This is a post that should rightly be on my Tumblr so prepare yourself…
First of all, I would suggest if you haven’t already, you should watch Mary Beard’s BBC lecture on the public voice of women. It’s pretty good. Not a rant, not a display of man bashing, but a well reasoned lecture which I found really interesting. It seems from Mary’s observations it is compelling that women have indeed been silenced by men in various ways all across history. It also highlighted the need to check ones sources when researching a topic for example in the case of the “aint I a woman” speech by Sojourner Truth which I remember learning in School which seems to have been either mistranslated or fabricated.
One of the main messages that resonated with me from this lecture, as per my tweet below, is that women are often told to shut up followed by the accusation that they are stupid or don’t know what they’re on about.
(if you click favorites you’ll see the account I THINK is Mary Beard’s legitimate one has “favorited” it! Hoorah!)
It made me think about times I have been outspoken at School, University and during my working life. I have written a few recollections below, I would be interested if anyone else I know has experience similar things.
Speaking up in School “be quiet/shut up”
I have always been outspoken and enthusiastic, from when I was little my mum was told that they couldn’t get me to walk anywhere I would always run or skip. I have always had an annoyingly loud voice, from a child they thought I might have problems with my hearing because I spoke at almost a shout all the time. I know my class mates found this annoying and I recall both in class and the playground being told to be quiet. I remember the move from saying “be quiet” to “shut up” quite well also and it mostly being uttered by the boys.
Something else that sticks in my mind is, being the ball of enthusiasm I was (OK, still am) I would throw my hand up to be picked to answer questions all the time. I have vivid memories of being told to be quiet by my teachers in favor of the boys in my class. I later discovered when I went to University and did a module on the Sociology of Education that this was probably because primary school teachers apparently find teaching or “getting through” to boys more difficult and thus more rewarding when they give answers in class.
Despite all of this I was encouraged to be the main character in School plays and to read my English work aloud in Primary School – being heard was fine as long as I was being creative. I loved reading and creative writing for a long time until I reached my A levels where a male teacher took a disliking to me, saying I was “over familiar” because I greeted him in the morning before class. He gave me some of the worst grades I ever got for English and he constantly favoured the boys in the class over the girls turning class discussions into banter with them and ignoring girls who raised their hands. After knowing me for 7 years as well my tutor revealed to me that she thought I was attention seeking and that she didn’t like me…clearly being outspoken did not make me popular.
Speaking up at University “pipe down/obnoxious fresher”
Needless to say my “loud-mouthed” nature did not calm down when I went to University. My dad gave me a piece of advice as they dropped me at halls of residence at the start of my degree that I might want to “quieten down” he said “you have a very big personality and people might not be able to deal with that right away” I don’t blame my dad for saying that and of course I ignored his advice but part of me wishes I had taken it. I look back on videos of times I’d had a bit to drink and I am chanting things and generally being an idiot. I can’t have been that bad though, otherwise why would any of my university friends stay in touch?
I was referred to by an ex boyfriend I met when I first started uni and his friendship group as “obnoxious fresher” because I had dared to talk back to them or defend an opinion in front of them. They seemed to be entertained that I was “lairy” or “loud mouthed”. That I can’t be embarrassed about. I remember feeling as though in conversations with them that they felt some how intellectually superior to me. They often told me that I didn’t know what I was talking about. I look back on it now and realise that this was all part of “lad culture” behaviour and yes, sexism.
Over time my obnoxious nature has calmed down, I often find I get louder after a couple of drinks and especially when with a group of guys. Eventually I turned my voice to Politics at University in the form of Liberal Democrat society (before they broke the “fees promise”) I attended the 2010 protests in London and campaigned for “Science not Stigma” and local campaigns to improve street lighting. I feel this was more constructive but I do recall much head shaking and being told I “don’t get it” by mostly male class mates. “Bless, she’s trying to make a difference” I no longer have a political affiliation by the way…
Mary Beard’s lecture mentioned how women often defend issues that impact women and not society as a whole, I like to think I used my outspoken nature to raise awareness of issues that concern a wider range of people.
Speaking up in the work place
See I had to link this to work some how! My colleagues at work have been very supportive and have encouraged me to get involved with things that allow me to network. They have also told me I am a great ambassador for the institution in which I work and I have represented us both internally and externally (as per previous London themed blog posts) I have some excellent female role models at work but sometimes I do feel as though I bite my tongue for fear of being viewed as stupid by other colleagues, especially seeing as I work among academics. I’m not “Dr” I have an average BSc so what could I possibly contribute, right?
I will be presenting at PWC later this week and for a visit day on campus on Saturday. Standing up in front of people is challenging as I suddenly become conscious everyone is looking at me (perhaps not totally listening, but I will let that slide) and I find it interesting that the things I have recalled above still stay with me and seem to have knocked my confidence somewhat.
I have also now been nominated as Employee of the year at the Venus Business Woman Awards for the second year running. For this I will have to “face the camera” again and record a video talking about myself and why people should vote for me in that category – which I am dreading. I don’t like talking about myself down the lens of a camera I much prefer talking to people face to face and self promotion is something that doesn’t come naturally to me either so recording a video AGAIN is going to be hard. If you want to see last years video it’s here and you can see how nervous I was. SO much editing!
So to round this all off what I suppose I am saying is that I think I am still finding my voice. I have encountered stumbling blocks along the way and it’s all about how I cope with or recover from those. I think many women struggle to find their voice or don’t have one at all. Other women try to sound more “authoritative” or “manly” in their delivery of ideas or try to sound less intelligent than they are so they aren’t putting themselves out on a limb.
It’s a scary world out there, and if we can’t speak up for ourselves, how can we help others who seriously need our help? We think we have problems…