You can only speak for yourself.
I’m as exhausted as my fellow traveler (above) here at the Frankfurt airport.
Medium writers and especially angry commenters, when in full bully mode, seem to love claiming they speak for large groups of folks without bothering to ascertain if said folks either agree with them or in fact give a flying shit one way or another.
Or, in fact if those writers are claiming to represent a POV that has nothing to do with what that person believes.
It tends to rile me, for example, when Fox commenters (some with fake credentials, this seems to be a thing) or some right-wing actor like Gary Sinise say something like “I speak for ALL veterans …” or words to that effect. There’s a lot of that going around.
You do not speak for me, not now, not ever.
In all fairness, Sinese has done plenty for vets. But he seems to think that all vets are Republican Sergeant Rocks. I can think of two very smart, very capable, damned good fellow military journalists who were in the same public affairs office near the Pentagon to which I was assigned in the 1970s who are as blue as a Colorado summer sky. No matter how many honorary military titles Sinise has, he has only worn the uniform in a movie. Not in real life. Gary Sinise’s speaking for all veterans is as ludicrous as Ronald Reagan’s giving John Wayne the President Medal of Freedom for all his brave military exploits. The Duke was a draft dodger just like the Donald, although at least with Wayne, there is some question. But then, Ron wasn’t all there so he gets a partial pass.
Talk about fake news.
First of all, not all vets are far right nor are we all gun-toting white nationalist idiots, nor are we all blindly patriotic, nor do we all believe that NFL football players have to stand during the national anthem. Nor are we all homeless or struggling or plagued by PTSD. Even as a veteran, I cannot possibly speak for all veterans. I don’t have a clue. I can speak for some. But even those for whom I can speak a little would break ranks with me in critical areas, which is why this is such a slippery slope.
This is the case for anyone who has the gall to speak for all Americans. All women. All men. All…anyone.
Bullies, and in this I will call out the small-minded basement dwellers who piss on those of us women who write with pain and passion about our experience with sexual assault, love saying that they speak for ALL men, and BTW, leave all of us alone. I have seen countless such emails, and been on the receiving end of my share.
And all of us is who, precisely? Where is your long list of signatories?
It is the hidey-hole of the bully, especially those on line, to claim numbers they don’t have in order to shore up their (often unfounded) arguments. If you ever got a note passed to you in class, or a tweet or email that claims that “everyone says that you’re a whore, gay, stupid, ugly”, you know what I mean.
Bullies love to lean on mythical numbers. On line, folks can claim all the support they want, the same way a fancy website can make a home-based business like mine appear like a multi-million dollar concern. I am a micro- business yet I get pitches from people who are convinced I’m a big CEO. Not intentional, but impressions work.
Smoke and mirrors. The emperor has no clothes.
The problem comes in when I see fellow Medium writers express pain and hurt when such bullies manipulate words to cause them to feel as though there are masses of angry armies downstairs demanding their heads. Women who, like me, dare to share a story of sexual abuse, only to have pinheads attack them whilst battallions of bully boys who are “on their side.”
Nope. One person shaking a coffee can with a couple of rocks in it.
It’s so much easier to utilize the Royal “we” in lieu of the personally- responsible “I,” for when you and do that we take full responsibility for what you and I say. How and I feel. That’s ownership.
In couples counseling, the therapist advises us to own our feelings. “I feel” as opposed to “You do this,” which not only softens the conversation but also forces the speaker to examine the choice of words. The feelings. When I hurl accusations (you’re an asshole, my whole family thinks that, everyone says that you…) I cheapen the exchange. I’m searching for ammunition where there is none. Even if it is true that all my friends hate my ex, how they feel has nothing whatsoever to do with what went down between us.
They’re not part of the conversation, no matter how tempting it is to march in the troops. All but one never met the man, so what do they know?
I have to be naked with my truth. In the light of day I can’t hand my hurts off to “everyone else” to handle for me. I am the only person on God’s green earth who feels precisely the way I do and in that I am completely alone. While on one hand that might be terrifying, there is also sacred power in knowing that my experience, while in some ways probably shared, is also mine and mine only.
Along the same lines I have repeatedly gotten emails from men who have a terrible time with how much I relate to Blasey-Ford’s testimony, if for no other reason than her experience in critical ways so closely mirrors my own. The greater the possibility that a person’s story might undermine a societal construct that is dearly held by a certain group, the more likely it is that one member of that group will claim ownership of the whole to try to attack the veracity of that person’s story.
Support does exist in pockets. Pockets don’t make up half the human race.
It’s no more fair for me to say all women, or all feminists. How can I possibly know such a thing? How could I possibly speak for Black Women, Lesbian women, Republican women? Nor can they speak for me.
How does this affect when we tell our stories on Medium? Anywhere for that matter?
As writers, you and I have the responsibility to own our own voices, and to be mindful of when we want to claim support where such support may nor may not exist. We can use stats, we can use interviews to bolster an argument. But if we’re going to be compelling, I believe we are most effective when we stick to what we know, which is our own unique experience.
My father used to claim he “spoke for” my mother, whose body language and facial expression clearly communicated that Dad was out in the middle of Bum Fuck Egypt, all by himself. He was oblivious. He was also a man of his generation, born in 1911, full of Male-Centric Universe thinking. My mother never called him on it, because she was of the generation that put up and shut up.
In fact, if I had an opposing opinion, it got slapped back to last weekend, as hard as he could deliver the message. Lots of folks still trying diligently to manage opposing opinions the same way, as in calling the Fourth Estate fake news because it’s damned inconvenient to the person on the receiving end.
I think I Speak for Everyone has patriarchal roots. My opinion. Doesn’t make me right, but that’s my suspicion.Where I hear women employ this, including myself if I’m not careful, it makes me wonder why I feel my moral ground is so shaky I have to create imaginary supporters. It’s a rather testosterone-filled thing to do, to call in the virtual National Guard to create the appearance of might.
But your opinion, your story is a mighty one, told all on its own. We may be missing the point. Part of the value of owning your own opinions and experiences is that it legitimizes your life. You don’t need to bolster your opinions by claiming hordes. You simply need to tell a damned good tale. Bring in stats and links and references where you need.
You might be dead wrong on some of it, maybe even all of it. I sure as hell have spent plenty of time in that penalty box.
What my father missed completely was the grace in being willing to be wrong. He couldn’t brook any kind of disagreement, so deep was his fear. It’s widely shared, or else we wouldn’t look to the Great Unnamed Masses who are of course nodding their heads vigorously as we speak (or write).
Even those who do vigorously agree with me on Medium, which most certainly at times can invite me to feel righteous, would backpedal at furious speed on other issues. Such is our humanity. I would do the same thing on some of their stances, as is our right.
The vulnerability to let go of that is perhaps the greatest strength of all. Dad couldn’t do it. He called me a “loser” (well of course I am Dad, I have two prize-winning books, have brought audiences of a thousand to their feet cheering, and have done epic adventure travel all over the world. LOSER.), and everything after that pronouncement was carefully curated to justify that judgement. Confirmation bias kept him from seeing any proof that didn’t support his POV.
My father never understood the great strength of vulnerability. How the willingness to examine the bullshit we tell ourselves, our stories, leads to real power.
Ultimately, I may well “speak for” some people some of the time because I have touched on a truth that resonates. Just as there are folks whose words dip a painful spoon into the truth of my own experiences.
Our greater gift, I believe, is when we offer our stories as our singular voices, when we comment with our own legitimate opinions without the need to haul in ranks to whom we have no rights. Your singular voice has great power. I have been moved and touched most effectively by those writers whose stories stand on their own. Their words are bolstered by the courage it takes to to speak out over the vast emptiness as a singular truth, trusting the validity of their unique experiences.
In that way, you do indeed speak for me, by your example, by your willingness to embrace the solitary nature of your experience. But kindly, please don’t say you speak for me. Let me make that determination on my own, as is my perfect right, just as it is yours.