut feeling that me and feminism are against them. They feel that they are entitled of my time and energy and expect me to admit that I am wrong because “they have a friend who wasn’t given a raise because they can only give promotions to women these days, how is that fair eh?? That is stupid and wrong” and they get confused when I refuse to engage in the nonsense from a place of equals.

Some people (and the more privileged the more this seems to happen) don’t care enough about a topic to research it properly but somehow still feel that they are owed a opportunity to prove wrong those who actually do just because they don’t like what they have to say.

It is only recently that I have felt comfortable to say things as they are, to tell them that I am happy to have those conversations as a consultant at £50/hour and under appointment, that I genuinely don’t care about what they have to say, that their opinion is irrelevant (which doesn’t mean that they are not entitled to have it, just that is not relevant for me or for the world). But I am the one perceived as unrespectful, I am the one that “should listen to more opinions”.

That is trap of the system. I don't need to listen to more sexist things in a sexist world, racist things in a racist world, transphobic things in a transphobic world, know where I am going right? I don't have to because that is what the world is made of! That is what is at the fabric of the society. So the argument of listening to different voices only works if those voices are going against those flaws, filling those gaps, adding to the conversation. The more oppressed the voice the more mandatory for us to shut up and listen, because what they have to say, and how they have to say it, is what has the power to move things forward. 

As you can tell I am defending this very passionately, convinced that I am right! The same way that I used to think that giving those men the time to express their opinions and trying to debate with them without offending them was part of my duties as a feminist and the route to convince them. I don’t know where you are in your anger or in your time, but in case you want a shortcut, you don’t have to either!



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