Silencer….

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.

Advertisements

13 Replies to “Silencer….”

  1. Totally get what you are saying! I do think women speakers are judged on a different scale then men – actually – maybe I think they are judged on the example of men? Yes, that is more true to my experience. Having really only ever heard male speakers – I figured that was just how it was done! And when my speaking didn’t match their example – that meant I had failed, and shouldn’t speak!
    You have lots to say – and it isn’t arrogant or ‘up yourself’ – it’s about having a passion and wanting to share it! Perhaps it’s time you lined yourself up on the starting blocks with the others and gave them a good race?!
    Hopefully this will also encourage others to stand up and speak up!
    Ta 🙂
    Jo

    1. Thanks Jo. I think you’re right, the main examples of people ‘speaking’ have been men – therefore that is the example. I think there are increasingly women stepping forward, but the spaces shouldn’t be limited, or viewed as ‘full’ if only a few are still taken seriously. I would love to see lots more women encouraged to speak up in different spheres of life.
      Keep speaking up! x

  2. Great post!

    I am a talker. A lot of my blog posts end up being formulated in my head before I write them and they’re written as I would speak. Let me just say you are not the only one keeping your talks to yourself! I think as women we really have to push for opportunities because we don’t automatically get afforded them. But then the problem is that we get judged negatively for being assertive or having strong personalities. A man like that is a leader, a man of influence. A woman who’s the same will be ‘bossy’, ‘pushy’ or ‘power crazed’. I was talking about this last night on Twitter with Jo actually – saying that women who aspire to leadership always have their motives questioned or get beaten down in a way that men who have the same ambitions never do.

    And when we are permitted to be speakers, you’re right in that there IS a set formula which often has to be adhered to. You see it on ‘women’s days’ everywhere, that is to say the ‘heart-warming/funny/inspirational’ message with a serious side, usually about self-esteem or relationships. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but there’s only so much of it I can deal with before it ceases to be edifying. That potentially makes me sound like a bad person. Last year one of the things I attended that I got the most out of was the Sophia Network day we were both at, because there was THEOLOGY. There were practical tips on ENGAGING IN DEBATE. It TICKED BOXES THAT I LIKE. And when it comes to talking about the ‘serious’ stuff, I think a lot of people have knives out for women speakers. They’re waiting to try to trip us up so they can use it as an example of why ‘women do x’ or ‘all women are like x’.

    And yes I definitely think that women silence themselves. It’s a confidence thing and also because we’re so used to seeing men do all the talking and have all the opinions in society as a whole. Opinionated women aren’t looked upon kindly, and women – particularly Christian women – are brought up to believe that nice women don’t rock the boat, don’t assert themselves, and don’t get involved in controversy.

    I’ll tell you one thing though – since I have started speaking, and writing, and having a voice, I have felt that I have found my niche.

    1. Thank you! I think you have found your niche too and it suits you! I think you are very inspiring and your voice is inspiring others.
      Keep on drafting blogs in your head and then publishing them!

  3. Im speaking at church this Sunday!!! Our church is great – they are really supportive in nurturing what hopefully are my gifts ao they have given me quite a few opportunities to speak and Im a regular preacher now! Ive done a lot of praying and getting to know God and he has done a lot of molding and directing in my life lately & as a result Im having some opportunities to share what God is speaking to me about. Hope you find this encouraging Ruth!

    1. Thank you – very encouraging. So good to hear of churches nurturing and seeing women grow. Keep on going – I’m sure you’re helping to encourage others to step up too!

      1. Also Ruth, literally just got an email saying that Green belt are really eager for more women speakers to apply – only got to Feb 15ht but you should go for it Ruth!

  4. I’ve just spent a whole day preparing for a talk that I’m doing tomorrow and struggling with the ‘this is crap; I haven’t got anything to say’ demons, so this rings true for me! There was an article in the Guardian a while ago about the lack of women in public life and I wrote this about it on the Sophia blog: ‘I was challenged by a quote from Katie Snape who books guests for Sky News, and is committed to getting more women on screen. She says: ‘she often has trouble booking the number she would like. “I always have these conversations with women where I say: ‘We’d love to have you on the panel’, and I explain why, and they laugh, and they’re very self-effacing, and they say: ‘Gosh, I’m so flattered, but I just don’t think I’d have anything to say.’ And I’ve never rung up a man who has said that.” ‘ If we want more women to be included, to be heard, to contribute to the shaping of the church then we need to be prepared to be the answer to our own pleas. Next time you’re asked to do something and you feel a bit ill-equipped, say yes and then get the support you need to deliver what’s required. You’ll be able to step up to the mark, you’ll learn by doing and you’ll help to change the culture for other people.’ (whole post here: http://blog.sophianetwork.org.uk/2011/12/where-are-all-the-women.html)

    But I’m interested in how we can support one another to get better at speaking, to push through the developing stage to finding our authentic voice. What do you need to help you to do that, Ruth? What could we do in the Sophia Network to address some of these issues?

  5. I’m a woman who speaks and I think there’s two things:

    1. The model of public speaking, church or otherwise, is quite a “male” model in that it rests on concepts like authority, direction, strength etc. That’s why women get labelled as bossy or whatever when they do it. I’m not saying any of that’s right but it is what it is. Whether we like it or not, standing up in front of a crowd of people to speak a monologue feels like telling everyone what to do, and our conditioning as girls and women tends to feel uncomfortable about doing this. I think the newer style that’s starting to creep into the teaching mode in church is helpful in that it’s more about raising questions, encouraging participation, not insisting on only one point of view, seeking meaning collaboratively.

    2. It’s all about practice. When I started my job as a youth and children’s pastor, one of my weekly tasks was to deliver an all age slot as part of the Sunday morning service. It can feel like a chore, but the weekly job of coming up with something, delivering it, reflecting on it, taking the reflection back into the following week’s talk, over and over again has improved my confidence, my ability to speak without notes, my understanding of how to shape a talk, my comfort with ad-libbing, my understanding of my own voice, both physically and style-wise, and my ability to stand up and say just about anything in front of anybody on any topic I have something to say about. I’ve also learnt that it doesn’t always have to be brilliant, that who you are and how you come across can be as significant as the finely honed content, that sincerity and heart matter as much as anything. So I would follow on from Jenny’s point – if they ask you to speak it’s because they know who you are and they think that you’ve got something to say and you’ll be able to say it (they don’t just open the phone book to find people) so say yes!

    And a final little thing (so two and a half things!) I’m also married to a speaker, a very good one (a pastor of twenty years), but I see him anxious about whether it’s good enough, worried that he didn’t make his point, wrangling about find the right way to say things, feeling disappointed when he feels it didn’t go well. I think we think the chaps are making it look easy and natural, but it isn’t for them either.

  6. Hi,
    This is the first time I’ve read your blog but this is something I’ve been thinking for a while, so thanks. I feel like I’d like to preach but feel like that must be some kind of character flaw. I have this impulse that constantly is putting together hypothetical sermons, that I have previously dismissed as thinly disguised narcissism! That it’s some kind of brattish, attention seeking thing (which it might be) rather than a gifting and a calling (which might also be true.) I also think in a church context (well, mine at least), men get asked to preach and women have to put themselves forward, which is much harder to do.

    1. Thanks Jude. It’s difficult to distinguish gifting from narcissism without having a go isn’t it?! I so resonate with what you’ve said. Maybe you could try and find a context to practice and get some feedback? Love to hear how it goes!

  7. This post really resonated with me. Glad that I am not the only one formulating talks etc. I know it isn’t the same but I think that blogs can be a great discipline to develop thoughts and start discussions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s