I sat with this month’s prompt, Lift Your Voice, for a week, finally commenting to my husband that I wasn’t sure what to write about. “That’s easy,” he said. “You have lots of stories about finding your voice—and how that’s been good for you and bad for me.” We both laughed, but the truth of his words reminded me how disruptive it can be in our culture for women to own their voice and use it.
As a young girl, I experienced the powerlessness of failed attempts to question roles and rules that empowered boys’ voices, while dismissing mine. I can still feel the impact of the look on my father’s or brother’s or some other man’s face when I had the audacity to challenge them instead of quietly submitting. Most often I complied, until a moment when something inside me just couldn’t be silent about whatever injustice was unfolding. I would speak with uncharacteristic force, and then feel shocked, hearing the words I spoke. Those words came from an original part of me, before she learned to quiet her voice.
To be fair, it hasn’t only been men who have dismissed my voice. One of my most vivid memories of connecting to the power of my voice came when challenging the discernment of a supervising leader, also a woman. Our group of leaders was preparing to lead a weeklong story group intensive, doing the vulnerable work of exploring our own stories before leading. After one of the women recounted a painful story of betrayal by male leaders in her church, one of the male leaders jumped in first to voice his outrage. His response was not uncommon in these groups. A woman would share a story of harm she had experienced from men, and inevitably a male group member would proclaim how he would have “kicked their *ss” if he had been there. I remember struggling in those moments, feeling both the sense of relief that could have come from protection, but also a feeling of discomfort at the lack of curiosity about what the woman felt or what she needed. Did she need protection? Maybe. But what if the fact that she needed protection was the result of a cultural system that has historically disempowered and dismissed women?
Is her only option to hope a man uses his power on her behalf?
As I watched the scene unfold, I saw both the woman who had shared her story, and the woman who was responsible for holding safe space in our group be swayed by this charismatic man’s bravado. When our leader asked what she would say to the men who had betrayed her, the woman couldn’t find words, a common trauma response. “I will say it for you,” the man insisted. “I know what they need to hear!”
I watched, dumbfounded, as both women nodded in agreement, before blurting, “Wait, are you really going to let him do this? This does not feel right!” Victims don’t take back power by having someone else speak for them; they reconnect to their own lost power by lifting their own voice to speak their own truth.
My sisters, may we remember the voices we were born with, and speak truth that disrupts for good.
Janet Stark is a deeply feeling introvert who has learned the value of creating nurturing, restful space in a loud world. She loves the connection that is possible when we slow down and listen to each other with intention. A few of her favorite things include the smell of freshly baked bread, soft blankets, good books, and the warmth of her puppy, Oliver, snuggled up close. Janet and her husband Chris love traveling, especially to spend time with their three adult children.