In the Midst of Speaking Softly

Article by guest writer Kelsey Stoneberger. Kelsey is a writer, avid coffee drinker, and a recent college graduate. She believes it is important to be fierce. 

I wish I could confess that I was aware of the importance of my voice when I stepped into the world of college, because that would mean that I was grown up and wasn’t afraid of anything—but things are not always so idealistic during college, despite common myth.

I was harsh to my voice, maybe even threw it shade. My freshman year of college, I signed up for an American Literature course and it soon became a shared joke among all of the women in the class that the male professor played favorites with male students. We laughed about it together and just sort of accepted the fact that we were being slighted due to our gender. I didn’t realize back then that by laughing along I was supporting the silence of myself. I would let the professor or other males in the lecture room interrupt me, tell me I was wrong, or belittle my interpretations, and I said nothing. Looking back on that early year amidst graduation three weeks ago, I wish I could befriend freshman-year-Kelsey and tell her to speak up and fight for the words falling out of her mouth.

Women are constantly interrupted, or told we are wrong by men. I am speaking to every woman. Maybe you’re thinking to yourself, well that doesn’t happen to me, but it’s possible that you just don’t notice it because we’re told it’s normal and we should accept it. We don’t have to, though. There is no rulebook that says we need to accommodate or make others comfortable, especially while sacrificing ourselves. I am tired of degrading myself. I am tired of men interrupting me, telling me I am wrong, or worse, that I need to calm down.

To every single woman out there: you should be tired of these things too.

Sandra Suy

Sandra Suy

One year ago, I quit taking the medicine that made me immune to the sweetness of my own voice. There are a handful of things that men hold us accountable for, whether we realize it or not. Two of those things are the volume or tone of our voices and the way we assert ourselves.

There is a common misconception that female voices are different from male voices. We are told that our style of speaking sounds like it lacks confidence. (Enter my confusion here.) When did being calm and patient become less confident? Excuse me, but I am here to put that bullshit through the wringer.

In her essay, “Women’s Voices: Are They Fully Heard?” appearing on Huffington Post, Caroline Turner supports the idea that there are ways to improve women’s voices being heard. To me, there is one simple solution: listen.

 But I digress. Turner argues that there are four challenges we should be aware of:

  1. The feminine style of speech sounds less confident.

  2. Women don’t assert themselves until they really know.

  3. Women get “talked over.”

  4. Women who do not speak up are penalized.

Are you irritated yet?

Woman-to-woman, I am bothered by Turner’s “go with the flow” attitude of points one and two. While three is realistic, I think it is pretty obvious; and based on my own experience, women are usually penalized for speaking up.

Ladies, I will now address for you Turner’s claims, point by point.

Number one: I do not need to speak in declarative sentences to show my confidence. I do not need to shout, yell, or change my voice. What I really want to know is why men are so focused on how we are carrying ourselves instead of focusing on what we are saying. Maybe if they listened to the words coming out of our mouths, the sound of our voices would not matter.

Number two: Why is it a bad thing that I assert myself after I know what is going on? To me, that shows how observant women can be. There is a lot of room for error if an individual speaks without knowledge of a situation.

Number three: Women do get talked over. That is real. Now a phenomenon in the world of feminist discussion, the act of women getting talked over is called “mansplaining.” Mansplaining is when a man explains something to a woman, typically in a patronizing way because they feel they know how to explain it better than a female. I see this happen all of the time.

Watch here a video by ATTN: MANSPLAINING 

Number four: While I am certain women are penalized for not speaking up, that has never been the case for me. It has usually been the opposite. Now, I’m a server and more often than not, things get stressful in that environment. There are certain situations when work becomes seriously overwhelming, usually because of customers but sometimes because of other employees. Throughout the past two years, I have found myself clashing with a few male coworkers because of the way they speak to me. I refuse to let them think it’s okay to act condescending, so I call them out on it. About a month ago, such a situation occurred. One of the new cooks smarted off to me for no reason, and I raised my voice in response. The manager on duty that night came walking into the kitchen and scolded me, only me, saying, “you need to take a breath and not get so flustered.”

I looked him dead in the eye and replied, “when I get worked up, I’m flustered and need to calm down. Why is that? He’s being an asshole for no reason. When the cooks get worked up, they’re blowing off steam. That does not make any sense to me.”

I was furious because it wasn’t the first time this sort of thing happened. This double-standard of scolding women for “attitude” while accepting similar behavior by a male is commonplace.  

We women are stuck in between two different contradictions. First, men ask us to speak up. So we do. Then, if and when we do speak up, we need to calm down. Ladies, this has nothing to do with our voices, it has everything to do with control.

In an article written for HBR, titled “Women, Find Your Voice,” a CEO was quoted saying, “women are often quiet and tentative, or they pipe up at the wrong moment, and it sounds more like noise to some of us.” Noise to some of us. So they want us to speak up, but only at the right time or when it is convenient for them. Fuck that. I will speak up when I please, when I think it is appropriate, and the tone of my voice will be whatever goddamn tone I want it to be.

Ladies, I am not telling you to speak softly if you normally speak loudly, or vice versa. I just want you to know that you should not let a man tell you how to speak, or make you feel small. The next time a man tries to mansplain something to you, interrupt him and see how it feels to take ownership of what is yours. You can use your voice, and under no circumstance do you need to change the way the words fly out of your mouth.