I grew up in the seventies and eighties after the women’s liberation movement. When I went to school, Title Nine was already in effect so if I had been the sporty type I would have been allowed to play soccer or even football if I wanted to. I went to college, got a couple degrees and ended up getting a job. When I had a baby, my husband got up with me in the night and helped change diapers and soothe the cries of an infant. He did that because that’s what dads of his age were supposed to do, and because that’s what I expected.
I also grew up with my father and my teachers telling me that I had a good mind and so I’d better use it. I’m a woman living in the United States in 2013 so I can vote. I can own land and property.
I am also a woman living inside the benefits what other women have fought hard for. And I still believe that here in the US there is more equality than there is disparity.
Yet, as often as I was told I was smart, I was rarely told I had a voice.
No one ever dared declare this directly to me, but in the environment of my youth and young adulthood, I learned that I could think but not everyone would listen to me. I learned that I had a bright mind, but I didn’t necessarily have a place at the discussion table. I learned that I had a brain (a good one) but not necessarily something to say.
I’ve had to find that voice on my own.
It’s taken nearly six years of writing publicly to feel (in small ways) that I do have a voice and that what I say matters. Yet I still often fade into the corners of rooms and retreat into the fringes of conversations. I still pull back when I think I’m being too loud or outspoken.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever be different. It seems to be part of a deep part of me.
But I think we can change the future by telling our daughters they have voices.
We can whisper into their ears that they have a say, that they have a place at the table. We can take them by the hands, sit them on our laps if they still fit and tell them that they have words to speak and that we want to hear their stories. We can encourage the fathers to listen to their daughters, that first man that wants to hear them, and to listen to them well.
We can teach them to write and to communicate and to form sentences that have power. We can open up our own ears to the littlest of girls as they tell us their stories from school and the playground for in that they are practicing to tell their own deep stories later.
We can tell our girls that they should wait to find men who will not merely allow them to have a voice, but men who will celebrate what they have to say because they are worthy of celebration. We can show them that they are worthy of their voice and that they deserve to be heard, not because they are women, but because they are human.
And our sisters. Our sisters!
There are women around us who are our mothers and our real life sisters and our aunts and our friends and our spiritual sisters. They have been frightened into the edges of the conversation and made to believe that they don’t matter. They are full of fear and those of us who are less afraid must begin to tell our sisters and our friends that they something to say.
You have a voice. You have something to say.
Begin to whisper into your baby-girl’s ears that the words she will someday speak are important. Rock your too-big kindergartener on your lap for a moment and say to her that her words matter. Tell your twelve-year-old to write the novel that has been burning a hole in her heart. And encourage your sisters to speak out, to use the words that they have and to not be afraid of what will come out when they open their mouths.
What do you think? Was your voice celebrated growing up? Do you feel like you have a voice now? Who in your life celebrates your voice?
Can we do two things today? Can we 1.) Thank a woman who has celebrated us and 2.) be an encourager to another woman (or girl) who needs to hear that she has something important to say?