Mary Beard gave a brilliant lecture on the BBC in the Spring of 2014. It was on the topic of women’s voices and called The Public Voice of Women. It was fascinating and you can read the transcript here.
We have not yet learned to hear authority in women’s voices.
Mary went on to talk about women being told to lower their voices etc. In fact, to talk like men. She wasn’t endorsing that approach, despite how the media covered her talk by their selective editing; she was highlighting the phenomenon.
I have a course for women who want to be heard. I’ve called it Speak Up. Not because I think women need to shout, or indeed to lower their voices and most definitely not be like men, but because women constantly tell me no one listens to them at work. It’s full of tips I’ve used when coaching senior women. When Mary made reference to women going on numerous communication courses so they could be told to talk like men, it made me think. One, have I done with that with Speak up? (I’m pretty certain I haven’t) and two, is it possible to get credibility and be listened to without taking on men’s behavioural traits etc. To be true to oneself?
I think it is, but as any women who has ever spoken up, it’s not easy. And until we all (both genders) learn to listen to women and ‘allow them’ their authority, it will continue to be hard.
I was speaking at an event recently when the audience, primarily women, watched the film Miss Representation. What can we do about this, we collectively asked afterwards. One thing we as women can do, is to check our own prejudices. Years of conditioning, going back to the Classics, have contrived to endow women’s voices with less authority. We need to guard against this prejudice in ourselves.
Ask yourself honestly:
- Do I judge women when they speak?
- Am I applying different criteria?
- Has the ‘women’s lens’ fallen over my eyes?
- Am I thinking “Well, I wouldn’t have worn that?” “Has she had ‘work’ done?” “She’s put on a lot of weight since I last saw her”. “What a whiny voice?” Fill in your own personal favourites.
- Do I really listen to women?
It takes a long time to unlearn such insidiously ingrained stuff but we have to start somewhere. Start with yourself. Check your prejudices every day and support the women in your world. Life for women at the top, or on the way, is hard enough without us falling into the same stereotypes.
Apply your own standards and don’t let the prevailing prejudices against women dictate your behaviour. Women supporting women. It’s a pretty good place to start.
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Posted on March 31st, 2014 by Jane