Men are rarely reprimanded for having an opinion, says JJ Keith, but “disagreeable” women are often shut down before a conversation even begins.
I might be judgmental. Some woman on Twitter said I was and I think she might be right. I literally judge things and then I write about said judgments. It’s closely aligned with my life-long hobby of having opinions. It’s sort of why I got into the writing racket. All that voicing of viewpoints just sounded fun to me.
However, it doesn’t escape my attention that men are rarely chastised for being judgmental. Men are “opinioned” and their views are more often countered with actual arguments. Men are rarely reprimanded simply for having an opinion.
The problem with the charge of being judgmental is it is often used as shorthand for “please stop voicing your opinions where I might stumble upon them and I do not agree with you.” It’s a shutdown. It’s like telling a woman who is emoting that she’s “crazy.” In that case, “crazy” just means, “I am inconvenienced by your emoting.” And, troublingly, “judgmental” is a shutdown that is most often used by women on women.
In response to an opinion piece I wrote, a woman sent me a message saying that regardless of our opinions, all women should support each other, and never judge other women. Embedded in that sentiment is the idea that the opinions of women are irrelevant; that women should never discuss potentially disagreeable things. It’s shutting down conversations before they can begin.
I don’t voice my viewpoints with the goal of making people feel bad, but I understand that can happen. I sometimes read things written by people who make me realize my relative privilege as a middle-class white lady, which in turn makes me feel like the undeserving beneficiary of arbitrarily distributed perks because, well, I am. It’s not supposed to feel good to be reminded of unearned privilege.
I feel a twinge of sadness whenever I stumble across a picture of an elaborately home-cooked meal because I suck in the kitchen and I bet my kids would actually eat that other person’s food, unlike mine, which they would barely touch even if I disguised it under a layer of French fries and ketchup.
I continue to voice my viewpoints because I have them and I can. Crafting a well-articulated opinion piece is a sublime pleasure that I rank somewhere between a double rainbow and an orgasm. (Doing it badly ranks between pulling off a dead toenail and being slimed on You Can’t Do That on Television—I’m assuming, anyway. I’ve never been slimed.)
Sometimes people read my opinions and enjoy what I have to say. They might say “thank you” or “LOL” or give me a “like” on something. And when they don’t agree, they sometimes say I’m being “judgmental.”
“No on has the right to judge,” they’ll Tweet at me. And to that I say, no one is beyond reproach. Not even me. We live in communities. We have neighbors. We will all be judged at some point. I have the “right” to observe other people and come up with opinions. And it is up to each of us to filter through those opinions about the world and learn what to take to heart. I will probably always have to work at it.
For example, when another mom gives me the ol’ side-eye for being pissy to my 4-year-old at the science museum after my kid just asked me 15 times if she could have French fries, I take in that judgment. I was being pissy. That mom was right. She probably should also judge me for letting my daughter ever learn that the science museum has fries because now it is very hard to discern my daughter’s enthusiasm for science from her enthusiasm for fries, though I don’t blame her. I am similarly conflicted.
I’ll admit that I am one of those horrible people who “doesn’t eat pork,” but often eats bacon. I understand if you want to criticize me for that. My stance is indefensible, and yet, it is mine and I deserve it when people tell me that it’s stupid.
However, when I run into another mom from preschool while buying a rotisserie chicken and microwavable mashed potatoes at 5:45 p.m., I ignore her side-eye. She doesn’t know that I’ve been working all day on a freelance assignment; that while I may look like a stay-at-home mom, I’m not actually one…even if I could cook. I ignore her judgment because her conclusion was based on false information and doesn’t affect me. Judge away, Preschool Mom. If we ever get to know one another, she might understand me and my rotisserie chicken differently, but in the meantime, I am unharmed by her sneer. It is just a sneer. And hey, maybe she made that face because she was about to sneeze and I’m being paranoid and insecure. I’ve been known to do that.
So to all the “you have no right to judge” people, I say that I do have the right to judge. I just don’t have the right to enforce anything, nor is anyone obligated to agree with me. They may in turn judge me to be judgmental, but in the proper sense of the word of being preachy, superior, or condescending. I can sometimes be all of those things. It is not unfair to call me out when it’s apt.
There’s a lot of baggage around femininity and conflict, often including an almost automatic assumption that when women disagree it’s a “cat fight” and that no peaceable outcome can be obtained. Or, worse, that women are incapable of having rational disagreements; that everything simply amounts to a “difference of opinion” and there is “no right or wrong.” Surely there are many examples of conflicts where both sides can be right, but this is not true of most conflicts or else no one would bother to talk about them.
May I respectfully voice the opinion that it’s OK to voice opinions and have debates?
I will not restrict myself to writing pablum about the unequivocal awesomeness of everything that everyone does because honestly, I suck at being uplifting. It’s not my strong suit. If I could make a living writing Chicken Soup for the Soul stories, I probably would. And I admit to sometimes being judgmental in the true sense of the word, though I try very hard not to be.
However, I will freely and willfully continue to be judgmental in the way the word is colloquially used because yes, I have opinions. A lot of them. And I like it like that. See there? Another opinion.
JJ Keith’s work has appeared on The Huffington Post, Bitch, Salon, Babble, TheRumpus.net, xoJane, The Nervous Breakdown, The Sydney Morning Herald, iVillage Australia and more. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two kids. Her first book will be out next fall from Skyhorse Publishing.