New Year, New-Found Power
I love it when we shift into a new year, because it reminds me that time is temporary and there is always an opportunity for change and creation.
On this particular New Year's eve, I was rushing to leave work by 2PM, as we were offered the opportunity to head out early. I was so sick and so looking forward to completing my tasks and simply going home. At around 1:50pm, as my other co-workers were packing up their things, one of our managers called me into his office to tell me about the things that I did wrong. We do this every week. I said OK, and thought it would be quick. He went through the paperwork I had completed while simultaneously and ever so condescendingly, informing me on how he would have completed the tasks and how stressful I make his life. I said OK, I made notes of what he wanted me to change in my head, I sniffed my nose frequently, and I watched the clock. My co-workers began to leave the building, making eye contact with me from the doorframe of his office. It was now 2:10pm, and I was just standing there silently, taking in the information and trying to exhale his harsh tones and abrasive nature. I felt so overwhelmed by his entitlement to speak to me however he wanted to.
Ever since I read Bell Hooks’ book “Feminist Theory from Margin to Center” and participated in an extensive intersectional feminist workshop for about two years, I really see and understand the concept of taking up too much space. I began to notice how others feel entitled to space around them - even to my own personal space - and how they take it without thinking. I knew that as a woman, I could count 20 times in 10 seconds where my voice has been stepped over, but I also knew as a white woman, this identity offered me a layer of privilege I must acknowledge. Once I became aware of this, I embraced this notion and tried to voice less of my opinions where there were others whose voices are heard less than mine. Inside of the experiences I had had with this co-worker of mine, I had wished he had the same training.
Cut back to my story where at work, this manager is continuing to overwhelm me with his inability to see himself being so insulting and rude, without even questioning for a moment how he is impacting my personal space, and the space between us. I wondered how often he does this in his own life, and how many people (especially women) he had bulldozed over. What I couldn’t wrap my head around, though, was that I was being disrespected and spoken down to, and yet I do not say a word. There was even a moment where a co-worker called him out for being so condescending, and he turned to me and asked if I thought it was true. I still could not say a word. All of this really messed with my head. How could I advocate intersectional feminism and get on other people’s cases for not speaking out enough when I couldn’t even stand up for myself?
After thoughtful deliberation, I became clear that I was afraid of looking bad. I was afraid that if I agreed with my co-worker, this manager would essentially “not like me” and I would occur as stubborn, sensitive, and hard to deal with to him. I really got how being “well liked” (even by people who are disrespecting me) occurs as more important than being authentic and saying how I feel. I realized this is a common concern specifically among women and girls, and that it is part of our upbringing and/or socialization as children. We are taught that our appearances and demeanor should always be well liked and well received, no matter the cost. This concern has impacted how I show up in so many aspects of my life, whether it is at work, at home, in relationships, wherever.
To put it in simple terms, I clam up when it counts the most. I now recognize that at some point, I gave in to the idea that my voice does not matter and that essentially, neither do I. Within all of these generations of girls and women, I see this same disempowering context that being well liked is more important than saying what we feel. Not to mention how in some cases, it simply does not work to speak up, due to possible unsafety. For most women, it is always a risk to speak up, though; our other identities can elevate that concern. The way we are perceived impacts our ability to feel safe enough - or brave enough - to share our personal thoughts.
It is so crucial that we create the space for one another to speak, and be powerfully listened to. We have so many important things to say - things that are radical enough to shift the consciousness of the world.
It's my New Year's resolution this year, to transform that disempowerment into an access for being heard. I ask that we hold one another accountable for speaking up on behalf of ourselves and each other when there are opportunities to do so. I also ask that we pay attention to how we impact one another, and aim to lift up unheard voices instead of stepping on them. I hope that you will join me in revolutionizing what it means to be powerfully authentic for 2016, and for all new years to come. Unlearning what we have been taught, no matter our identities, is no easy feat. But this year, we will have the conversations that make the difference.
The author is a Generation Action intern at Planned Parenthood of Southern New England in Providence, Rhode Island.