Women’s voices have been unavoidable in the media recently and with an strong echo of familiarity for many women who read it, this is not new to us. Assault, harassment, rape, blatant misogyny and micro-aggressions is something that women have been aware of for too long and have been carrying the burden of, for too long. An overwhelming response to the many allegations against Harvey Weinstein and other filmmakers has been ‘I’m so shocked’ or ‘why didn’t the women come forward sooner or say something at the time?’. But I’m sitting here and I’m not shocked. I know so many other women who aren’t, because we are listening to these conversations, we are exchanging sighs and pointed looks over the ramblings of men as they endorse rape culture, slut shaming, gender roles and the many other constructs that keep us marginalised. We have sat in small groups discussing our stories, revealing the secrets we’ve kept hidden, the things we don’t dare tell men and sometimes other women, with the fear of being victim blamed or not believed. We have sent texts, dropped location pins and made phone calls to try and resemble some kind of security as we feel unsafe, but most of all, we have been silent.
Silence is something I was taught as a child, to be quiet, seen and not heard. I got told off constantly for being loud and boisterous at school; on multiple occasions this was presented by some as behaviour that was not ‘lady like’, ‘what little girls do’ and more often that not, I’ve been labelled as difficult for asking questions and being curious. I started to learn to hide my voice, to let it out only when I felt safe around certain people, learnt that when things were tough, it was probably best to stay quiet and I learnt to blame myself. I’ve carried that into my adult life and it has made asking for help extremely hard, the fear of not being listened to and the reality when you aren’t, is exhausting. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised it’s not just me, that my story is not a solitary one, as I first thought, but in fact universal one amongst a lot of the women I’ve met.
I’ve had countless of conversations where women have expressed that they are not being listened to. Medical professionals dismissing pain or mental health because they are woman, bosses and colleagues belittling them, partners assuming gender roles, partners not believing stories of assault or rape and the endless minefields that come with online dating. A lot of these conversations have happened in groups of women, normally when men aren’t present and the general feel is that these women finally feel they are being listened to, so we share.
Women have historically not being given a voice. Female authors have had to have male pen names to get published, positions of power are still being mainly held by straight, white cis-men, our pop culture and art is still overwhelming white and male and our advertising is still scarily gendered, promoting men as active leaders and vocal and women to be looked at and to take on care based roles. Being in a patriarchal society suppresses women in so many different ways and often in ways we aren’t fully conscious of. Speaking out comes with consequences for women, our jobs can be attacked, our personal lives and even our morality. So why have so many women waited to come forward? Because they were fighting, they were trying to play the game that is so unfairly weighted against them, they waited for numbers, because one woman isn’t enough, it has to be in the double or even triple digits before someone is finally taken down.
There are still so many silent women, watching their abusers on screens, dealing with them in their jobs, smiling through their teeth so they ‘don’t make a fuss’, and silently hoping someone will finally listen. So I propose something different, lets teach girls to raise their voices, understand that they have a say. Teach children that they do not owe anyone a hug or any physical contact, that their bodies are theirs. Encourage the women in our lives to be confident and capable and when they speak, listen. Men, you don’t get to have a say on everything, there are things you will never truly understand and thats when you need to listen. Don’t but in with a ‘not all men’ or a story of your experience as a man, because it not about you, or god forbid you decide to speak for another woman.
Lastly, become the best hype queen you can for the women in your life. Raise them up as queens who can conquer their world. Give women the voice and time they have been denied so often.