Thursday, July 20, 2017

Same as it ever was: We don't want to listen to eloquent women.

Hillary Clinton took her break after the 2016 election, then emerged slowly, an outing here, a speech there. But around the time of U.S. university commencements--a time when speech-making is especially frequent for leaders of all kinds--I started noticing the jabs suggesting she should, well, shut up.

I wasn't surprised, but I was pleased that some others started to notice. In Why Democrats need to listen to Hillary Clinton, Nancy LeTourneau notes, "by suggesting that she needs to shut up and go away, it’s clear that these folks aren’t interested in listening to what she has to say." Paul Waldman turned it around, starting his article this way:
You've seen the headlines, begging Joe Biden to just give it up and get out of our faces already. "Dems want Joe Biden to leave spotlight," says The Hill. "Dear Joe Biden, please stop talking about 2016," says a USA Today columnist. "Joe Biden is back. Should Democrats be worried?" asks The New Republic. "Can Joe Biden please go quietly into the night?" asks a column in Vanity Fair. A Daily News columnist begins his missive with, "Hey, Joe Biden, shut the f--- up and go away already." Folks sure do hate that guy. And all he did was give a couple of commencement speeches and an interview or two.
Follow all those links and yes, you'll get articles in that tone about Hillary Clinton, not Biden, despite the fact that both of them have been giving plenty of speeches and interviews in the same time period.

Then Senator Kamala Harris, questioning Attorney General Jeff Sessions as part of her role on the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, was repeatedly interrupted both by her witness and by Republican men on the committee. (The Washington Post includes a complete rundown of the exchange.) A CNN presenter dubbed her "hysterical," which gets a must-read treatment in Jezebel's Kamala Harris's 'Hysteria' and the 'Objective Perspective' of Men.

Again, the shutting up of Sen. Harris was noted--as was the commonplace nature of this experience for all women. Susan Chira, writing in the New York Times, quoted Laura R. Walker, chief executive of New York Public Radio:  “I think every woman who has any degree of power and those who don’t knows how it feels to experience what Kamala Harris experienced yesterday....To be in a situation where you’re trying to do your job and you’re either cut off or ignored.” And, from the Post: "Women of color 'understand what Kamala Harris is dealing with,' Tanzina Vega, a CNN reporter who covers race and inequality, wrote on Twitter. 'Raise your hand if you’ve been shushed, silenced, scolded, etc.'" Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and co-founder of Ellevest, shared That time I was told to sit down and shut up at Citi.

So here we are again, discussing the silencing of women. And while 2017 appears to be on point to set some kind of a record in this department, I have to remind myself that it's "same as it ever was." As Mary Beard said at the very start  of her wonderful lecture on The public voice of women, part of our Famous Speech Friday series:
I want to start very near the beginning of the tradition of Western literature, and its first recorded example of a man telling a woman to ‘shut up’; telling her that her voice was not to be heard in public. I’m thinking of a moment immortalised at the start of the Odyssey.
Since then, the art of silencing women has evolved, from placing torture devices like a scold's bridle on them to keep them silent, to telling women they talk too much, are "shrill" or "hysterical," or mansplaining and manterrupting. We focus on their outfits or appearance, and we aim procedural rules only at women in an assembly, but not the men. But it's still happening.

You'll find examples every week on this blog--so many that I've considered changing one of our top features from "Famous Speech Friday" to "Famous Silencing Friday:"
And that's just my short list of prominent and visible silencings in 2017, so far, darlings. But if it can happen to women who appear to have clear platforms for making themselves heard, we know it's happening to you.

I found a recent example that shows you're never too young to be silenced, if you're female. This 12-year-old girl is shown in the video below telling her Mormon assembly in Utah that she is gay...and is asked by one of the white men presiding to stop speaking mid-speech, after he turns off her microphone:


She's 12, people, and learning early in life what lies ahead.

As you can see at the end of the video, Savannah pulls an Elizabeth Warren and delivers the rest of her speech on YouTube. As I asked in Why (and how) you should publish your speeches: "If you give a speech, but don't take steps to publish or preserve it afterward, did you make a sound? The answer could be contributing inadvertently to silencing women all over the world." We live in an age when self-publishing couldn't be easier, and I hope more women who've been silenced--and those who get to speak--will take up this advantage so they can be heard not just once, but for all time. That little video went viral, and got Savannah all sorts of support.

I see three trends. One has been persistent throughout recorded history: Women get silenced, in many ways, over and over and over again. The second is that each successive generation of women hears these stories and thinks, "But that won't happen to me," charges out into the world, and eventually finds out that, indeed, the same thing has happened to her. Over and over again.

The third comes and goes in different periods of history: People are talking about that silencing, shining a spotlight on it.

We seem to be in one of those periods of talking about it, so let's talk, eloquent women. Keep calling it out...on the spot, if you can. Find other platforms. Keep noticing when it happens. And if that happens to be in your workplace meeting, rather than the U.S. Senate, speak up and say, "Actually, I would like Jane to finish her thought," or something that will keep another woman's voice on, rather than switched off. Keeping the pressure on may help raise a few more women's voices, and we can't have enough of that.

(Creative Commons licensed photos of Kamala Harris by aSILVA and of Hillary Clinton by Kyle Taylor)

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