Come Get Yer Da

Words - Ellen Tannam/Illustration - Fi McGinley

If you are a human being in the world who is living through oppression (whether it’s misogynistic, homophobic, racist, or a poisonous cocktail of more than one of these), you have most likely experienced tone-policing. It’s annoying, humiliating and makes you feel like your arguments and struggles aren’t valid. 'We're are on your side, but you need to calm down, stop being so shrill, so aggressive'. It is probably going to give us all peptic ulcers in a few years time.

It is particularly prevalent in online spaces, where marginalised people have found a way to voice their concerns and thoughts because of the (still limited) democratisation of discourse that social media brings. Of course, this comparatively open space will always attract the paternalistic concern-trolls.

Like honey to flies, if the flies were annoying people who like to reply to jokes with a less funny reply.

A pro-choice campaigner with years of activism behind her, decades spent standing in the rain being shouted at by aul lads with megaphones, is pulled up for being too angry when discussing her own personal and often emotional experiences surrounding abortion on a panel show. Enter the Tone Police, who are allegedly on the same side but have a few "pointers" for the campaigner in question.

Usually, they are involved in activism at its most peripheral level, like parents who are too invested in their children’s football games.

Professional dads shoving other dads in North Face gear over a possible foul, you get the picture. They usually aren't personally affected by the issue at hand. The Tone Police want to discuss the issues, of course they do, but could you leave your "human emotions” out of it? For these people, any discourse has to follow the pattern and ceremony of a university debate. They would probably ask us all to wear dinner jackets and gowns while on Twitter if that was feasible. 

To appease the Tone Police, if you are pissed off about an injustice or prejudice you are facing, you’re not supposed to act angry, lest it invalidate your argument

God forbid a discussion about something as emotional as abortion could lead to a raised voice or a placard emblazoned with an angry slogan. 

These people are censoring the voices of those affected most by the problems they are trying to fix. Their obsession with propriety means they are intent on suffocating real lived experience, replacing it with a clean press release to feed the beast that is Middle Ireland. Discomfort at your possible contribution to social problems is hard to swallow, but you cannot dismiss someone for sounding angry, and praise someone else for calmly stating the exact same point in a national newspaper.

Tone policing also makes you sound really pedantic and boring, like the person in the kitchen at a party, quizzing people about their favourite bands to see if they are ‘real fans’, all the while not copping people are quietly slipping out of the room, lest they are bored to death.

Why have these people (I fondly call them the Yer Das of the internet), devoted their lives to telling those who are oppressed how best to articulate it or dismantle oppressive systems? Why have they made it their business to consistently wade in? ‘Personally, having had absolutely zero experience with this issue, you could stand to be a bit calmer in your discussion of said issue’.

They like things theoretical, academic, sanitised. They're same people who thought the Marriage Equality campaign was simply a delightful jig down a rainbow-coloured path, with the people of Ireland flinging rose petals at the acceptable gays from their windows. The people who said, ‘sure didn’t it pass in the end? Wasn’t it a great campaign?’