Finding Our Voice

(I started writing this post a few weeks ago, before word came about the upcoming disciplinary hearings for Kate Kelly and John Dehlin. But I think it still applies now, maybe even more so. Also, thanks to April for her post on Sunday (http://www.the-exponent.com/will-we-be-silenced-again/); it gave a lot of people a lot of courage, including me.)

Recently I was talking to one of my friends about a frustration I had. She stopped me at one point and said, “Goodness, Jess, there is no reason to sound so angry.” The statement didn’t really register with me at the time, but later as I was thinking about our conversation, it made me…well, it made me angry that she had said that. I did have a reason to be angry. Why should I not sound the way I felt? It made me feel like my voice was unacceptable, like how I was talking was more important than what I was saying. Somehow my tone illegitimated my experience, even though the feelings behind that tone were legitimate. In a way, and without even meaning to, my friend took away my voice.

This is a very mild example compared to what has been going on recently. But how often are voices that are different, especially women’s voices, taken away? How often do we, intentionally or not, silence each other? We are taught to be kind and non-confrontational. Passive behavior is positively reinforced again and again. From a young age and clear to adulthood girls and women use more tentative language when offering opinions, especially in mixed-gender company. Additionally, women’s arguments are more successful at persuading others when they use tentative as opposed to assertive language (Carli, 1990). assertive women are labeled as ‘bossy’ or even ‘bitchy’ while assertive men are good leaders.

A voice is a powerful thing, and when we censor each other we take that power away. That is, frankly, something we can’t afford to lose. Raising our voices can have huge impact: Zelophehad’s daughters used their voices to change inheritance laws among the Israelites in the wilderness; Emma Smith’s voice was heard and answered with the Word of Wisdom; Emmeline B. Wells and her fellow suffragettes raised their voices and won the right to vote. In the scriptures there are countless reference to singing to the Lord, lifting our voices to the Lord, as well as prayer. I’m guessing, given all these examples, that our Heavenly Parents do not want us to be silent.

Not only are we to lift our voices, but I have also come to have a testimony that our Heavenly Parents want us to be authentic in how we use them. Is your voice full of doubt? Raise it anyway. Is your voice expressing an unpopular opinion? Sing out sister. Are you singing a totally different song than most? Great! That’s how we get harmony.

Speaking up is a vulnerable experience. It is opening yourself up to the possibility for hurt or humiliation. Sometimes we will be right and can help teach others. Other times we will be wrong, and will be taught by  those wiser than us. But if we do not speak up, how will we know? If we don’t ask questions, how can they get answered? As a community and as a church, we should not and cannot in good conscience, punish individuals for asking and speaking in good faith. Whether we are right or wrong, someone benefits when we speak out.

I am the first to admit that this is something that is easy to say, hard to do. Finding and using my own voice has been hard. Often it is tentative and weak, and there are times I am afraid. I’m working on it. And watching the way our community has come together over the last week gives me hope. It gives me hope that we can all continue to strive to find and use our honest voices. It gives me strength to raise my voice to join those of my sisters, even if it is under a pen name (for now!). We as Mormon feminists have found our voice and we have found each other. We will continue to talk and ask and grow.

O sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the earth. (Psalms 96:1)

Please, please, sing your new song, whatever it may be. We want…we need to hear it.

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12 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Jess, I LOVE your scriptural examples of lifting up our voices to good effect.

    ” In the scriptures there are countless reference to singing to the Lord, lifting our voices to the Lord, as well as prayer. I’m guessing, given all these examples, that our Heavenly Parents do not want us to be silent.” Yes!

    Which makes it all the more striking that some church leaders appear to be telling people like John and Kate that it’s ok to believe what you believe, but just not talk about those beliefs publicly.

  2. Heather says:

    Jess, thanks for this. Recently I was bugged about something with church and was set to meet with a higher up about it. My husband reasonably suggested I try not to be angry when I went in to the meeting. Yet as women we are so often silent or silenced that being a little angry gives me the courage to say what needs saying. If being mad lets us use our voice it seems a fair trade off.

  3. Jenny says:

    I like this a lot. I have always been self-conscious of my voice, my opinion, my right to speak up, and the content of what I had to say. I have found great empowerment lately in reprogramming myself to raise my voice regardless. I love what you said about making mistakes in raising our voices. I know I have made many mistakes as I have raised my voice, so it’s nice to think of that as just part of the process.

  4. Emily U says:

    It is hard to make yourself vulnerable by speaking up. Thanks for the reminder of how important it is to do so.

  5. MB says:

    I agree that women should not be silenced, nor silence each other, but I disagree that your friend, when she objected to your tone, was objecting to your speaking at all, ie: silencing you. Perhaps you felt that way because you felt that her objection to your tone was a rejection of your words or a dismissal of you. Not having been there I could not judge that. But in general, objection to tone is not always objection to opinion.

    You’ve touched, perhaps inadvertently, on the fact that anger often impels truth-speaking. I agree that we women who have been culturalized to speak timidly or tentatively too often feel that the only way that we can get up the courage we lack to speak the truth as we see it is to use the adrenaline rush that comes from anger. Certainly I have been there. Too few of us have learned to speak plain truth in ways that are clear, calm, direct and powerful. We associate calmness with fudging and making people “feel comfortable” and are afraid to speak truth unless the rush of anger can get us loud.

    But my experience is that within a church community, the strongest, most powerful and most persuasive voices, both female and male, are not the ones that speak in angry, frustrated tones about issues that need to be addressed, but instead are the ones that speak with absolute clarity and honesty as well as compassion.

    I believe that what is most needful is fearless clarity born of confident divine love, not anger. I have learned that from some powerful women and men over the years, and I am grateful.

    I think Paul, who, as an apostle and a missionary, was fearlessly clear about what he believed, knew what he was talking about when he wrote to the Ephesians counseling them to put away all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor. He’d been an educated, literate, angry man, fearful of the influence of others who he did not trust prior to his conversion to Christ. By the time he wrote that letter to the Ephesians he’d learned the power of putting that away in the process of speaking powerful truth.

    Certainly we get angry. Often with valid reason. But we are most lastingly powerful if, when we speak truth as we see it, we speak it clearly without anger and instead with forceful, powerful, abiding charity. That takes some serious self-mastery and perspective, but it’s worth the effort.

    • IDIAT says:

      This is the most calm, meaningful comment I’ve read on the bloggernacle in months. Thank you for the great advice.

    • Melody says:

      “I believe that what is most needful is fearless clarity born of confident divine love, not anger.”

      MB, the problem is not the angry tone. The problem is a culture that won’t acknowledge appropriate anger in conversations. As a culture, we are afraid of passionate, fierce conversations. To acknowledge the tone would be to acknowledge the depth of the problem being discussed. And that is something the LDS community at large is reluctant to do.

      By suggesting we moderate our tone, most people are saying, “I’m not comfortable with the depth of emotion this brings up in you or me, so I don’t want to hear about it.” I agree that we all need to be aware of how our tone effects those around us. But censoring tone can also censor an integral part of the message.

      Although you took time to compose a well-articulated response, you still miss the mark. You are repeating (with a lot more words) essentially the same phrase quoted by the author in the first few sentences of this post. Thanks for taking time to write this. I agree that speaking with clarity, honesty, and compassion is essential. But sometimes anger is part of that.

      Remember: Jesus made a whip.

      • Jess R says:

        Thanks Melody. I’ve been internet-less the last few days and you responded much more eloquently than I could have!

        I wasn’t trying to say that we should lash out in anger. The bigger point was exactly as Melody said – we shouldn’t discount someone because they are angry.

  6. Ziff says:

    I really like this, Jess.

  7. Rachel says:

    I love this part, Jess: “Not only are we to lift our voices, but I have also come to have a testimony that our Heavenly Parents want us to be authentic in how we use them. Is your voice full of doubt? Raise it anyway. Is your voice expressing an unpopular opinion? Sing out sister. Are you singing a totally different song than most? Great! That’s how we get harmony.” Thank you for it.

    I believe so strongly in honesty, and that makes me want to say true things, truly. I think that people should be allowed to be (and speak) where they are. When I am sad, it doesn’t help when someone tells me to be happy instead, or when I am speaking about something that is hard, that needs help to make it right, to be told that I am not being positive. Not everything is positive.

    At the same time, I believe in speaking charitably, and believe that this kind of speaking doesn’t have to be at odds with speaking honestly. It is possible to express anger with appropriately matching emotions, without being mean or cruel. So I guess I also think it comes down to tone, but perhaps not in the same way as your friend.

  8. spunky says:

    This is very powerful, Jess. I have been learning about communication techniques lately, and finding in some cases they are so very difficult to apply because it is all about being vulnerable, and expressing emotional and psychological needs. I am glad you expressed yourself to your friend. Perhaps a better way to describe your state is the term “powerful.” You felt powerfully about a topic and it was manifested.

    I say this because so often the only 2 emotions men are taught are happy and angry. The depths of frustration, abandonment, anxiety, fear, insecurity, stress– are all manifested as anger. And so long as people label powerful emotions blanketly as “angry,” we do a disservice to the depths of our emotions. I am glad you expressed yourself powerfully. I am glad you sang your song. Thanks for reminding me to do so as well.

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