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.