It's OK to Stay Silent Sometimes
In the post #MeToo and #TimesUp age, it’s hard to ignore the importance of speaking out. It used to be easy to avoid topics of feminism or racism for fear of opening a can of heated worms. In our attempts to appear tolerant or non-inflammatory, we swept the micro-aggressions under the table and turned our eyes to the bigger issues of legal rights or obvious inequities.
But the nature of these issues is that their true existence usually lies in the undertones. The perpetuity of inequality can’t just be counted out in salaries, but in the day-to-day institutions that had long been left unchallenged. The success and furore of such campaigns like #MeToo have renewed our energy to speak up and start conversations about how we can change behaviours from the bottom-up.
As a Chinese-Australian woman, the call to speak has been inspiring and invigorating. I’ve felt the innate support of women around me to tell my own #MeToo stories. I’ve found the people around me are more willing to engage in a conversation around my experiences rather than brush it off as “Tiff going on another feminist rant.” It’s been a welcome renaissance of listening and legitimising the personal experiences of every minority.
But it’d be ignorant of me to say that we’ve successfully fixed all the problems through conversation. Pursuing such grand-sweeping societal change is not and will not be easy. Many people are set in their ways, unwilling to engage in a conversation, see speaking out as a personal attack rather than a response against an institution.
I met these such people on a night out in Singapore.
I was killing time in a bar as I waited for a friend to join me, when some fellow Aussie guys started chatting with me. They seemed friendly enough and it was nice to have the familiar Aussie banter in a foreign country. We grabbed another round of beers and challenged some American Marines to a game of pool.
At this point, the Marines, who had arms the size of my waist and a few hours’ head start on the drinking made a problematic comment about some locals who were passing by. I knew it was offensive, I was appalled, but I made the decision to stay silent.
I knew I wasn’t going to change the world that night. These Marines were not in the space to engage – to have a proper conversation that may have swayed their thoughts. To be honest, I was more concerned about potentially putting myself in harm’s way if I had spoken up and it was taken the wrong way. And in assessing that situation, I believe that was justified.
Then, one of the Aussies turned to me and asked me, why? Why had I stayed silent? Wasn’t I offended as a fellow Asian? Wasn’t it my responsibility to speak up in such issues?
The wheels started turning in my head. Yes, this was my responsibility and yes, I pride myself as a feminist who would want to say something. I was scared – maybe of the aggression these Marines could show but maybe even of speaking out itself. Was I preserving myself from harm or was I preserving this faux peace that we’ve agreed to up until #MeToo came around?
This moment has played in my head so much and I’ve questioned my own resolve as a feminist because of it. But I stand by my decision.
This was my experience to have – both as a minority and as a witness to the scene. No one can understand the experiences I have had that have led me to this point and led me to speak out or not. No Aussie or anyone else for that matter can put the onus on me to be offended and enraged enough to intervene in this situation.
In fact, it is all of our responsibilities to speak out. If this Aussie was so concerned and offended on my behalf, he, too, could’ve said something. We cannot achieve change for the whole society, if the whole society is not willing to recognise the change that we need.
I am not trying to diminish my own responsibility to fight the good fight. But that’s exactly it, it’s a fight, and it’s going to be long and arduous. It’s why it’s been a blessing to have the support of the community worldwide for movements like #MeToo so that we can help each other up and take over the reins a little bit when you’re tired.
But most importantly, it’s to recognise that you do come first. You and your experience can change people’s minds. But you and your experience need to benefit you too and not generate more harm than good.
By: Tiff Ng
Just another girl with wanderlust on her mind and a stomach full of avo on toast. After quitting her job in social media marketing, Tiff is now travelling the world, working, blogging and tearing up dance floors no matter where she is. Wherever Tiff goes, keep up with her on her website and Instagram.