Shrill, eh?

To prejudge, to be unthinkingly dismissive, is a trait we should probably go back to the drawing board with. It’s instinctive, so I’ll cut us some slack; after all, choosing what, and what not, to focus our energy and attention on helps us make sense of what on the face of it is an utterly absurd and deviously chaotic world. Appearances give one an idea, an inkling, that which perches on the surface offering us a sense of what lies beneath, but casting something aside based on what we perceive to be its most prominent feature and before examining what it is that that feature represents is not something we should be proud of as a species. And nowhere is this more true than in the efforts by some to denounce as shrill those who are pro-choice and wish to repeal the eighth amendment.

Definitions of shrill include: (1) (of a voice or sound) high-pitched and piercing; (2) (especially of a complaint or demand) loud and forceful.

It would appear that the term – or at least the form it takes when hurled at opponents in this debate – is gendered and loaded with contempt; it is a contemporarily ‘acceptable’ way to call someone out for holding ideas contrary to your own or traditional ones. It’s hard to ignore, isn’t it, the parallel here with witch hunts.

It wasn’t what the witch was saying so much as the one-size-fits-all hat placed upon them by society – we won’t indulge your unconventional views as you have the appearance and exhibit the behaviours of a witch and thus need to be silenced. End of.

Referees’ whistle are shrill. The emergency services’ sirens. Fire alarms. These things catch our attention and/or are annoying, and with very good reason. Out of necessity, one might say. Out of necessity, then, these three examples of shrill things, these annoyances, exert considerable forces on their environments. The type of force varies depending on the situation, but there is an overarching common thread: they seek to have a controlling influence.

Necessity, annoyance, control.

So just what exactly is it that some people don’t like about the pro-choice campaign? It seems that the second of this triad, annoyance, is the standout factor for them, although the reality of the situation is that the three characteristics combine disharmoniously resulting in a dynamic entity like a many-faced Transformer, an impressively conflicted hybrid so complex one oughtn’t dare take the simplistic approach of reducing it to one feature, ought one?

The necessity in this scenario is, of course, the repeatedly UN-backed right to sovereignty over one’s body. How brazen are, how entitled of, how annoying that…women seek rights decreed to be universal by the wishy-washy international umbrella organisation that is the UN. It’s almost as though women and girls are not just asking for basic rights but actually expecting to get them too.

The issue of control cuts both ways, for the shrill must be both vindicated and nullified. Does the squeaky wheel get oil or a belt of a hammer? The humourless irony that some seek to control those who seek control over their own bodies is Shakespearean levels of tragic.

And so it appears that some who are not pro-choice are deriving displeasure and annoyance from that which they deem to be shrill. Filtering out the fuzzy frequencies of necessity and the double-edged control, they distil the pro-choice campaign down to 100 proof nuisance.

Nobody needs a history lesson about the mistreatment of women and other similarly oppressed cohorts. Except we do. Because we’re still doing it. To dismiss as shrill is to toss aside, to flick a spider away, to look down your nose and sneer derisively at women. It is to ignore, and is tantamount to telling women, ‘no, you still don’t get a say.’

Such a display of contempt for, and distrust of, women should be hard to fathom in the 21st-century. Such subjugation is surely the stuff of reprehensible plantations and Roman Empire-era humiliation. Not listening to someone because you deem their tone to be off – that is, a bad fit for your sensibilities – is one of the biggest insults we have in our arsenal. And that last point holds up even if you don’t agree with their politics, as in discourse it is best to accord one’s opponents respect.

To say pro-choice campaigners are shrill is to say they are unlikeable and annoying. Is it in anyone’s interest to do this, to classify people as annoying for speaking up?

Denouncing as shrill is not an argument, a stance, a bargaining chip, an opening statement. It is a desperate attempt at a gagging order. The contempt with which it is said is itself truly contemptible. Pro-choice campaigners are taking back their voice. For eons, the oppressed were not heard; often, not permitted to speak up. For years to come, many minorities too will go unheard. Another battle. That song which so audaciously assaults your ears now is the cacaphonous roar, the orchestral surge, the songstresses’ delight, music so beautiful it sings on behalf of the multitudinous voiceless masses gone before, cries tears in acknowledgement of an ocean’s worth already shed, and expertly orates the humble request to have control over one’s body. Denouncing as shrill is about as dismissive as it gets. Go away, little girl – you do not get to speak. Go away, little girls – we are not used to hearing your voices and are thus uncomfortable at having to accommodate them. Go away, mná na hÉireann, the status quo doesn’t like being disturbed.

From where you’re sitting, the revolution might very well be shrillified, but it will not be nullified.

Comments 2

  • That’s a Well parsed and illustrated Article. I enjoyed Your clear addressing of a very convenient way of maligning the movement!

  • That’s a Well parsed and illustrated Article David! I enjoyed Your clear addressing of a very convenient way to malign the movement!

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