The Power of Scolding

The Power of Scolding

I read a phrase today that got me thinking.  Feministing posted a link about "How girls are socialized to be music fans, not critics."  The article it links to is interesting and well worth reading, although it's on a different tangent than the one that came to my mind.

I have been quietly compiling a list of phrases that women use against other women, which I have yet to see women use against men, or men use against other men. That's not to say it doesn't happen; I've just never seen it personally.

There are entire huge swaths of the internet which are devoted to being critical of things.  The comment threads on Slashdot come to mind, as do those on Reddit.  Don't even bother wading in unless you're ready to be fed to the sharks.  I have seen people say a lot of things on Slashdot and Reddit, but I have never NOT ONCE seen someone say something like, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

This is a phrase that always pulls me up short.  Mostly because it's so phenomenally stupid.  Sure, let's never criticize anything.  Ever.  Watch what happens to arts, and literature, and television, and movies.  Watch what happens to your own job performance.  Watch what happens to BP's safety record, or Ford Motor Company's design process.

Criticism serves a valuable and - dare I say it - critical role in our lives.  Criticism is feedback.  If there were no criticism, there would be no pressure to improve, to do better, to do your best.  Sometimes, criticism involves saying things that aren't nice.  

And what kind of goal is it anyway, to only say things that are "nice"?  If there's any word I detest, it's "nice," with its pious, self-satisfied overtones of primness and propriety.  Give me "warm" or "kind" or "empathetic."  But you can keep the "nice," thanks.

Those sites I mentioned, Slashdot and Reddit, which are unabated gladiatorial combat, if gladiators typed words into text boxes.  Turns out they are also some of the few sites on the internet which have a predominately male audience.  Coincidence?

Girls are socialized to never be critical.  And by "socialized" I mean "quickly brought into line with a sharp word or two."  Typically this socialization comes from an older woman.  Rarely is it brought on by a peer, although I see the phrase "haters keep on hating" as a sort of sidelong jab at that.  

The male version of course is "don't hate the player, hate the game."  It's interesting to compare and contrast these two phrases.  One offers a dismissive critique of the hater; the other acknowledges that the hate-ee deserves the blame, but absolves him of it.

Do men ever tell each other to be less critical?  Not that I've seen.  But then again, I am not a man.  Maybe they say things behind closed doors that I'm not privy to, or maybe I just don't pick up on it.