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Apr 13 2012

My opinion is not a personal insult to you.

[Snark Warning]

It never ceases to amaze me how the act of expressing an opinion opens you up to the most outlandish assumptions about your personality.

Good girls, I know, don’t blog. Or at least, they don’t blog about anything substantial, and they definitely don’t do it using their real names.

Blogging about your personal life is okay, although then you’ll get derided for making your diary public. Posting photos of your friends, family, pets, and outfits, posting recipes and craft projects, posting favorite song lyrics–all of that is okay, if irrelevant.

But when you start blogging about Issues–those things you aren’t supposed to discuss at a dinner party or with your boss–that’s when things get dicey.

A few weeks ago I interviewed for a position on the executive board of the sexual health peer education group I’m involved with on campus. I’ve been involved with it since my freshman year, and now I was interviewing for a position that would put me in charge of, among other things, doing outreach to sororities on campus.

At the interview, they asked me about my blog. Specifically, they mentioned that I’ve expressed the fact that I dislike the Greek system, and wanted to know, wouldn’t that affect my ability to do this job?

Honestly, I was completely flummoxed by this question. Because I disagree with the Greek system, I’m incapable of interacting with sorority women? Because I disagree with the Greek system, I’m unwilling to present educational programs at sorority houses? Because I disagree with the Greek system, I don’t care about sexual assault in the Greek community and don’t want to start an initiative to help prevent it?

I must’ve produced an acceptable response because I got the position. But the experience made me realize how naive I’d been, in a way. I thought that people would take my writing for what it is–ideological positions for which I (usually) provide sound reasoning. I didn’t realize that they would take it and extrapolate from it beliefs and character traits that I do not have.

Disliking the Greek system doesn’t affect my ability to create an outreach program for sororities. It doesn’t affect my ability to empathize with individual women who happen to be sorority members. It doesn’t affect my ability to do anything. It’s just an opinion. Not a personal attack on anyone. An opinion.

The only thing it could possibly affect is other people’s opinions of me. Other people may read about my opinions and take them personally. They may assume that I don’t like them–personally. They may assume that I’m a callous person.

But these are their problems, not mine. If they’ve never learned not to make assumptions about others, I’m not taking responsibility for that. And I’m not going to stop writing, or “tone it down,” for the sake of someone else’s comfort.

I love writing, and I specifically love writing about Issues. It’s my way of leaving my mark on the world, and, hopefully, of leaving the world a better place than I found it.

Other people find other ways of doing this. They volunteer, play music, do scientific research, start businesses, make art, get into politics, whatever. I write.

My greatest fear right now–aside from perhaps that I won’t get into graduate school and will end up living in a cardboard box, or that I’ll never get married and will end up living in that cardboard box alone–is that I’ll have to stop writing when I start my Career.

Why would I have to stop writing?

Because of other people’s unfounded assumptions about what my writing says about my character.

Because in the culture we’ve created, you can get fired from your day job for what you write on your blog, using your internet connection, in your home, on your time.

Because good girls are sweet and sensitive, and never express opinions that might offend someone.

Because people haven’t learned that others’ opinions are not personal attacks on them.

5 comments

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  1. 1
    Long Time Reader, First Time Commenter

    Hi Miriam,

    As somebody with a lot of time on their hands, I have been reading your blog for the past 8 months. Lemme start by saying I do not agree with everything you say, nor do I agree with your often antagonistic, holier-than-thou tone (not saying this is how you are, I’m just commenting on how many of your blogs read). I do not think you care about these view points, but I thought it would help to provide some context for the rest of this comment.

    I think you’ve created an unfair double-standard here. You’ve often written about how insulted you are by the recent Republican fixation on birth control and abortion. You’ve taken it personally. You’ve unashamedly generalized about how all Republicans ignore science, and facts, and reason, and have ulterior motives of trying to denigrate women.

    Now, I’m not saying you are wrong for holding these opinions of Republicans. You have the right to your opinions. I’m not commenting on whether or not you are right.

    If you were to meet with one of the many Republican politicians you have quoted in your blog as anti-abortion, anti-women, anti-science, what have you, are you saying that you would not question them on these beliefs? If one of these politicians as time and time again proved to you that they are against women’s rights, would you not question their ability to represent women’s interests to the best of their ability?

    Another example, I do not think it would be unfair to ask Michele Bachmann if she can properly represent her gay constituents, given her comments about homosexuality.
    Now, I wasn’t in the room when you were interviewed for your position. I do not know how long the conversation went on for. But I’ve read what you’ve written about Greek systems. I’ve read how you feel about girls who choose to join sororities. I’ve read comments you’ve made about you want to “bring it down”. Again, these are all opinions that you have the right to have.

    But if you don’t think a question about your ability to provide programming on a personal level for these girls without judgement is fair, given the comments you’ve made, then you are making yourself arbiter of whose opinions get to be challenged and whose don’t.

    This is not a gender issue. This is not a societal issue. This is the organization covering their bases, making sure all the questions get asked, given your very public opinions.

    I’d love if you could respond to this. I’d like this to be a conversation.

    1. 1.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      Hello,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      However, at no point did I say that I was “personally” insulted by Republican legislation. I don’t know where you get this idea. I wasn’t insulted. Rather, I was concerned about the women whose lives will be irrevocably altered because of this legislation. If you honestly read those pieces and came up with the conclusion that I’m having some sort of personal hissy-fit, you read them wrong.

      I also said absolutely NOTHING about individuals who choose to join the Greek system. My entire argument was about the system itself, and the abuses it has allowed throughout its long history. Your comment proves my entire point–people take my general arguments and apply them to specific individuals, which isn’t something I do myself.

      Thanks again for commenting. I’d like to ask you to please contact me personally–using your real name–if you’d like to discuss this further. I don’t like to argue with nameless, faceless individuals.

  2. 2
    Mallory

    To be fair, many people have a very difficult time separating their beliefs from their actions, and while no one ever suspected that your dislike of the Greek system would translate into not caring about providing resources for women in sororities, the concern was for (considering your outspoken attitude) whether or not you would be able to be patient with some of the more difficult obstacles one faces when dealing with the Greek community (like blatant refusal to store condoms in their house; or victim-blamey constructs). Luckily, you are patient and thoughtful and great at understanding where people are coming from, even when you disagree with them. But you can’t blame us for checking! I love your blog, don’t quit it!

    1. 2.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      Understood. Thanks for commenting. :)

  3. 3
    bloggerclarissa

    I can’t tell you how much I identify with this post. People send me emails sometimes saying things like, “I’ve been reading your blog for 2 years and I always agree with everything. But today you published a post that I can’t agree with.” Then, there comes a long rant as to how could I have published such a misguided post. For some reason, it really traumatizes people to discover that they and I will not agree on everything every single time. And they take it like some kind of a personal rejection of them as human beings when I opine differently.

    This is a very disturbing fear of strong opinions and passionate debates. Some people can’t understand that it is possible to disagree, to argue passionately and still be lovingf riends and respectful colleagues.

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