Joseph Boyden and the Fear of Not Speaking Up

Posted by

A couple of years ago I published a (now-deleted) post about me seeing Joseph Boyden speaking at the Cultural Centre in Midland, Ontario, and afterwards chickening out about confronting him about The Orenda‘s protagonist, Snow Falls. The gist of the post was that I thought Boyden was wrong when he remarked that Snow Falls was his most complex character–I thought she was flat, and completely undeveloped. It was mainly because of the sexualized violence Snow Falls experiences  throughout the book, and Boyden’s one-dimensional (and wholeheartedly masculine) treatment of it. I intended to tell him as much at the book signing afterwards.

But when he signed my book and complimented me on my skull-and-feather earrings, I kept my mouth shut, except to say my name so he could write it in my copy of The Orenda—winner of Canada Reads 2014, defended by Wab Kinew.

I had silenced myself.

The gist of the post I wrote later was a shame- and guilt-fueled tirade against Boyden, misogyny, MMIW and the way in which sexual violence is portrayed in The Orenda in particular and mainstream culture in general. I deleted it some months ago because I realized I came across as a screeching harpy–a perfect example of the Angry Feminist that makes it easy to tear down a person and their argument. I deleted it, fearful of judgement and a backlash. (From who? I’ve got no followers.)

Anyway, I had written the post because I was angry at myself for not speaking up and I thought screaming about it in this blog would help. Fact is, I didn’t speak up because I thought I was wrong. Boyden was CanLit royalty. Boyden was “Indigneous”. Boyden was An Important Author for Our Times. Boyden was, and is, some of the things that make it hard for someone to call bullshit.

Then people did start calling bullshit.

Me having a point of view outside the accepted narrative was validated.

I realized my perspective was legitimate.

I should have spoken up. I should have told him how I felt. It was the perfect opportunity. I had a moment to speak directly to him and tell him how his comments affected me, and how his characterization of Snow Falls fell short, and how perhaps he could do better next time. I had the opportunity to give him the opportunity to explain himself–or not. His choice. But by saying nothing, I closed the conversation forever, and I lost my chance to have my voice heard.

Moral of the story. Your instincts are right. Listen to them. You might feel wrong and small and stupid and like your voice really cannot matter at all–I mean who are YOU anyway, right? But if you’ve got something to say, say it. Make your voice heard. It’s very likely that others will join you and create a chorus. You’re not a lone dissenter. There is always another. And another. And another. And another.