08 Mar I Am Woman, Hear Me Express My Valid Concerns
I once saw a post on Twitter where a woman described her experience after deciding not to move out of the way when someone walked towards her on the sidewalk. The experiment resulted in her bumping into a significant number of men compared to women—and it got me thinking: how often did I subconsciously move out of the way for others? How many times have I opted to walk on icy lawns or step onto the road to let someone by?
I realized this issue extended far beyond a walk to school. Women are constantly conditioned to mould our lives around others and to try our hardest to avoid being an obstacle. Studies I’ve read, and personal experience alone, have shown that women tend to downplay accomplishments, let concerns go unheard, and accommodate others because we’d rather adjust ourselves instead of causing trouble. Maybe that’s why the higher you go on a company’s hierarchy, the more men you see—CEOs are assertive, a behaviour women are told not to exhibit.
“Why are we afraid to make noise? Perhaps we’re afraid that by making our presence known, people will have more opportunities to think that we don’t belong there.”
Why are we afraid to make noise? Perhaps we’re afraid that by making our presence known, people will have more opportunities to think that we don’t belong there. Besides, if twenty-nine men all agree on a decision and one woman (validly) disagrees, that woman is seen as the outsider. The problem increases when you remember that any time a woman expresses a hint of emotion, she is immediately labelled hysterical and irrational, and is told to “calm down.” Yet, when a man raises his voice, he’s a confident leader, an alpha-type. The stereotypes are only exacerbated for women of colour.
Once I became aware of the problem, I realized how much energy it took to be invisible. Can you imagine how powerful we’d feel if we were as considerate of our own needs as we are of others? Besides, our ideas and concerns are worthy of being expressed. I made a conscious decision to become more confrontational. I don’t mean in-your-face confrontational, but rather in the sense that I’m making my presence known. I’m not asking for a fight—I’m asking for acknowledgement.
If you’re a shy person, like me, who has tried to avoid confrontation your whole life, it’s all about taking baby steps. For instance, I was on a plane recently and the man in front of me leaned his seat so far back I couldn’t eat comfortably. I kindly asked him to move his seat up and he quickly complied. Even after the meal, he asked me how far back he could lean without causing me any discomfort. This tiny exchange, one act of putting my comfort over someone else’s, made me feel so empowered.
“If we want something, we should go for it, ask for it, or ask for help without the fear of sounding rude. Demand a little of the R-E-S-P-E-C-T we deserve.”
We, as women, need to let people know we’re in the room and our ideas and concerns are valid. Instead of downplaying our accomplishments so we don’t come off as “stuck up,” we should express them with confidence and reference them whenever someone questions our knowledge on the subject at hand. If we want something, we should go for it, ask for it, or ask for help without the fear of sounding rude. Demand a little of the R-E-S-P-E-C-T we deserve.
I wouldn’t be honest if I said confrontation won’t lead to conflict sometimes: you could ask for a raise and get rejected; you could speak up in a meeting and be interrupted. However, I do believe it’s better to try your best than be stagnant—persist until you can’t be ignored.
Finally, look out for other women—get them in the room, encourage them, and work as a team so you’re twice as noticeable.