Silence Isn't Golden (Unless It Is)

[Trigger warning for sexual violence and institutional misogyny.]

For reasons that I understand but to which I don't particularly relate, a lot of USians are fascinated by the English Royal Family. Which is why stories about Prince William and his long-time girlfriend Kate Middleton, who are reportedly very close to getting married, end up in places where I go for news. And over the past two weeks or so, because William and Kate are reportedly very close to getting married, I've heard or seen a dozen stories about this allegedly imminent wedding, all of which have included this piece of biographical information about Kate Middleton: She has never spoken publicly.

"Katie Waitie," as she has been dubbed by British press, because obviously she is best wholly defined by the assumption that all she cares about is marrying her (literal) prince, ahem, has never done a press interview or been caught on camera talking about their relationship. "She's never spoken a word in public," is the phrase I keep seeing. During a discussion about Prince William and "Katie Waitie" on CNN this morning, a male anchor complimented her on her silence. An article I read about a week ago noted breathlessly that the British public does not even know what her voice sounds like.

This, I have heard and read over and over, is a most impressive thing.

And, more than that, it is evidence of her suitability to be William's Wife.

I must make clear that this admiration for Ms. Middleton's silence is not being framed as the sensible choice of a young woman who is evidently press-savvy and prefers her privacy. It is not indicative of an independent will, of a clever and dignified woman who staunchly resists the clamoring demands of the same celebrity-obsessed soundbite culture that literally pursued her possibly future mother-in-law to her very death.

No. It is being framed as: "She's doing everything right to get William down the aisle." She's a good girl who knows how to play the game, and her silence is compliance.

Now, I don't know the first thing about Kate Middleton, and I don't know which frame better reflects reality. But that's just the point: No one does, because of her fierce determination to preserve her privacy for whatever reason.

And yet the almost-unanimous assumption is that she maintains her silence because that's what smart girls who want to marry princes do.

Anyone else see a problem with that narrative?

On the front page of this blog, as this is posted, we've got a piece about how the media filters stories about Hillary Clinton and thus shapes narratives about her, a piece about how only 17% of the members of the US Congress are female, a piece about a woman's stated lack of consent being challenged, a piece that references sexual assault of female soldiers, a piece about a rape survivor who was bullied until she committed suicide, and a piece about airport regulations that require passengers to submit to invasive security checks.

All of those stories, in one way or another, are about women's voices not being heard and respected, whether it is an individual woman at the center of a specific story or women being institutionally marginalized.

Girls are culturally socialized (if not directly admonished in their own homes) to be compliant, to be cooperative, to be quiet. Good Girls are helpful. Good Girls do what they're told. Good Girls are civil and deferential and they don't make a fuss.

Women are socialized to be disadvantaged in a male-dominated world of bombast and braggadocio, of workplaces that favor male socialization, of men—and sometimes other women—who will take advantage, in every conceivable way, of women whose voices aren't heard, because they never learned to raise them, or because of cultural disincentives against listening to women.

Even women who successfully reject the powerful persuasions to not make waves, to be a Good Girl, who raise their voices loudly and unapologetically and inerrantly in defiant rebellion of expectations of their silence, cannot control whether they are heard, and by whom.

Not listening is a silencing mechanism, too.

Which underlines how imperative it is that women do speak. Cacophonously and often. About everything.

But also on their own terms.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all regard Kate Middleton's (finite) silence not as compliance, but as an act of rebellion?

She is a woman whom everyone wants to hear, who hasn't said a word.

That's powerful.

If only that were the frame everyone embraced, the one that ultimately values women's voices and women's terms, instead of the Good Girl Who Knows How to Play Her Cards Right and Keep Her Mouth Shut.

[Related Reading: The Sound of My Voice, Feminism 101: How are we supposed to take feminist bloggers seriously if they post about shoes?, The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck, The Bargain, and Its Alternative, Screaming (Or Not).]

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