More on silencing

I wrote this on Twitter earlier today, and then put it up (typos mostly fixed) on Facebook. It’s a small update on a small aspect of my research.

As part of my current research, I’ve been looking into how voices (women’s, minority culture, religious, and more) are passed over, what techniques writers use, intentionally or otherwise that silence specific groups.

I was watching a TV series to find out how far one technique spreads and then I found myself seeing that same technique every single day on social media.

If someone admits to something nasty being done to them (being harassed, discriminated against, threatened, ignored) there will usually be at least one person from a similar background who says smugly “This hasn’t happened to me.”

In this context, that’s a denial of the person who has come out into the open about something sensitive. It can result in the silencing of vast numbers of people (the extent of sexual harassment has come to light recently) but this is how it starts.

When a person who has been hurt admits it in public, we need to change our narrative and not say “Well, this hasn’t happened to me. I don’t feel certain that you’re right. Let me argue with you about your personal experience as evidence for your own life.”

How is this written into novels? Novels are a few steps further on, and they formalise the judgements we make. Subjects and people silenced in this way are pushed to the side as less important or not significant enough to write about at all.

It’s one of the factors that lead to many writers choosing their heroes from a limited background or giving them a predictable and limited range of experiences.

I didn’t use to talk about my research when it’s underway, because papers and lectures are pushed for career academics. I’m no longer actively looking for an academic job, so from time to time I’ll tweet results that I think others may be interested in.

I read novels and judge what silencing has been accepted (intentionally or not – I spent January sorting out whether there was differences between the two) but the other form of silencing, the one I see every day on social media, is the critical one.

The path from what I used to call ‘bus stop conversations (thanks to Halliday) to choices made over and over again in longer narratives (novels, games, TV series) reveals so much about what we unintentionally do to people in the world around us.

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