Christian writer Sarah Bessey’s new book, Jesus Feminist, is getting a lot of deserved attention, I believe. I have not read the book and may never do so (this is not a slight on the book. I’m just a slow reader and all), but I’m thinking of conversations around the book and particularly this trend of privileging the “civil” and “non-angry” feminist/pacifist/anti-violence activist.
I can see some benefits certainly to approaching injustice in a manner which makes it easier to engage in conversation with those who have not had the easiest time comprehending, let alone owning, that injustice. But that route isn’t for everyone – nor is it the only effective manner of addressing injustice; it is the nicest way, though, and so is easier on the ears (which, again, has its uses).
But recall that civility is the language of aristocrats, of Southern gentlemen of the antebellum US South, of knights, of gentrifying landlords, of oppressors whose depth of brutality was unparalleled by the unwashed heathens, enslaved, and peasants.
This week, on my Facebook page, I was called too emotional and irrational during an argument with a man who kept referring to abortion as “murder” and “killing.” Actually, I had laid out several reasons why it was immoral and violent for him, under the guise of being “pro-life”, to use such terms– some being that this rhetoric energizes and enrages anti-abortion fringe violence; that it dehumanizes and marginalizes people who have had abortions; that the definition that anti-abortion people have of “life” (more precisely, “personhood” but they tend to use “life”) is not common nor accepted outside a specific, narrow and religious scope; and that the rhetoric uses the most extreme of common law language to label those who have aborted or performed services as death-worthy criminals.
But I was being emotional. Calling my friends murderers will tend to do that, though. So I have no regrets.
Would it have mattered in this case if I were being civil? Nope. Others who disagreed with him and tried to engage on different levels were also called irrational (This is what happens when women argue with Mansplainers and when men argue alongside women with Mansplainers. We’re all irrational), if not ignored or dismissed in other ways.
But the cries for civility continue from privileged Christians. “We can’t hear you through your anger.” And yet, the oppressed somehow have a hard time being heard no matter what language is used.
Expanding on that a bit: Civility is a language – it is the language of the oppressor. It is the language used to disguise oppression under the veneer of exaggerated humanity and mannerisms. One need not read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to see the direction this goes (well, I haven’t at least. Again, slow reader..)
Rather than touting civility as a neutral good, recognize it as the language of the violent elite being forced unto the masses as a way to distract from and hide societal violences. If a pacifist chooses to use civility or is comfortable in its use and can use it as a way of dismantling the powers that be, that is great.
But a new, integral pacifism will understand that the language of the oppressors, of the colonizers need not be the language of the oppressed and the colonized. And attempts to make it so is an act siding with violence.
Being civil sometimes isn’t being lovely.