I’ll Calm Down When You Start Listening: The Dangers of Tone Policing

About a month ago, I was out dancing with a friend of mine. It was just us two, and we were clearly content being on our own. Then, two guys came up behind my friend and made some lewd gestures, positioned where she couldn’t see. Lucky for them, however, I could see just fine. 

Me: “Hey,” I said while waving one forward, “So what was that about?”

Him: *Amidst middle-school-like giggles to his friend* “Haha, uh, ahem, you know, just all in good fun.”

Me: “But fun for who? Just you? At the expense of who? Whoever you choose, in this case my friend, just because she couldn’t see you? That doesn’t seem like a lot of fun.”

Him: “Oh, COME ON. Relax. It was a joke.”

Now, I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told to just relax or calm down. Most women can’t. That doesn’t mean we’ll do it, and that doesn’t mean we’ll change our minds about what we’re angry about. I’m sorry (I’m not), but sometimes I’m going to raise my voice, especially when I feel I’m not being listened to. Hell, white men do it ALL the time. Someone telling me, “Calm down, sweetheart. It’s all in good fun,” oddly enough, isn’t going to calm me down. 

This concept can be applied across the board: not laughing at yet another joke about Trump’s wall… not keeping your mouth shut when your friend uses “feminist” and “man-hater” synonymously… or not being okay with your two white, straight, cis guy friends calling each other “fags” and thinking it’s funny. 

More often than not, when I hear someone being told they’re overreacting, they were really just reacting. When did passion become irrational? When did giving a fuck become uncool? If someone is raising their voice, or rambling, or getting a little teary-eyed, try to understand why. It’s probably a good reason, just a reason that doesn’t touch you personally. 

And if you’re someone’s friend, BE THEIR FRIEND. Don’t hesitate to back up your person if they’re making an argument that is good and true; don’t hesitate in an effort to come away from the situation looking like the “rational” one. 

Don’t tip toe around one another in fear of being tone policed — say what you mean and what needs to be said. This is hard work, but it’s hard because it’s necessary. So when people don’t understand why it is I’m raising my voice when you insist your racist joke was “all in good fun”, or why it is someone’s voice shakes when they have to defend the urgency of implementing gender-neutral bathrooms — remember that there is reason for that emotion. Stand up for yourselves and stand up for each other, and don’t back down until you’ve been heard.


Featured image here




One thought on “I’ll Calm Down When You Start Listening: The Dangers of Tone Policing

  1. I really love your post because I think all of us women have been shushed before or told that we should calm down. I’ve even had boys tell me that I’m overreacting probably because it’s “that time of the month.” I’m really glad that you had the confidence to stand up to the guys who were being inappropriate and just flat out rude. We need to stand up for our friends, because if we don’t, no one else will. You could have easily let the guys point fingers at your friend, but by standing up for her, you decided to break the cycle of being silent when men are vulgar. My question to you: I commonly hear people shouting “fag” or “homo” on college campuses, so what would be an appropriate way to tell them to stop?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s