In our collective fear of "looking like the bad guy", of being unwilling to say "you're wrong", in our social insistence that we "educate" people who are doing harmful things using a kind tone and hand-holding them to a "better" way, instead of flat-out condemning harmful behaviour, I wonder what kind of impact that has on abuse victims.
When a person has spent a lifetime, or even just a few months of being gaslighted and having their self-esteem eroded and disempowered and programmed to subsume their own needs and concerns to another, how much harder is it for them to learn how to advocate for their needs and/or gather the strength to leave a harmful situation when the message they receive from their community is that, on top of all their pain and suffering, in addition to their own self-doubt, they also have to consider the feelings of their abuser (or other abusive people who remind them of their abuser because they do similar things) and lead their abuser to a "more successful strategy"?
Because, remember, we're talking about people who are already not well; people who have already internalized massively destructive amounts of negative feelings like guilt and shame. Someone who is in healthy relationships or someone who has a healthy sense of self can afford to hear the message "be nice to people who just don't have good relationship skills yet and teach them how to improve" and they can identify those situations for which that advice is useful and when it's not.
If you ever wanted to know why they stay, it’s probably because of a deep sense of responsibility and compassion, overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame, and a deep and pervasive confusion about how to make it right. If you ever wanted to know why it’s hard to talk about it, it’s because the thing you always seem to remember the most, the thing that really hurts the most, is the guilt over hurting them, abandoning them.
But someone who has been broken by another person, someone who is fucked over, someone who has lost themselves, someone who is trapped, someone who isn't as strong, someone who needs help themselves, all those people - how can they hear that message in their state and not similarly internalize the, perhaps unintended, subtext "the person you are in opposition to has delicate feels and it's YOUR JOB to treat those delicate feels like precious Fabrege Eggs, no matter what you're feeling. It's rude to lose your temper, it's rude to call them names, it's rude to arm yourself with condescension or to defend yourself with sarcasm, and you don't want to be rude, do you?"
There's a heart-breakingly beautiful blog post
about what it feels like to be emotionally abused. After reading that, I find myself getting even more enraged than usual at the relentless admonitions to be "nice" when we come across posts in the community with all the same, tired old tropes that those who have been in abusive situations are all too familiar with as the first steps towards abusing someone - dehumanization, objectification, disempowerment.
He pulled his arm back again and I covered my face again. "Why are you doing this to me?" he pleaded, coming at me over and over. Finally, I stood up and pushed him back. "Stop abusing me!" he shouted. I stopped, stunned. Why did I do that? I looked at his arms, red from where I had blocked him. Why was I hurting him so much?
"Be nice." "Try educating them instead of name-calling." "They just don't know any better, you should make yourself vulnerable and tell your own story so that they understand." "Don't say it's wrong, explain gently that there are lots of different ways to do things and some of them are a little better." Fuck that. As activists in the feminist and anti-racism communities have been arguing about for decades, stop getting mad at people for yelling when the reason they're yelling is because someone else is stepping on their toes. Or, as Tim Minchin said in a totally unrelated song:
And if you don't like the swearing
That this motherfucker forced from me
And reckon it shows moral
Or intellectual paucity
Then fuck you, motherfucker
This is language one employs
When one is fucking cross
About fuckers fucking boys
I'm wondering how many abuse victims, and how many people in perhaps toxic or unhealthy but not quite "abusive" relationships, are hearing the constant message to be "nice" to people doing bad things, and have not been able to adequately stand up for themselves because they don't want to be perceived as "not nice"? I'm wondering how many people we, as a community, are enabling people to remain in bad situations because we're so fucking pathologically afraid of calling others "bad" or, not even calling them bad people but just telling them that they're wrong or that they're doing something wrong or bad? And I'm wondering how many people dishing out this advice can do so because they've never been in the position where advocating for their needs in any
tone has been equated with being "rude" and where their deep sense of compassion and guilt has
been manipulated so that they can't tell the difference between standing up for themselves vs. actually hurting innocent people so they don't do the former out of fear of the latter? I'm wondering how many people playing the Tone Card are living in the privileged position of never having been abused and are speaking from their position of privilege when they tell other abuse survivors how they ought to experience their survival and how they ought to react to their triggers?
How many people continue to go unsaved because we're more concerned with etiquette and delicate abuser-feels than with creating an atmosphere that encourages people to believe that their feelings are not less important than being polite to those stepping on their toes? How many people remain lost because we don't give them the space to be angry, to be strong, to fight back, because it's "rude" and we mustn't ever be rude. Anger and defensiveness have no place in polite society because the people who are doing things worth getting angry about might feel bad, and we can't ever let them feel bad about hurting you, can we?