Musings

Owning Your Voice

I love Justine Musk.  I’ve said that before, and I’ll say it again.  Woman almost always says something profound and well-thought out on her blog that, in turn, makes me think.  I love people who make me think.  I’ve picked up several really awesome book recs from reading her.

Anyway, this morning I was catching up on email, and I read her post Darling, It’s Time to Own It.  It, in this case, is your voice.

Voice is something we talk a lot about as writers.  But something that is, perhaps, not considered more often is that everyone has a voice–whether they write or not.  Everyone has things of value to say and offer the world.  And so SO many people stifle that natural voice due to societal pressures.  Justine talks about how boys tend to start that suppression around age 5, when they are exposed to the first  messages of the “Be a man” culture that praises strength and power over empathy.  And about girls she says:

Girls learn to suppress their natural voice around the age of 12, when they start to learn what it takes to be a lady. Presented with the choice between power and warmth, they choose warmth. Because saying what they really think and knowing what they really know can lead to hurt feelings, disruption and conflict, they learn to discount the inner voice. They listen to other people instead. They disown their masculine side, since be a lady is also code for don’t be threatening or intimidating, and knowledge and power (since knowledge is power) are both.

That really resonated with me because I didn’t give in to that social pressure growing up.  At least not to the extent that many girls do.  I was a smart girl.  I didn’t hide it.  If someone asked a question and I knew the answer, I spoke up.  And I have all these memories of points where staying true to that clashed with the prevailing paradigm that girls should be self-effacing and listen to other people (whether they know the answer or not).  I earned a reputation as a know-it-all (and, yeah, okay, that year I was a TA and I jumped in to answer questions in the class because everybody else was sitting there like mute bumps on logs, I probably deserved it–but damn, pay attention, y’all).

Boys were intimidated by me.  I distinctly remember my mother telling me I should “tone it down” and “not speak up so often” if I wanted them to like me.  And I remember having as much a distinct WTF? response to it then as I have now.  Why on earth would I want to be with anyone who didn’t like me for who I am.  I’m smart.  I’m a leader (possibly this can be and often is also read as “Control freak”).   Period.  Why should I hide my light under a bushel, as the saying goes?  So I outright rejected that dubious advice, and I stayed true to my voice.  Didn’t date much and didn’t have my first kiss until I was 18.  College boy, who thought a brain was sexy.  Thank you, Robert, for proving that not all boys were intimidated cowards.

So many women suppress their opinions or beliefs because they might hurt someone’s feelings.  I am a brutally honest person.  If you want the absolute truth, I’m your girl.  You want to know for real if those jeans make your butt look huge–yep, I’m the person to ask.  My mom always called this complete lack of tact.  I never saw the point in beating around the bush.  I’m quite capable of tact when it’s necessary.  But I don’t deem it necessary as often as society would dictate a woman should.  I’m not the kind of person who’s going to be deliberately ugly to someone else–“You’re stupid/lazy/ugly/insert insult.”–but I have never believed in holding myself back because someone MIGHT be hurt by it.  Holding those back because someone MIGHT be hurt or offended by it places the feelings and opinions of others above mine.    I’ve always believed that my opinions, my thoughts have value.   And that’s a totally taboo kind of position for a girl/woman to take.  Because we are bombarded with messages all our lives that we are somehow less.  Less intelligent.  Less important.  Less valuable.

To that I have always instinctively said

Bullshit.

I’ve stuck to my guns, always.  And for doing so, I’ve been accused of being unladylike.  Fine.  Being ladylike is also often synonymous with being weak (which is its own problem, but not what I’m talking about here), and I’m not weak–at least not by society’s very masculine  standards.  Yes, my position has given me rough spots through the years.  But I have no fear of conflict, and that makes me stronger and more capable.

I don’t really know HOW it is that I turned out this way.  Lack of female friendships in my early formative years?  Being an only child?  An over abundance of moxie?  No clue.  But as I see some of my closest friends–brilliant, amazing women–still struggling with a lifetime of giving in to these messages, I’m grateful for whatever it was that protected me, and I hope that I can help them overcome that socialization.

So my wish for you, ladies, for 2014, is to give society the finger, and be the strong, fabulous, wonderful women you are.  Put yourselves first.

4 thoughts on “Owning Your Voice

  1. I never really knew why all my boyfriends I had in high school were older than me and out of school already until you mentioned this subject once before. Then I realized those younger guys were intimidated by my brain. And this doesn’t change in the workplace. I work with all guys (which I actually prefer), so I have to hold my own. And I really think my boss is intimidated by my intelligence. (That sounds so conceited, but you said to own it!) He claims that I think I’m always right, and I tell him I am because if I didn’t know I was right, I wouldn’t argue the point in the first place. LOL

    Btw, I was that girl that always knew the answers. But I went beyond that. I actually pointed out to my teacher in 4th grade that she had made a mistake in a sentence she wrote on the board. Let’s just say she embarrassed the crap out of me, and I never did that again.

  2. I feel as if you were in my head for most of that post.

    I’m quite capable of tact when it’s necessary. But I don’t deem it necessary as often as society would dictate a woman should.

    Yep. And family calls me tactless to the point that I ended up calling myself tactless, then puzzled myself when I was easily able to be tactful in situations where I found it warranted.

    I’m still facing parental pressure to stop having my own voice (despite me being an adult and living on my own). I’m just an unmarried girl. I can’t possibly know anything. (That’s their attitude.)

  3. This is an awesome post. I’ve been that girl who is a) not stereotypically feminine in shape (I’m larger and have a “manly” jaw), so I didn’t have much fun growing up. On top of that I didn’t feel I was smart enough to answer any questions because how I write and how I speak are not equal, and I couldn’t ever get the answers out in a way I felt would come across as intelligent, so I became that quiet person in the corner that always gets As but never speaks up in class. I’ve always been honest, but I’ve also been trained very well not to speak in front of others, so it’s a strange battle. It’s nice to see others have had similar stories.

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