Women, Speak Up! I Can’t Hear You

Mug shot of Paris Hilton.
No, sweetie, Not you ! Image via Wikipedia

Why do most women — certainly educated Western women with unimpeded access to telephones, the Internet and media outlets — still remain so invisible and inaudible?

I don’t mean the images or inanities of women like Paris Hilton or the Kardashians.

Quick! Name ten well-known and highly-respected women whose opinions carry national or international weight: Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel and…the list quickly dwindles when it comes to females currently known in the media as an expert on much of anything.

Until or unless women claim the same intellectual space, jostling elbow to sharpened elbow with all the men who feel utterly confident speaking their minds, we will remain unheard, our deepest concerns unheeded.

I loved, loved, reading an op-ed this week in Canada’s national daily newspaper of record, The Globe and Mail, arguing for the retention of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan by Alaina Podmorow, a 14-year-old Canadian girl who founded a charity for Afghan woman and girls.

She did so after hearing, and being inspired, by Sally Armstrong, a fellow Canadian — albeit a few decades older — a journalist whose passion for women and world affairs lit the fuse of activism in a little girl. That’s my kind of girl power!

And how often do you read, in a national newspaper with the stature of The New York Times or the Globe, an op-ed or letter to the editor written by a woman? Let alone a young girl?

How about….never?

Here’s a great, angry piece published this week in Canada, in a national chain of newspapers, by Katherine Govier, a Canadian author and former journalist:

We were treated to the news last week, via the New York Times, that Wikipedia, increasingly the go-to reference for historical and contemporary general knowledge, has a dark secret. It is chiefly written by 25-year-old males.

Help us and save us.

It’s true. A study has shown that only 13 per cent of the hundreds of thousands of contributors to the “collaborative” online encyclopedia are female. Of the 87 per cent who remain, and are male, the average age is mid-twenties. Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation (a woman, oddly enough), says this came about because of Wikipedia’s nature. It is skewed toward aggressive hackertypes who are obsessed with facts and reflect the male-dominated computer culture. They are, furthermore, imbued with a sense that it is really important for everyone to know about Niko Bellic, a character who is a former soldier in the video game Grand Theft Auto IV. He gets an article five times as long as does Pat Barker, a (female) British novelist in her late 60s. That is, he did until Gardner herself added background to Pat Barker’s entry.

So this is how it works. Women have to step up and become Wikipedia contributors.

This isn’t a new problem. Sigh.

Women, still, are so often socialized from earliest childhood to be “nice”. How many of us, still, are raised with the appalling and powerful imprecation: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything.”

I like Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s version: “If you can’t say anything nice, come sit by me!”

Women are so often told to be quiet, be nice, calm down, sit back. We need to be shouting!

Whether in print, television, radio, in blogs, letters to the editor, anywhere that makes clear we have strong opinions and they deserve serious attention. And yet, and yet, depending what sort of culture and community you live in, there are often strong imperatives, religious or political or economic or familial, that stay our hands and still our tongues.

Enough already.

Here’s a quick tip on getting your voice heard, fast, in a letter to the editor, from a terrific blog on women’s voices and how to make them heard loud and clear through traditional media.

Have you spoken out — whether at a town or city council meeting? Letters to the editor? An op-ed?

Do you think we’re being heard?

11 thoughts on “Women, Speak Up! I Can’t Hear You

  1. Lisa

    I know that I am often guilty as charged; I sometimes back away rather than let my voice be heard. But then, I look at my female students, and realize that they have the potential of completely losing their voices because they are that much more removed from the battle for equality. I see them maintaining the status quot, whether out of apathy or lack of role models. So then my voice becomes loud again. I only wish I could remain confident enough to be heard all the time. Thank you for a thought provoking post, and for letting your voice be heard.

    1. Thanks….Why do you think you lose your confidence? That’s interesting. And if you are modeling behavior (as you are!) for your female students, it really matters. I’ve had young women ask me where I get my confidence and I don’t really know. I certainly have taken plenty of shit for it, but who cares? There are people whose opinion deeply matters to me and then there those who will form negative opinions and that’s to some degree beyond my control.

      Too many of us are remaining too silent.

  2. Some women of national and international importance from Ireland: Mary Robinson, Mary McAleese, Nell McCafferty…

    Essentially, the Irish Constitution states that the woman’s place is in the home – I know many people who unconstitutionally on a regular basis.

    live in Korea and the role and influence of women is marginalized even more.

    1. Mary Robinson definitely had a good run. The laws of many nations are still written and adjudicated by men, which affects women at every level. I wish more women cared enough to fight the worst of them. I don’t have kids and they are often used as the excuse….i.e. women have no time to be(come) activists.

  3. For a while at my church I spoke a differing opinion from a male parishioner. He and his family attacked me every chance they got – to my face, behind my back at sunday school sessions. It was awful. But I would stand up to them again if I had to because what they preached as Christian behavior was evil. Evil should not geta pass because you are afraid to lift your voice.

    1. Wow. Talk about un-Christian behavior! Good for you. I attend an Episcopal church and have ruffled feathers on any number of occasions but, they can’t kick you out! But no one has ever played that sort of hardball with me (our ministers would not stand for it, for one thing, which is even more shocking in the context of what is meant to be your spiritual home.

      God bless you for speaking out and continuing to do so.

  4. BP Quadius

    As a man I do get the intent of your message, but I would suggest there are several role models out there. There, however, should be several more. With the assent of Rachel Maddow on the left and some other notables on the right, there have been many women entering the formally male-dominated arena of politics and foreign policy. You mentioned a couple of names, but I immediately thought of Madeleine Albright, Susan Rice, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, the present prime minister of Australia, Julia Gillard with relative ease.

    If you ever have a chance to watch Rachel Maddow’s show I’m sure you will see Melissa Harris-Perry, Arianne Huffington and several other notable women leading the fight for equality. There should be more though.

    Please excuse any errors. Due to my quadriplegia, I am using voice-activated software and it occasionally makes mistakes which I do not always catch. I therefore humbly ask for your indulgence.

  5. Good points, all — and I’m honored you’re here and making the effort to join the conversation! Thanks.

    My larger point, though, is that “civilians” — regular women without political or economic power — also need to be heard, and I feel many of us do not speak up or out for all sorts of reasons. I have never watched Rachel Maddow, but I know she is highly thought of.

    While I am glad there are high-profile women in the media, I also wish they weren’t seen to be speaking for the rest of us, and I think that’s often the perception.

    1. BP Quadius

      Maybe something can be done along the lines of the profile I saw recently of an African-American man who is trying to get other successful African-American men to mentor young African-American children. When you look at the rates of young women entering college and the workforce, it is amazing that there aren’t more voices out there. You touched on something that I really hadn’t thought about until I read your blog on it.

      That’s something I like to see.

  6. I recently spoke about writing to a small group of NYC female MFA students who are utterly fed up with the macho atmosphere in their program; I was told that I’d (?!) inspired them to go off and start their own writing group. Cool. Maybe it’s all that takes?

    We all need to be inspired!

  7. Pingback: The Power of Women’s Voices « Woman Wielding Words

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