I had the great honor to speak this morning at the United Nations International Women’s Day Conference.
Her Story: The Importance of Finding your Voice
UN Women’s Conference 3-8-13
I am a soft spoke woman. Do not mistake that for politeness. All it means is that my voice does not carry across a crowded room. I wait for a pause in the conversation. I do it all the time. I need to overcome my social conditioning. I have something to say. All too often I lose my chance. So it is that I decided to write it down.
There are some people who have been so bold to categorize my writing as Chick-lit. One publisher even suggested that my audience was those on the Mommy tract. Of course, they made these assumptions never having read a single word that I have written. They made assumptions based solely on my gender. There are men I have met that assume I have nothing to say to them.
Excuse me if I am offended. Silly mistake on their part to speak these words aloud, especially to me, the author with the snappy retort and the poison pen. How dare you assume that just because I am a woman that half the population would not be interested in a woman’s perspective or that somehow my experience is less interesting and less valuable than a man’s perspective.
If you think that love, loss, death, dying, faith, tragedy, joy and sorrow only happen to the women of our species then feel free to disregard my perspective. It is interesting to me that the men who actually have read my book, and frankly there are many men, have taken the time to write to me to say how courageous and brave I am.
Courageous? Brave? Hmmm … Because I spoke and wrote about my own experience? I am not a hero. I have just told my story. Is it that these men may never have really delved into the lives of women to begin to see how we think, and how we feel, and what sacrifices we make.
When we value the writing of women less than the writing of men, we continue to keep women in the role of second-class citizens. It is to say that female experience of the world carries less value than how men perceive the world. When women find their voices and people learn about the female experience of the world, it provides insight for all of humanity.
What for heaven’s sake is women’s writing? It has often been simply defined as writing by women. Are we ready to claim our own experiences or are we going to rely on the male writers of the world to depict the female experience?
And whose female experience will they choose to write about?
Will we continue to be defined as some vapid sexual beauty in the next generation of James Bond films?
Or should we not claim our own experiences and show the world what it is really like to be us?
For each of us the story will be different…
For some there is first hand knowledge of what is it like to grow up as a young woman in poverty?
For another perhaps was a girl in an affluent family who was raised by her nanny from a third world country?
If we don’t claim and write about our own experiences in the world someone else will and it is highly unlikely that they will get it right.
No one knows what it is like to walk in your shoes…only you can bring that to light.
When I was a young woman I truly believed that God had blessed me with a perfect life. I was thirty-two years old, happily married to the love of my life. I was the mother of two beautiful children; a 4 year old son and an 18 month old daughter. We had just moved to a historic home on a beautiful private lake. I was living the fairy tale and felt blessed beyond measure.
But like all fairy tales there was tragedy and lessons to be learned. My beloved husband was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of bone marrow cancer.
Do you think I could turn to my girlfriends to share my experience? I knew no one in my family, or my large circle of friends and acquaintances who was walking my path. They loved me but they had did not have the words or life experience to help me.
So I turned to the writings of other women who became my soul sisters. Other women who had lost their husbands or their lovers and they too were grieving. Their stories lit the way for me. I cried with them, laughed with them, and allowed them to impart their wisdom to me through the stories they told. I found hope and the ability to persevere for if they could make it, perhaps I could too. I called it bibliotherapy.
It is in memory of all the books that helped me that I decided; I needed to tell my story. When we tell our stories and write them down to be shared we light the way for others, we help others gain an understanding of the path we travel and how they can help someone else carry their burden and lighten their load.
As women when we tell our stories we let others in on what it is like to be us and when others connect with our version of reality, understanding grows and we begin to connect soul to soul and the world becomes a better place.
What is this feminine perspective? The Chinese refer to it as the yin and the masculine as the yang. Far too long the feminine perspective has been drowned out by the masculine. The strengths associated with the yin are to listen and to consider, providing balance and equanimity. The yang asks –what are the profits and what are the costs? The yin asks –what kind of life and what value? Culturally and historically we have over-valued the yang or the masculine and in doing so we have under-valued the yin or the feminine. Leadership is fundamentally decision making; the more balanced the perspective the better the decisions. Wise leaders harness both the yin and the yang, the masculine and the feminine.
The gender gap begins to disappear when women are in the majority or when decisions are made by reaching consensus or compromise. This type of leadership provides safe spaces for people to access creative problem solving. A yang form of leadership emphasizes winners and losers, with holding information and pulling rank. Organizations, businesses and the governments of the world need our feminine strengths, to lead, to balance, and for creative problem solving.
Generations and generations of women have been treated like children and been encouraged to listen and keep quiet. We’re told, “it’s ladylike.” If our daughters do not learn from the adult women in their lives who will teach them to value themselves, their experiences, their thoughts and their voices. When we as adult women do not speak our truth, the truth, as we know it, we are handicapping the next generation of women. We are not leading the way.
When we find our voices we are paying it forward as we begin to pave the way for our daughters. The adults who are raising daughters, mentoring young women and teaching young girls need to reflect on the wise words of one of my former colleagues, who said,
“I always wanted my daughter to be a strong and independent woman, I just didn’t always like it when she practiced on me.”
Oh so sorry but we cannot have it both ways. If we want the next generation of young women to join the discussion and make their voices heard they must practice speaking their truths. No more encouraging our daughters, and all young women are our daughters, to sit back and be quiet when they need to be speaking. We need to hear their voices.
If the only voices heard are the voices of the powerful, they will tell us what to think and how we feel. Who will speak for me? Who will speak for you? Who will speak for all the women and the children? Please for the sake of us all, please join the conversation.
So speak up. Or write it down. What you think matters.