Why isn’t my quiet important?

* Specifically yours. Image credit: Wiki Commons. Click image to be taken to source page.
* Specifically yours. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons. Click image to be taken to source page.

There are but few havens for those who like a bit of peace and quiet in today’s busy world. Silence is very important. You can’t think properly when there is a lot of background noise. It’s like trying to make ice cream in a burning house. I need time in the day for a good old ponder, and the modern world is making this rather difficult.

Assaulting the senses

If you could sum up today’s world in a single word, it would probably have to be ‘Busy’. Personally, I think that this is a faux-busyness, but that’s a topic for another day. Everyone’s rushing around, because otherwise there won’t be any avocados left in Waitrose, or you’ll miss the beginning of that presentation on why the beginning of presentations are really important. And as any assassin will tell you, moving quickly is noisy.

But it’s not the ambient city or life noises that bother me. I like those noises. I like the sounds of life, of people and cars, of existence. What bothers me is when people try to bring them into the last few sanctuaries of quiet, mainly waiting rooms, quiet carriages, and libraries.

All the signs are there

Join me for a moment in one of my many memories of train travel. Nope, not the one where the drunk homeless man with the black Labrador which he had named after a racist insult threatened to mug me and the rest of my band (yes, a true story). One of the many times I have been sat in the quiet carriage while some trumpet-faced buffoon tries to melt everyone’s ears off.

Empty trains are the best for quiet. Unless they're on fire. Image source: Wikimedia Commons. Click image to visit source page.
Empty trains are the best for quiet. Unless they’re on fire. Image source: Wikimedia Commons. Click image to visit source page.

What does that sign on the door mean? They must wonder. What on earth is a ‘quiet carriage’? The perfect place to discuss X-Factor, work, or your STIs, clearly. Hurray, it’s green and bulbous! I’m so glad I chose to sit in here.

No, what the sign actually means is that this is a place for people who want to sit quietly and cogitate. There’s nothing wrong it’s having conversations with your friends – occasionally I talk to mine – but would it be so hard to do it in one of the ‘loud carriages’, which make up the other 80% of this train? That’s around 400 other seats you could be sitting in to discuss the fact that Sandra got passed over for promotion because they caught her making out with the coffee machine at the last Christmas party.

It’s not like we’re asking a lot. There’s one carriage on this train where you have to shut up. Just one. No talking, no music, no phone calls, and for the sake of every god under the sun, no picnics.

Oblivious is not an illness

If you won't shut up, I'll go home and get these. Try sleeping tonight then. Image: © Superbass / CC-BY-SA-3.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)
If you won’t shut up, I’ll go home and get these. Try sleeping tonight then. Image: © Superbass / CC-BY-SA-3.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

What everyone wants to do in a doctor’s surgery waiting room is sit quietly and hope that whatever they have isn’t fatal. There are thousands of innocuous explanations for a host of ailments (with the exception of a leg falling off), but the internet has told us it might be cancer. Not only that, but a doctor’s surgery, with its ban on mobile phones and enforced quietness is one of the

last places on Earth in which people have to shut up and think. It’s not optional like a Quiet Carriage. Using your mobile could cause someone’s head to explode, and talking to each other just isn’t British.

So please, person in the corner texting on their smartphone, put it away. The world can survive without your ‘LOL’s and ‘OMG STFU’s for twenty minutes. You, on the other hand, might have something really bad. Quietly consider that like the rest of us, please. What if it’s not just a regular check up? What if they’ve called you in because you’re the first person in the world to contract Possum Flu? So please, a moment of grave quiet and personal reflection.

Oh, and those people who have kids? I’m not saying you should have to gag them or anything. Although, I hear gags aren’t that expensive the days…

 

Libraries

Libraries used to be the one place where everyone knew to be quiet. Only the librarian was allowed to be noisy, with their freakishly loud stamp that went KUDDDUNNG every time someone wanted to withdraw a book. You’d even get ‘Shhhh’ if you ran into the building on fire. Just because you want to be extinguished doesn’t mean other people aren’t trying to read.

Even these sacred bastions of quiet are now being assaulted by the loud people. The oafs who have no perception of things that don’t directly involve themselves. Stuck for a book, are you? By all means tell the entire library. Like crime? Try solving the mystery of who beat the loud-mouth to death with ex-display copies of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Just a little quiet, please

Knowing how to be quiet can be an essential life skill in certain situations, such as finding one of these in the bath. Image: Alifeyzullah at Turkish Wikipedia
Knowing how to be quiet can be an essential life skill in certain situations, such as finding one of these in the bath. Image: Alifeyzullah at Turkish Wikipedia

Whether because it’s a designated quiet area, people are trying to read, or because you should be reflecting on your potential upcoming hideous demise, there are reasons for being quiet in these places. I’m not being unreasonable, am I? I’m not being like the obnoxious old man in my student local who shouted at us for having a conversation in a pub. Who goes to a pub to read a newspaper and expects quiet?

These are designated quiet areas. There aren’t many places in the modern world where you have to be quiet, so it’s not exactly like we’re enforcing a strict regime on people. It just means that the quiet people want somewhere to go to be quiet.

Just to balance it out, and to show I’m not a crusader for uniform quietness, here’s a list of times it’s definitely not OK to be quiet:

 

  • When someone says good morning to you
  • When you answer a phone call
  • When, at the scene of an accident, someone asks ‘Is anyone here a doctor?’, and you’re totally a doctor
  • At your own wedding, when the person performing the ceremony asks you if you take your other half to be your lawfully wedded wife/husband
  • When you see a tiger charging at Stephen Fry and he hasn’t noticed
  • When at someone else’s wedding, and the person performing the ceremony asks if anyone knows a reason why the couple at the altar shouldn’t get married, and you know that the bride is a killer robot sent back from the future

What other traditionally quiet places and times do we need to protect? Comment me your thoughts.

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#TellaFeministthankyou and is chivalry evil?

Twitter brings people together. Without it, it’s very hard to abuse random strangers on the internet. Hastags clearly exist so that people can find others with contradictory beliefs, and then abuse them for exercising their right to free will. In fact, the internet in general took humanity one step closer to being reduced by hate to the dribbling monkeys we once were (or weren’t, depending upon your point of view).

For those that don’t know, using a hashtag on Twitter groups your Tweet with all others using that hashtag. It means you can become a part of a huge global conversation, and see what other people are saying on the same topic.

Yesterday, the top trending hashtage was Tellafeministthankyou. Naturally, this caused quite a few arguments.

Different personalities and beliefs coming together…to stab each other in the eyes

There were the genuinely grateful, the women who do their part, the men who do their part, the men who appreciate women, the women who appreciate men, the people who were just having an ironic joke, the people who were a little bit miffed, and then the men who hate women and the women who hate men, or other women.

There were lots of sarcastic Tweets about not being able to make kitchen jokes anymore, as well as the occasional bombardment of ‘How dare you campaign for birth control’ and ‘thanks to you I can’t raise my children properly.’ Just to clarify, any woman who storms into the home of another woman and drags her into the city to force her to have a high profile career, is not a feminist. Feminism is about freedom, the right to be equal, and the right to choose*.

*(Feminists who believe all women must renounce children, have careers, give up sex, or stop enjoying the company of men, is the exact same problem that feminism is trying to fight; people trying to force women to conform to their idea of what a woman should be. Forcing a woman to have a career is no better than forcing her to stay at home, have children, and look after the house).

There was one argument that kept cropping up that I wanted to look at, because there’s a lot of conversation that goes on about it, and the middle ground often gets lost in the extremes.

Feminism and chivalry

Some people were complaining that feminism has killed chivalry, some were thankful for it. If you don’t know, feminism regards the concept of chivalry as insidious sexism. The idea of opening a door for a woman, because she’s a woman, automatically implies that she is weak, needs help, or should generally be looked after.

Whether it’s offering to help a woman who is struggling with something heavy, or giving up your seat for her on the bus, these are things that society only expects people to do for women. Because they’re supposedly weak and delicate beings who need to be looked after like a small bubble of thoughts about kittens and babies who’d disappear in a second if exposed to the jagged, harsh reality of the real world.

The reason the feminism and chivalry issue is so interesting is because it is so bloody complex. You could argue that chivalry is good, or it’s bad. I think in both cases you’d be wrong. Twitter showed that many people were vastly missing the point of the debate, getting caught up with actions rather than the motivating responses.

Context is everything

A little example to clarify. A man comes home from work; his wife has dinner ready on the table. Now, the sexism in this scene comes from the context. This image isn’t an intrinsically sexist one, in the same way a powerful board room full of only white men isn’t intrinsically racist. It’s the context of the situation – i.e. all those men got the high up jobs over their female and/or black/Asian colleagues because they were white men – not the end result. If a woman genuinely, without pressure or fear, decides that she wants to give up her career to raise her children, that’s fine.

Of course, the problem at the moment is that women aren’t allowed to make choices like that. The sexism in society comes from the fact that equality is just a concept, not something that is practised. There is still an expectation that a woman shouldn’t choose to have a career, she shouldn’t make the money, or know how to fix a car, or wrestle a kangaroo to protect her husband.

Feminism and chivalry the sequel

This is all relevant because most of the Twitter discussions regarding chivalry were about opening doors.

The idea of chivalry is wrong because it is all about acting upon the underlying belief that women are somehow in need of help. If chivalry was universal, it wouldn’t be a problem. But the medieval idea of honour amongst men is not stabbing them in the back or making an iPad case out of their skin, whereas being honourable towards women was about not breathing too hard near them because the poor things were so fragile they’d break like a candyfloss lamppost in a monsoon.

I think chivalry can stay, it just needs a bit of retasking, that’s all. The underlying message is what needs changing, not the actions. I don’t believe that any of the following actions are ‘wrong’:

  • Opening a door for someone
  • Allowing someone to enter/exit a room/lift/pantomime horse outfit first
  • Saying ‘after you’
  • Helping someone carry something heavy
  • Getting involved in a fight to protect someone you care about who is at risk

When this becomes a problem, and why feminism and chivalry come to blows, is when you do the above because the other person is a woman. If you walk past a man trying to carry a cast iron safe in order to help a woman who has two books in her hand, that’s a problem.

I particularly like this article on feminism and chivalry on Everyday Feminism, as it acknowledges the difficulties for both genders. There are feminists out there who simply attack chivalry, and brand any man who tries to be nice to a woman as an evil sexist. The article linked to examines it from both sides, points out that in some ways, many women are just as at fault for the prevalence of chivalry, and that men have a genuinely tough time trying to work out how to not be a sexist because the expectations society places on their gender makes it incredibly difficult to show respect to women without seeming less than a man.

And it is important to acknowledge the plights of men when it comes to societal expectations, as these govern the way they ‘have’ to act and behave. It would be perceived as incredibly embarrassing if a woman were to help a man carry something heavy, and most men would feel hideously rude remaining in their seat on the bus while a woman stood. Society needs to allow men to break the expectations on their gender at the same time as allowing women to. We can’t achieve true equality while the hands of one side are tied by preconceptions and assumptions.

But the bottom line, which makes arguing about opening doors pointless, is that it’s the context of the action that is important. Opening doors for people is fine, better than fine in fact. It’s great. Opening doors for women only, then letting them go to smash into the faces of the men behind them, is most definitely not a good thing.

If you offer to carry a woman’s shopping for her because she’s a human being who might like a little help, and you would do the same for a man without a second’s thought, don’t worry, you’re a nice person.

Bottom line is, just be nice to people. That’s a huge part of what feminism is really about.


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