No, We Won’t Calm Down – Tone Policing Is Just Another Way to Protect Privilege, by Robot Hugs
(Two women are having a conversation. One of them is angry.)
Woman 1: (Angry) Over 1200 Aboriginal women have been murdered or disappeared over the last 30 years – we’re five times more likely to be murdered than white women! Our bullshit government doesn’t even pretend like it gives a damn
(Other woman from Panel 1 is talking to the angry woman.)
Woman 2: You know, I totally agree that this is a very serious problem… but all this anger you’re displaying is really distracting from the issue, don’t you think?
(Robot Hugs is reading a book titled The Book of Jerk Moves)
Robot Hugs (RH): Let’s see…mhm…mhm…Yup! This is a textbook case of…
(“Tone Policing” in large blue letters.)
Text: Tone Policing
(Robot Hugs is talking to the reader.)
Text: What is tone policing?
RH: Tone policing is a silencing tactic. That means it’s part of a set of tools used by people holding privilege to prevent marginalized individuals or groups from sharing their experiences of oppression.
(A man talking to the reader.)
Text: Tone policing works by derailing a discussion by critiquing the emotionality of the message rather than the message itself.
Man 1: It’s hard to take feminists seriously when they’re so angry all the time!
(Four people talking to the reader.)
Text: At its core, tone policing suggest that people distance themselves from their own emotions of anger, frustration, or fear in order to be heard.
Person 1: But my anger…
Person 2: And my sadness…
Person 3: And my frustration…
Person 4: And my fear…
All four speakers: … are central to the issue being discussed!
(Three people talking to the reader.)
Text: A key part of tone policing is that it allows privileged people to define the terms of a conversation about oppression in order for that discussion to continue.
Man 2: I feel like you’re not willing to have a civil discussion with me.
Man 3: There’s no way this can be discussed productively until you calm down.
Woman 3: I know that trans folk are more likely to experience violence, but you’re kind of letting fear overtake reason at this point, don’t you think?
(The word “reason” is printed in a gray rectangular box, and the word “emotion” is written in cursive in a pink abstract shape. A bidirectional arrow goes between, with the word “or” indicating that you can choose one or the other. An angry man is talking to Robot Hugs.)
Text: Generally, this hinges on the idea that emotion and reason cannot coexist – that reasonable discussions cannot involve emotions.
Man 4: Reason verses emotion… what a convenient manufactured binary. That makes me so mad!
RH: What a reasonable position to take!
(Three blocks of text. Two people are talking, illustrating the first piece of text; two other people are talking, illustrating the second piece of text; and an individual person is talking, illustrating the third piece of text.)
Text: Tone policing suggests…1: That the only productive conversation is calm conversation.
Person 5: Why do you get to decide what constitutes “productive?”
Person 6: Why do you get to decide what constitutes “calm?”
Text: 2: That conversations are “debates” with two or more sides being presented calmly, equally, and neutrally… but some topics don’t have two equal sides, and some viewpoints don’t have to be met neutrally.
Woman 4: But are trans women really women? Let’s debate.
Man 5: Let’s not.
Text: 3: That conversations must drive towards solutions, and that emotionality is a hindrance towards solution …but discussions can also be for exploring the extent and limits of a topic or situation, for letting off steam, for finding community, and for feeling less alone.
Woman 5: I didn’t know that everyone else was sick of this too…I always thought it was just me! I feel so much better!
(Four people are talking to the reader, illustrating each of four cards. Image of pitch forks, boards with nails in them, and torches.)
Text: And tone policing is often paired with other silencing or manipulative tactics
Card: Tone policing plus gaslighting
Woman 6: It’s really hard to continue this conversation given your out-of-proportion anger.
Card: Tone policing plus conditional support
Man 6: I’d be a lot more wiling to support your cause if it wasn’t always a giant pitchfork mob.
Card: Tone policing plus paternalism
Person 7: Why don’t you calm down so we can discuss this like adults?
Card: Reverse tone policing
Woman 7: It’s so refreshing to meet an activist like you who isn’t constantly manufacturing outrage.
(A woman is talking, frustrated.)
Text: And it’s often a case of moving goal posts…
Woman 8: No matter how I talk about an issue, someone’s going to tell me to “calm it down.”
(A woman and a man are having a conversation. The woman is angry. The man is tone policing.)
Woman 8: (visibly angry) A group of old, white, straight men have no goddam right telling me what I can and can’t do with my own fucking uterus. My body, my choice, assholes!
Man 7: Whoa, whoa, calm down. You will catch more flies with honey, you know…
(A woman and a man are having a conversation. The woman is frustrated. The man is still tone policing.)
Woman 8: (somewhat frustrated) It’s really frustrating that people who will never get pregnant keep trying to control my body and my reproductive choices. Their laws are literally killing us.
Man 7: Wow, geez, you know, it’s really difficult to take you seriously when you’re so emotional.
(A robot, who was the woman in Panel 14, and a man are having a conversation. The man is actually still tone policing. A card asks “Why does tone policing happen?” Robot Hugs addresses the reader.)
Woman 8: (literally a robot) It’s unacceptable that laws about abortion are largely out of our control and decided by people who will never experience pregnancy, but are willing to participate in unnecessary state control over marginalized bodies.
Man 7: You’d probably find people are more willing to support you if you came off as less rage filled, you know.
Text: Why does tone policing happen?
RH: It allows a person to regain control over a conversation that is going in a way that makes them uncomfortable, by framing the speaker as overly emotional and therefore unreasonable. Whether used intentionally or not, tone policing allows people who hold privilege to avoid the discomfort cause by being exposed to the very real emotional fallout of oppression and discrimination.
(A man and Robot Hugs are having a conversation.)
Man 8: Your sadness about rape culture makes me sad.
RH: So you’ll help?
Man 8: Could you just not make me sad, instead?
(Robot Hugs is talking to the reader. A woman speaks to illustrate RH’s words.)
RH: I get it, I really do. When I hear things like…
Woman with crutches: 99% of the time, able-bodied people don’t give a damn about us!
RH: …it makes me feel uncomfortable or maybe defensive.
(Robot Hugs is talking to the reader.)
RH: But these conversations aren’t meant to be comfortable. We’re discussing real, dangerous, structural things that make lives worse for entire groups of people. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, the thing to do isn’t to try to get us to talk about it differently – the thing to do is to help us stop it from happening.
(A man is talking to the reader.)
Man 9: I want to be a good ally, but I find people’s anger hard to manage sometimes. But it’s legitimate anger, I understand that. If it gets too much for me, maybe it’s time to stop out rather than attempt to redirect the course of conversation.
(A card that says “So remember” and seven people individually, and then as a group, talking to the reader, illustrating valid emotions. A card that says, “It’s your turn to listen now” with “listen” in large blue letters for emphasis.)
Text: So remember…
Person 8: My anger is genuine
Person 9: My frustration is valid.
Person 10: My fear is real.
Person 11: I’m not being shrill.
Person 12: I’m not being aggressive.
Person 13: I’m not hysterical.
Person 14: I’m not just whining.
Everyone together: Our emotions are valid. You don’t get to dictate the terms of our activism. You don’t get to dictate the ways we can talk about about our experiences.
Text: It’s your turn to listen now.