Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Everybody Needs To Be Free ..

We All Need To Be Free To Have A Voice

As a teacher, my voice is incredibly important to me. Without it, I cannot do my job. It is too important that I should be heard - not figuratively, but quite literally. I have often heard older colleagues comment that for women particularly, as they age, their voice appears to be heard less. Teenage boys, in particular, seem to be less attentive to voices which sound similar to their grandmothers'. I have heard about this far less from male colleagues.

Even so, a couple of recent events have surprised me. 

Chatting on an online forum, one poster asked the question, "Who do you think has a beautiful voice?" Of all the answers, only a couple mentioned women. Even when some women with gorgeous voices (Mariella Frostrup, Joanna Lumley and a few others) were mentioned, there was little response. Mention a famous male actor, and there would be a chorus of, "Ohh yes, he sounds so sexy/wonderful/caring", etc. 

In a completely unrelated incident, I was trying to find the original speech used for, "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)". Being ignorant of its origins, and basing my assumptions purely on the single which used the speech, I was surprised to find that the author was a woman, Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune. I know that she gave permission for her work to be used, under a very short time constraint, and she was probably just pleased to see that her article had been picked up by a man as famous as Baz Luhrman. But why, oh why, does the voice have to be male? 

These two events simply underline for me how much we accept and expect the male voice to be the voice of authority. There is nothing wrong with women's voices. Very few of them are 'squeaky' or 'irritating', and I am quite certain that there can be some male voices which could be described that way. Yet, time and again, we find that women's voices are simply dismissed, not ones that carry any gravitas, or don't stand out in a crowd. 

Numerous studies show that women speak for less than 50% of the time in a mixed crowd, tend to use quieter voices, and often don't have their points picked up on, unless they are then repeated by a male. Yet we have the stereotype of gossiping, chattering women, with loud shrieking voices, trying to boss around their men and nag them into submission. For many women, their voice is the only tool they have to hold any sway. Many women have less economic, physical or political power than their male counterparts. If they cannot use their voice, even to be heard in the room they are in, then what hope do they have?

So those of us that do have a voice, who do have some education, money, the right to vote, and a position to speak from, we must speak up. Even if it is only in our own homes, or at work, in social gatherings, or exchanging small talk as we go about our daily lives, we must not forget that being able to speak out is not a freedom that every woman has. There is nothing wrong in using our freedom of speech to pass small talk, make jokes or talk about the weather, but we should also use that freedom to give voice to greater concerns, to speak for those without a voice, and to make ourselves heard, even if it does mean raising our voices.

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