I am a strong advocate of women being able to speak publicly about life, faith, politics, hell anything that isn’t just ‘I don’t know much about the gold standard, but I do know about fluffy kittens’! So I find it interesting that there still seems to be a lack of women speaking publicly when we are decades past votes for women and the notion that women can have a voice…..well maybe we are still journeying on from votes for women to a place of having a voice. Still it’s puzzling that women still fail to be much more than tokenly represented in government, as CEOs of businesses and in position of leadership and voice within the Church. What is the hold-up? I guess the structural machines of discrimination and prejudice take a while to get their creaky joints working. And misogyny is still very much at large. But I wonder what it is that stops women themselves seizing opportunities and running with them. Sprinting off with them at such a speed that there’s no stopping them?!
I love to talk, I really do. When I was about 8 I wanted to speak at the Christmas service at church. I diligently wrote my talk. I practiced it out-loud to myself underneath my covers before bed (I was a sad child!) ironing out mistakes, carving it with care. I never did deliver that talk, and have never since. I still have that burning desire to speak publicly, but I have very few places or contexts to practice. I’m not sure a dozen drunk young people on a double-decker bus on a Saturday night would appreciate me pontificating on ’empowerment’ or ‘activism’! So instead I keep my talks to myself in the car as I drive to work, or in my head as a i drift off to sleep. I wonder whether I am the only one doing this? Maybe I am odd! But i think the underlying principle is ‘I want to do this more but I’m not sure how’. So why am I not sprinting off with opportunities to make my voice heard – well I don’t know how? How do you go about doing that? Where are the ‘routes in’ for women to be heard in different forums in life? I know some must exist, they have to, but how can we ensure these routes are accessible?
I find it hard to write this because it sounds like I am just shouting ‘I WANT TO SAY SOMETHING’ – which I do – but I also want to hear from others. I want to enriched by a diversity of sounds, stories, thoughts, ideas – things I agree with, things I don’t. I feel scared of writing this because it is exposing – I desperately want to play a part in what’s going on around me, and I do in so many ways, but I’m not content. I want to be heard and I want to hear others.
I think one of the issues is that in the ‘Christian world’ at least, we have a set ‘formula’ for a ‘successful’ talk. It should be smattered with jokes, funny on-liners, lots of little anecdotes which lead to a crescendo of heart-warming / heart-wrenching (depending on the topic and the event) climax. I am being particularly facetious today (blame the strawberry laces I’m consuming!), but I wonder if you have some experience of Christian talks whether that description brought a knowing wry smile to your face? I am not saying having a pattern is bad – heck we have a history of liturgy – but I wonder whether this is a hard formula to just pick-up as a woman. Not because we are not capable but because we may not have had the contexts in which to practice and hone that formula. I see some parallels with women comedians who, I think, are sometimes judged more harshly than their male counterparts. Are women speakers critiqued more harshly than men? It often seems to me that men are judged individually on merit, and how they sit with regards to this tried and tested pattern – “Oh such and such (insert male Christian speaker’s name) was great today” or “I didn’t enjoy him quite as a much”, where as with women I tend to hear “See women speakers are great just listen to (insert women Christian speaker’s name)” or “See that’s why women shouldn’t speak”. I guess I am blabbing a bit now and falling very soundly into the anecdotal category – still I wonder if there is any truth to be had here? How can we ensure there are places for women to practice speaking publicly?
I also wonder whether that formula way of speaking is great for some, in some places, but not for all. Is there a chance that maybe having more women feeling free and confident to share their voice may bring a point of difference into the melting pot of ideas and theology? There are so many brilliant women who are raising their voices – let’s have more!
Lastly, I think women stop themselves. I know there are times when people are looking around saying ‘where can we find a women to talk about this?’ and there is no response. Why is that? I think that the image of confident woman is blighted by words like ‘bossy’, ‘up herself”, ‘arrogant’. I am certainly aware that putting myself forward for anything is risky and again exposing. It is so much a part of who I am, wrapped up in my own identity, the core of me, that to parade what I believe to be something I can do allows others to knock me down, and I won’t want to get back again. I am frightened that if I say I want to speak people will say ‘what have you got to say?’, or ‘what could you actually bring?’, or ‘who are you anyway’ or worse, nothing at all. I am my own worst enemy at times. I want to stay just behind the starting blocks, watching others, visualising my own race – practicing my talk under the bedcovers at night.