I lost my voice last week. Literally. I had laryngitis for three days, and communicated using hand signals and facial expressions and with the assistance of a white board. I must admit that I was fascinated by the change in group dynamics, caused by my vocal absence. Try it sometime.
That being said, I don’t want to lose my voice again anytime soon. It is frustrating to have thoughts that you cannot share and to be overlooked in conversations, as if you don’t exist. No one’s fault really, but if you are silent, well, you simply can’t be heard.
I must confess, though, that this is not a totally new experience for me. In my youth, I was very quiet and in my adulthood, I have not always been heard in business meetings filled with male counterparts. I, like many women, struggle to feel comfortable with being assertive, striving to feel heard yet unsure when or how to speak up, based upon previous experiences. Women historically have been taught to be nice and quiet, and to avoid conflict in order to please others and keep the peace.
In our Women’s Self-Defense Workshops, we talk about the power of using our voice. It is a readily accessible tool that can deter an attack, signal others nearby to assist us, and let a potential attacker know that we will be a tough target. In general, our voice can convey a sense of confidence, deliver a powerful message and help in setting boundaries.
Along with the use of voice, the words themselves matter. Words are part of the subtle fabric underlying our cultural norms or expectations. Let me explain what I mean.
Today, I was watching TV and noticed some words. Five to be exact. One word each was spoken by five children as part of an ad to request donations for a local non-profit organization; an organization, I might add, that does wonderful work.
Picture the theme: superheroes—with each child saying a word that they think exemplifies a quality of a superhero. The boys’ words were: strong, fearless and inspirational. The girls’ words…wait for it…: nice and generous.
While these are all wonderful qualities, boys should be strong, inspirational, and fearless (qualities of the person) while girls should be focused on how they treat others (nice and generous)? This pairing reinforces classic, historical gender stereotypes at a time when thankfully these stereotypes are changing, for the better of all. I believe that it is the accumulation of countless small messages like this that shape our societal beliefs and behaviors.
So here is where voice and words intersect. Do I say something, or let it go?
I debated, and then decided to use my voice. I sent a friendly message to the organization expressing both my appreciation for their work, and my concerns with their ad.
After reviewing the ad themselves, they immediately pulled it from circulation and apologized. This gender pairing of words was not intentional but accidental, they said, and I believe them. They simply didn’t think about how the ad came across in this way.
I also believe that it is only through mindful, purposeful action that we begin to make changes. We don’t change the world for the better purely by accident, but by opening our minds and hearts to see what needs to change, and working diligently and persistently to change it. And those changes start small.
Thank you for listening.
“Big things often have small beginnings.”-author unknown
For further reading, see https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2017/dec/15/teaching-gender-equality-can-help-tackle-sexual-harassment-heres-how.#GenderNorms Gender GenderStereotypes GenderRoles Change Impact Advertising