I come from a long line of loud women. Loud in the sense of volume, but also in the sense of speaking up, truthfully, regardless of whether or not it’s welcome. Though their honesty may have cost them a few friendships (often with people who weren’t worth keeping around anyways), I’ve always been impressed by their commitment to being truthful, especially when it came to protecting themselves and their loved ones, and especially since they grew up in eras in which women were taught and encouraged to keep their mouths shut. (And that’s not totally over either, it’s just a lot more subtle now).
It’s only been in the last half-decade or so that I’ve become less apologetic about truly “speaking up”, but I’ve been different kinds of loud for as long as I can remember. Thanks to a clunky video camera, my early days were heavily documented by my sweet father. I was the fiery-haired young starlet in the artfully grainy, shot-in-one-take “Xmas 1995.” My sister and I were clad in red tartan jumpers and I never left the camera, not even for a second. My lengthy monologue of songs, jokes, stories, and energetic commentary on surrounding activity took up the majority of the film. I failed to give much camera time at all to my quieter, but arguably much cuter, blonde haired angel of a younger sister. You couldn’t shut me up. The cameraman tried a few times, but ultimately failed.
Next I’m 12 and I’ve been taking singing lessons for about a year and it gives me so much joy. I’m ecstatic that I’m found this new way to use my voice, having been quieted in that change that inevitably happens when you start to grow up and begin to take note that not everyone wants to hear and many will likely judge what you have to say. And this bothers me, deeply. My friends and I are performing Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi” (obviously) in an upcoming talent show and the cool guys in our grade are watching one of our recess rehearsals. I wait desperately for their feedback and validation. According to them I’m too loud.
Exactly one year later I discover a new kind of loudness. I have subscriptions to Teen Vogue and YM and decide I can totally nail this whole fashion thing. I start wearing striped knee high socks, pleated floral skirts, colourful knit sweaters, and large plastic bangles I find in 5$ grab bags from Ardene’s. In the summer between grade 6 and 7, many of my friends have successfully managed to mature at a much quicker rate than I have. They find solace in make-up, tight tank tops, and doing stuff with boys in bathrooms I’m not ready for. I’m angry at myself for not being ready. I’m not there yet and we drift apart. I’m angry about us drifting apart and about not being there yet and so I begin gossiping about what they’re doing and how I feel about them. I become quiet when I’m with them but I can’t shut up about them when they’re not around. I cry about this to my mom on a car ride home from a PCP party (remember? pop, chips, parents?) at the local Legion (because I grew up in a small town and that’s where the cool parties were). I buy another $5 grab bag from Ardene’s and adorn myself in more colourful plastic bangles.
In the following years I’m far more at ease. I’ve auditioned for and get in to an arts program at a high school right downtown in the city near where I live. My loudness is celebrated, finally! And I have loud classmates who understand my loudness! I have arrived and it is so well received.
In university, I learn how to be loud on the issues I care about. I perform in the Vagina Monologues and shout on stage in front of an audience about tampons, douche sprays and pap smears. I also learn, and this is perhaps my most important lesson during my activist-formative years, when not to be loud. As an able-bodied white woman with privilege, I can’t always speak so loudly about certain experiences I haven’t lived. I learn to listen. I learn to learn. I learn how creating space for others to be loud is far more powerful. But I didn’t learn this until I was a little too loud and friends and mentors who I have so much gratitude for showed me the value in being quieter on things I personally knew nothing about.
Learning how to speak up has proven far more challenging for me. Like many women (and some men!), I know I struggle with an incessant need to please and this often comes at the cost of not honouring what I really want to say but instead going with what I think I should say. It’s challenging because had I not been such a pleaser I likely wouldn’t have progressed in school and in my career to the extent I have and yet I know how much it holds me back sometimes. I’m working on it. I see a coach and she helps me with it. And there’s definitely certain people in my life that I’m that kind of loud with. These are often the people I care deeply about. They know (at least I hope they know) that my intentions in being loud with them are because I want to say what I think they need to hear. But there are so many others for which I too often keep my mouth shut. One of those people is me. I have trouble speaking up for the benefit of myself and I know how damaging that can be.
It’s been only through coaching and the support of my friends and family that I learned that it was best for myself and everyone for me to put myself first. If I want to say something to benefit others, it needs to be because I want to say it, not because it should be said. But my priority needs to be being loud on my own behalf.
I’m close. I’ll get there. If the loud women in my family are any indication of who I’ll become, then I’ll definitely get there.
Who are you being loud for?