“Build a world where my daughter will always raise her hand when she knows the answer.”
My friend Olivier shared an iReport from CNN on Facebook yesterday. The premise behind the iReport is the first paragraph, which created this vortex of emotions flowing through me and sent me on a trip down memory lane.
When I was in school, I was that girl. The one in class raising my hand to answer the questions posed by our teachers. More often than not, as were the majority of my classmates, I was looked over. Boys were called on, while I sat there angry and embarrassed. Before I go any further, it wasn’t just male teachers, it was equally female teachers as well.
The majority of it came to a head when I was in eighth grade, and I’m pretty sure my English teacher hated me. I was in the academically gifted program and by eighth grade there were only three of us left — Me, Alan and Ben. We were like the three Musketeers, and that is one of the few places I didn’t feel left out. In fact, because our class was so small, I sometimes squirmed being given such equal opportunity.
What I really remember was being tasked with building a team by my AG teacher to write the eighth grade prophecy for our end of middle school “huzzah”. The team was built and one by one, they all were kicked off by the principal as he would come by and others would be gossiping and I’d be writing, or asking for ideas. At the end, when it was time for us to graduate and everything had been edited, I was told by our English teacher I wouldn’t be allowed to read it. Why? She didn’t feel I was a good “fit” to read this, my first public piece, and I was to turn it into her the next day.
I went home that night and was absolutely gutted and remember crying. Then my mother did something I’d never heard her say, but it was essentially, “you did this, now you have to stand your ground and not let others take credit for your work.” Whatever it was that came over me, call it gumption, call it finding my backbone, what have you, I went in the next day and handed the document to my AG teacher instead, explaining to her what had happened and asking for her guidance in dealing with this matter. I don’t know what went down, but I read this document. It was funny. It was smart. I remember standing in front of a mirror, rehearsing over and over, waiting on my big day. While I might not have given a Churchill “We shall fight on the beaches” delivery, the feeling of standing there and using my voice was powerful.
Yet, as I sit here and really think, I know part of my issues are also culturally based. When you grow up in the South, girls are supposed to be seen and not heard. We are young ladies and should never, ever speak above a ladylike whisper. My boisterous laugh has always been frowned upon, and I was “shushed” more often than not. Assertiveness has not, nor will it ever be, acceptable. Opinions? Keep them to yourself, because we’re not supposed to express them. Even now, if have certain family members in the car with me, I’m scolded for honking my horn at someone who’s coming over in my lane. It’s rude and inappropriate. Obviously, I missed this section in Emily Post.
While I’m quite the ambivert (I float between introvert and extrovert), these experiences have caused serious comfort issues in social situations where I’m afraid to be myself, instead reverting to wall-flower status and not speaking. I’m much better with 2-3 people at most. Yet, as I say that, I’m not afraid to stand in front of a room and speak, or moderate a panel discussion.
Social media opened new doors for me back in the early 90’s. Long before it was called social media, we just called it “forums” or “IRC” or “BBS”. I was able to, and still can, sit in my house, carry on amazing conversations and never feel as if I’m overstepping my boundaries. This is a huge deal, as I feel equal no matter what I’m doing. People aren’t judging me for my accent, which is quite neutral, my figure, nor the fact I dropped out of college and don’t have a piece of paper that says “I know how to learn.” Now, I’m not going out having deep conversations on theoretical physics, or the current state of the economy, but at least I know enough about both, I can chime in on agreement on what I feel is relevant and not make a fool of myself.
Even when I’m with the people I’ve met online in a social situation, I still freeze. Lunch last Thursday left me somewhat paralyzed. Mind you, I have a great rapport with these folks. It didn’t matter. I was still having issues. Fear got the best of me and I was suffered a serious case of lock jaw. (Ironically, some of the writers and creative geniuses I respect the most in the world have expressed their love of my voice/thoughts/mind, one even going so far as to say I was her “Judy Blume”, on paper and off.) While my lunch companions weren’t aware of my struggles, I know three of them would call me on it, not mincing their words in the process.
I know I’m not alone. There are millions of girls all over the world, whose hands are raised, waiting to be called on. Don’t make them fear their voice, encourage them to use it.
Image from CNN.