The following is my response to Rachel Edwards excellent article: Safe Spaces
Hi Rachel, thanks for the article and generally your quest for making the internet a space where everyone feels safe to speak. Because that is what the internet has been for me over the past twelve years. A place where I dared speak my mind and thus gradually realized that other people’s angry reactions are not something I need to be afraid of.
My school life was similar to yours and I have now realized that this was what turned me mute. At school I was referred to as ‘shy’. I always hated that word, because not talking gives you the opportunity to observe others and I could see that I was different from actual shy people. My dad told me that as a preschooler I used to be very talkative and even when he took me to his office (telling his colleagues that the after school club, that I hated because the end of classes only gave the bullies more opportunities, was closed) I constantly talked to his colleagues and asked many questions about this and that.
When people say that social media has made human interaction more shallow I always disagree with them because it gave me a place to express myself bluntly and honestly (which is the only way I can express myself and probably the reason I go mute when I don’t feel safe to speak). Speaking my mind online has shown me that, while I received obviously criticism and also outright attacks, there are many people who share my opinions and who are more than that grateful that someone has said what I have said. This experience has helped me immensely become a more confident person in real life and clearly laying out my arguments in spoken conversation instead of going mute. As I am someone who can’t do small talk but will talk openly and honestly on any issue that comes up, every conversation runs the risk of differences of opinion. Accepting that any anger and screaming I encounter are the issue of the person who is freaking out and not mine has given me great opportunities to learn from other people and to broaden my horizon. Finding out about antifeminism and the men’s rights movement has fortified me to stay on this path. The number of amazing people I have met since speaking my mind on men’s issues and antifeminism far outweighs the number of people who have screamed at me. And thus I am more than happy to take the latter with the former.
The only time that I ever went mute online was last spring after the double incident of the honeybadgers being expelled from Calgary Expo and Sabeen Mahmud being shot in Karachi/Pakistan for providing a space where people could speak their mind without any ideological constraints being put on them (a week later). For a couple of months all I did on facebook was use the share button. When it was pointed out to me that I hadn’t written anything in a long time, I could not even say what was keeping me mute. When I thought about it between sobs I knew that the only appropriate reaction to both events was more speech but whenever I wanted to write I just had no words. It was the old shock over the realization that there are too many people who go to any lengths in order to silence people who utter words that make them uncomfortable. Maybe I don’t just fear the power these people have — on the school yard and in government — but they simply don’t make sense to me. I have always been ‘why’ child and continue to be as an adult. I want to know everything there is to know about any subject as there is no other way to form an opinion.
When youtube was banned in Pakistan to protect the sensibilities of a few screaming and US flag burning people the rest of the world was rightly shocked. But now the same people ban speakers from universities in the UK, the US and Canada to protect the sensibilities of a few screaming harpies and and in the same way want to restrict what can be said on the internet. People in Pakistan rightly cheered over a photo of the new prime minister of Canada taking part in Muslim iftar and wearing Pakistani clothes as an example of the religious tolerance that they wished to see in their country. Little do they know that the old religions have long been replaced in the west by new ideologies who dogma cannot be criticised either. While people who intentionally or accidentally cross the ideological lines don’t yet get shot, harassment campaigns against them that cost them their jobs, friends and family by the people who claim that to want to make the world a safer space are no longer uncommon. People in the west don’t have to hide in the bathroom if they want to eat lunch during ramzan but ask how many would openly criticise feminism at their place of work and you know how free speech in Canada really is.