It's an interesting time to be a woman. On the one hand, we have more opportunities than ever before to speak our minds, share our ideas, voice our opinions. There's social media—and chicks do love some Facebook and Instagram—and then we have the ability to start a blog and fill it with our ramblings any time we feel like it.
On the other hand, all this access to publish our thoughts has a dark side: Many men don't like it when we speak up and talk back. Some will go to great lengths to silence our voices, and too often that gets sexual or physical quickly online. A Pew Research Center study last fall found that both men and women get harassed online, but women are much more likely than men to be sexually harassed or cyberstalked.
Locally, I've seen men say they wished a female attorney's breast implants would burst (there was no indication that this accomplished woman had implants, of course) because they disagreed with who she was defending. I also know of a local neanderthal telling a woman on Facebook who didn't know him what she was wearing earlier in the day, which is horrifying for any woman.
And how many times have I been called "angry," "bitter" or "loud" (meant as an insult) or even a c*nt simply because I dared to disagree or share my opinion? It's epidemic and sad.
But here's the thing: Women suffer if we don't speak up, and our communities are hurt even more. In general, women are more compassionate, collaborative and less competitive in conversations, wanting to integrate and synthesize information, rather than simply listening to refute, belittle or silence.
Not to mention, we need to get it out there and tell our stories. People are swayed by individual stories rather than statistics, and we need to tell ours. It is inevitable that someone won't like that, but so be it, sisters.
In my writing classes, I teach people—many of them women who have wanted to write their entire lives—how to harness the power of narrative to write stories that literally change your world. It might be your personal world, or the larger community.
Or, most likely, both.
Here are some of my tips for finding, and using, your voice.
- Practice speaking up in smaller, safer spaces first. It gets easier just like riding a bike.
- Read, think, do your homework. If you care about an issue, take time to get acquainted with it enough to bring more than emotion to your argument.
- On the other hand, be emotional about things that matter. No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader, as Robert Frost put it.
- Raise your hand first. Typically, women wait until after men talk to speak up in classes and meetings. Take a breath and jump in there.
- Remember that you don't have to qualify everything with "I believe"; you also never have to apologize for speaking or having an opinion. Stop saying "I'm sorry" unless you really did something wrong.
- Try not to talk in a little-girl voice. Breathe from your diaphragm and own it! (Likewise, practice a firm handshake to tell people to take your seriously. Offer your hand first. Then make eye contact and speak up.)
- Take time to think before speaking and then know when to stop talking. When people talk non-stop, as we like to do in the South, they seem nervous and even silly.
- Write stories the way storytellers tell them: This happened, then this happened, then this. Paint a picture and then tell your reader what it means. Better yet, show it.
- When you're expressing your opinion, refute different opinions in your piece. Know the other arguments first and knock them down; don't just express your feelings about something. Prove it.
- Do what "The Artist's Way" author Julia Cameron calls "morning pages." Every morning, write three long-hand pages of whatever comes to mind. At the least, it'll help move garbage out of your head and center you. At best, you might write something great that you can further develop.
- And my favorite: Never expect the first draft of anything to be worth a damn. Always leave time to rewrite and check your words. That's where the magic happens.
For ideas on finding your voice, see www.theopedproject.org/. To get on my Writing to Change class mailing list, write [email protected].