Lift Every Voice

The muting of a woman's voice isn't a new issue but it's a lingering problem in our world.

As much as we chant that girls run the world -- in most countries and boardrooms and in many homes -- women still don't have a voice. I'm not talking about having a place at the table. Being in the room and being heard and respected are two very different things.

I recently met with a colleague to talk about our career paths and obstacles to our success. Each of us has a seat at the table but I'm usually muted because I'm a woman of color. She's muted because she's considered "edgy". What does that even mean? A woman can't ask difficult questions or bring up uncomfortable subjects without being labeled difficult, outspoken or edgy. A woman of color can't speak passionately about a topic without being called angry or aggressive.

We're not heard in the boardroom but we're also not heard at home or in society. I believe that our silence begins in childhood. For myriad reasons we're told to be quiet. Don't dream too big. Don't disagree with your father. Don't raise your voice. Don't be emotional when you talk about something or someone you care about. Don't act like a baby just because you're hurt. Don't share your opinions because they're different. Don't tell anyone when you're hurting. Cry into your pillow. Cry alone. Don't raise your hand in school. Don't speak up in church. Don't be difficult.

And so it goes when a woman is hurt -- beaten, molested, raped, abused. I've seen it happen in thousands of news stories. A woman speaks out and a million voices speak against her -- what was she wearing? Why didn't she leave him (and her children)? Was she drinking? Did she make him angry?

Women's testimonies fall on deaf ears because the person who hurt them is a man-- a man who might have a family or status or money or power. Or none of those things -- only his manhood. He doesn't have to raise his voice because so many other men will speak for him -- friends, family, attorneys, media, and even strangers on social media.

A female politician disagrees with policies -- usually set by men. And she's viewed as a troublemaker, angry, nonsensical, hysterical. She raises her voice and is labeled a nasty woman.

For these reasons and many more -- women are quiet. We speak up when it's time to march or when we're in the company of other women -- but then we judge each other. It's sad.

One of my favorite quotes is from a poem by Muriel Rukeyser: "What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open."

I'm giving you permission to be that woman. Take up all the space you need in this world. Speak up at every opportunity. Share your story, your pain, your ideas, your deepest thoughts. Be a philosopher, a change agent, a warrior. Speak your truth. Speak even though the world tells you to take a seat, stay in your place, and be silent.

Be edgy. Be angry. Be happy and sing. Be sad and weep. Be smart and witty. Ask the tough questions. Tell the raw story. Don't just sit at the table, stand on it if you have to -- let them know you're in the room. Knock down doors and break ceilings to get to your intended destination.

Keep speaking until they listen. Speak until you feel your voice echoing in your Spirit. Speak until your throat is raw from the honesty of your words. Speak until you're so used to hearing your voice that you no longer hesitate to breathe in the same air as everyone else and breathe out the words in your heart and mind.

Lift your voice at every opportunity because it's not just about you. Another woman needs to see your strength and hear your story. A little girl needs to see you taking up space.

And you need to be free.

Do not suffer in silence. Do not let your dreams die inside of you. Speak up and speak out. The world needs you -- let it split open at the sound of your voice.


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