Confessions of a loud girl

Even writing this title makes me uncomfortable. I hate being called “loud” and every time someone refers to me as such, I cringe. Whether it’s the sudden turn of your head and narrowing of your eyes when you hear me laugh, or whether you actually call me “loud”, I hate it. It sounds like an insult, like you’ve invited an elephant to your tea party just so you can make fun of her for breaking your china. Shame. That’s an accurate description of what I feel when I’m called “loud”. I feel ashamed. Maybe in ancient times, my people required the power of sneakiness as a means of survival, and that’s why I’m ashamed to be loud. Maybe my brain triggers shame to protect me from an evolutionary perspective. Maybe, a more likely option, my shame is linked to the idea that women are not meant to be loud. To be a woman is to be quiet, delicate and gentle, you don’t speak out of turn and you’re not bossy or opinionated.  To be a woman, is to be a creature of grace- serene femininity oozing from every measured word with the indulgence of a coquettish giggle when the occasion calls for it. How easily a loud girl fails that criteria. Truth be told, I don’t even consider myself loud. I am assertive, opinionated and unapologetic about using my voice, but I’d never describe myself as loud. But perhaps I should, perhaps I should reclaim it. Perhaps in this world, where all too often we silence the voice of women in so many inventive and subtle ways, I should be proud of being loud. If I am loud and just one woman hears my voice, isn’t that enough to be proud of?

In thinking about being loud, I’ve thought of my voice. I’ve also thought of women around the world who feel like they have none.  I used to think that my greatest fear was not being understood, but I’m beginning to feel like it’s something that precedes understanding. At its most basic form, if no one hears you, if your voice is lost, how will you ever be understood? I can’t say with absolute conviction that I feel like I’m heard. I can’t say with even a little conviction that men have not spoken over me, that I haven’t been ignored in male dominated environments. Yes, even though I’m “loud”. I can say that often during a discussion when I offer a suggestion to an otherwise male audience, it lands heavy but with no purpose. It serves to draw silence before an awkward man who has not really heard the concept, or my idea, presses forward as if I had not said anything at all. My words were just a speed bump along the road that starts and ends with solutions that I have no power to shape. It’s more than a slap in the face to be ignored in that way, it more than an insult, it’s an indication of my worthlessness. It’s often at some later point, once I’ve tried to make my point for the third time, that some man comes to my “rescue” saying, “What I think she’s trying to say is…,”. It fascinates me to see others bob their head when my ideas take on a male voice. Of course, it’s not uncommon that whichever man explained my suggestion also gets the credit for “his idea”. I reread what I’ve just written and part of me wants to delete the entire thing because I want to believe I’m making it up. I want to believe this isn’t what I’m experiencing with a shocking and sickening regularity. But it is true, and it does happen and not only to me. I’ve also seen this happen to men, from all walks of life, but I’ve never seen it happen as frequently as I see it happening to women. All around me I see women being silenced, I see their ideas being trampled on, I see men taking the credit where they don’t deserve it. We silence women by telling them they need to show up in certain way to fit in. We silence women when they grow tired of fighting to be heard and simply give up. We silence women when we show them that their voices do not matter. We silence women daily, routinely and without thought. Women do have voices and they aren’t afraid to use them, but have we been listening?

Perhaps what I should be, beyond loud, is louder. Perhaps I should speak and write till I am heard, perhaps I should also let my actions be louder. Perhaps I should own who I am, along with my voice so that I can allow other women to also do the same . For the longest time one of my frustrations with being “loud” was the assumption that I should be anything but. That I shouldn’t own the space I occupy, that I should be apologetic for even existing. That I should make myself and my voice smaller so as not to inconvenience anyone. It feels like that judgement seeks to replace me with a more acceptable version. But I’m not having that. Sorry, that’s not me. I am inconvenient, and, you know what, I love that about myself. The world is better with me being loud, brass, assertive and ambitious because that’s who I am. And folks, that’s most certainly nothing to be quiet about.

For women only: No men allowed

Here’s something I’d never thought I’d hear myself say, “I’ve had so many fights since I started a book club,”. I should clarify that it is a woman’s only book club and that it is a corporate one, not that that sheds any light on why this is such a contentious topic though. For some reason people (read men) are shocked, appalled and angry with me because I’ve created a platform that excludes them. Yes, I know, I should buy them all dictionaries so they can look up the word “patriarchy”. I suspect that I’m beginning to lose my sense of humour around the whole thing, I did want to title this blog “How not be an idiot and other useful tips” so perhaps we’re already in dangerous territory. It just frustrates me that men think that they should weigh in on certain things that, quiet frankly, are none of their business. Now, I am not saying that feminism shouldn’t include men, I’m not saying that men should be excluded from the dialogue, that’s as stupid as some of the comments I’ve gotten regarding a woman only book club. What I am saying is that I’m sick of men telling what I should do and I’m sick of them thinking they have right to do so.

I’m not about to apologise for pushing the agenda for women empowerment

I’m not about to apologise for pushing the agenda for women empowerment. Neither am I willing to apologise for the fact that I’ve created a platform for women to learn and grow from each other, and hopefully one that will encourage women to use their voices. Nope, I’m not about to do that but somehow, many men I’ve spoken to seem to think that’s exactly what I should be doing. I know the conversations would be easier if I was a bit more diplomatic (read agreeable) and if every time a man told me of how the book club should also include him I simply bowed in submission and said, “Kind sir, thank you for that golden suggestion, my fragile mind had not yet thought such grand thoughts”. Truth be told I had thought of whether the book club should include men or not, I had even discussed it with a wider audience and put it up to a vote before deciding because I am explicitly aware of the fact that to move forward, we must not do it in isolation. I also believe that this book club will evolve to include a wider audience one day. I don’t know when, but one day. I am fully aware that men exist in this world and that it is also their voices and their actions that we need to dismantle patriarchy. Nobody is saying otherwise, least of all this book club. But somehow, I need to explain it, I need to justify it, I need to make the men who I’ve excluded feel better because that is what’s expected of me. Unfortunately, I’m not willing to do any of that either. Tell you what I am willing to do though, I’m willing to pretend that I’m less annoyed and put together these few gentle, guiding points on how to be less of an idiot during these conversations with me. One day I’ll learn how not be sarcastic, I don’t know when, but one day.

Instead of saying, “I also like to read”, (because my response will remain the same “So, who’s stopping you?”) say, “That’s a great idea. I also love reading, what is the book club reading now?”. Say that and you’ll shift the conversation away from me saying, “By starting a book club that I did not invite you to, I did not magical cast a spell that stops you from reading or buying books. It is my sincere hope that you do not reproduce on the off chance that they inherent your intellectual abilities.” Instead I’d merrily leap into a conversation about our current book, what key things interest me and what actions it’s sparked. Chances are, I’d probably volunteer to lend you my copy once I’m done.

Instead of saying, “Yes, but why aren’t you involving me?” say “Yes, and I’d also like to get involved. How can I contribute to uplifting women?” That would probably earn you a high-five or a hug or both and we’d get to talking about how we can do something together to serve and even wider audience.

Instead of saying, “Women need to tell us how to fix this, otherwise we’d never know” say “Patriarchy has served me my entire life and I am ignorant to the challenges that women face. Are you aware of any known cure for my ignorance?” There’s no telling how this would pan out but I’d sure respect you for admitting that your were ignorant.

Instead of saying, “I don’t understand why women need to talk amongst themselves,” say “I think it’s great that you’re creating a space where women can leverage off each other and while I’d also like to be part of the conversation, I have no right to tell you or any woman what she should be doing with her voice.” Again, this is totally five-high and or hug material. We’d probably launch into a conversation on how we could go about breaking conventions and how we could leverage of each other to do something great for women. You would inspire me and you’d also probably be a unicorn, but a girl can dream.

It’s really not that challenging to stop and check your privilege. And if you want to be part of the solution, I applaud you, I really do. We need more men who want that. We also need more men who don’t think they have a right to tell women what to do. We need more men who call themselves feminists. We need more men challenging words, thoughts and actions that cement toxic masculinity in our communities. We need more men who listen, who have been listening to what women have been saying for centuries. We need more men who believe that patriarchy is wrong and who are willing to do something to challenge something that serves them. We need all sorts of men to do all sorts of things, but by god, we do not need more men in book club.

Women in the workplace: Two reasons why we won’t let each other win

When I was a young girl my mother told me of how she earned less money than my father did when they both started working as teachers. I remember hearing the story and thinking that the world in the late seventies/early eighties was not only ridiculous, but also backward. It made no sense to me. My parents were the same age, got the same education and went into the same profession. The one fundamental difference between them was something they had no choice or control over, their gender. I found it hard to believe that humans could be that stupid. I admit that the idea of different pay scales based on gender as well as race fascinated and appalled me in equal measure, but I absorbed the story with a certain smugness. I was smug because I knew that the world would be a far different place once I started working. I knew that we would not make the same mistakes our parents did. Now all these years later, I’ve come to realise that our biases are far stickier than we would like to admit and that although we’ve come a long way since cavemen dragged women around by their hair, we’ve still got an awful lot more to learn and change in the name of progress. I don’t have the answers as to why women are still inadequately represented top of the corporate ladder or why patriarchy and toxic masculinity find such prevalence in our daily lives. What I do have is a few thoughts on why we, as women, don’t let each other win.

I have a two-part theory about why women struggle to, as Melinda Gates urged us to, “share power”. It’s not novel and by no means entirely my own, but it is something that we need to start thinking about. Someone said to me that women don’t need to learn about how to empower other women, that we do it already. And while that thought alone fills me with hope, I know it’s not entirely true. Just because we’ve felt the strong hand of patriarchy pushing us down every time we try to rise, just because we face the daily burden of unpaid work stifling our growth, just because we’re afraid of what it means to be a woman in this country, does not necessarily bind us to a common goal of supporting and uplifting each other. I don’t have an exhaustive list for why it is that we don’t support each other, nor do I have a theory that will apply to every woman but what I do have is thoughts around what I’ve experienced. The first part of my theory is based on scarcity and the second on sacrifice.

It’s easy to buy into the concept of scarcity if being who you are invalidates your access to the opportunities that are meant to help you.

The scarcity concept makes us believe that there a limited amount of opportunities and that when someone, a woman, rises to take one, she’s taken something away from us. It’s odd though, because sometimes we aren’t even interested in that specific opportunity, all we know is that now it’s no longer available to us. Part jealousy, part competition, we believe in the idea of win-lose, that another woman’s success means the loss of an opportunity for someone else. I link this to the dark side of competition, to the thought that there exists two teams in the world, the winners and the losers. When you think about it this way, any win that isn’t your own puts you squarely in the loser camp. Doing something “first” is also important here, you’re not winning unless you were the first to do something. Your friend starts a blog and it’s something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t gotten around to it, is your initial reaction to support her? Or did she steal the one last spot available to bloggers all over the world? A coworker gets a promotion, she’s your age or younger but progressing quicker up the corporate ladder than you did. Are you wishing her well while secretly harbouring thoughts that seek to lessen the comparison between yourself and her? I get it, I do. For so many reasons, but also because I’ve felt that way. And to a degree, who can blame us for thinking this way? We’ve seen men win at the expense of women for centuries, at the very heart of patriarchy is win-lose thinking. And sure, we’ve created more opportunities for women to succeed but in order to be considered for those opportunities, you need to the “right” sort of woman. You know what I mean, the woman who speaks her mind, but is never loud or assertive. The one who disagrees, but never strongly. The woman who is committed to her family but whose children aren’t sick too often. Go ahead, be who you are, we tell women, as long as your hair’s not too untidy, you’re not too loud, you don’t sleep around and, of course, you know your place and don’t rock the boat too much. Is it any wonder why we believe that opportunities for success, or getting to the top of the corporate ladder are scarce? Perhaps we all understand that there are opportunities but that getting hold of one requires the sort of backflips and jumping through hoops that is both offensive and inauthentic. How about we start talking about opportunities and a lack thereof, when women are rewarded for who they are, instead of who others expect us to be? It’s easy to buy into the concept of scarcity if being who you are invalidates your access to the opportunities that are meant to help you.

We become the very ones we hated, we fought against. We do it because we’ve bought into the idea that success comes with sacrifice, we need that pound of flesh because it’s what we gave up.

The sacrifice concept is based on the principle that women must often fight their way to success, that women often have to work much harder than men do just to be considered for the same opportunities. Our burden of proof is much larger and naturally, so are our sacrifices. That we fought, clawed and pushed our way into typically male dominated environments, that we sacrificed so much to do it, is sometimes a difficult thought to let go off. We want to hold onto it because it shows our strength, our perseverance and our sheer will beyond our capabilities, because we know capability alone is not enough when you’re a woman. We tell ourselves that we were more, we did more, that’s how we rose. The struggle we faced, did more than validate us, it defined us and our views on success. So, when someone comes along whose progress along a similar path seems easier, it’s hard for us to think of all we’ve sacrificed and make room for this younger woman who probably won’t face the struggles we have. Instead of shaping a journey that is fundamentally different from the one had to embark on, we shape something very similar. We become the very ones we hated, we fought against. We do it because we’ve bought into the idea that success comes with sacrifice, we need that pound of flesh because it’s what we gave up. We do it because we’ve learnt that success is painful, that it wouldn’t be right unless it was. We do it because we believe other women, need to “earn their stripes” in much the same way that the men who held the power expected from us.

I write this for women whose futures will be shaped by all sorts of men and women, in the hope that we are brave enough to claim our power or to ask for a share of it, knowing full well that it might be more than others think we deserve.

Like I’ve written earlier, I certainly can’t speak on behalf of all women worldwide, I probably know, in equal measures, women who both fit and disprove the descriptions above. I write this for the women who challenge the concept of scarcity, who go forth and shape opportunities, who challenge the notion that opportunities are only available to those who tow the line. I write this for both the women who will understand that their struggles have prepared them to make the path easier for those that follow and for the women who use their struggles as some sort of a measuring stick to gauge success. I write this for women whose futures will be shaped by all sorts of men and women, in the hope that we are brave enough to claim our power or to ask for a share of it, knowing full well that it might be more than others think we deserve.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any entity or organisation.