Your Voice Deserves to be Heard
Imago Theatre and Béatrice Média Co-Host Panel on Self-Censorship
“I want you all to think of a time when you could not speak up.”
Rebecca Munroe, radio host at CJLO sat opposite of three women. They were all present to speak on a subject which they believe, until very recently, has escaped common discussion. The women closed their eyes, beckoning recollection of the memories and experiences that had defined their positions in the world for their whole lives.
“I don’t think [we] were taught to speak about our opinion or empower ourselves as young girls,” said Dominique Pirolo, Talent Acquisition Specialist, her head held high in front of the dozens of men and women in the audience.
“I think most girls want to be a people pleaser. I started experiencing times where I had to put my foot down,” she said.
Béatrice Média and Imago Théâtre partnered up to host a discussion on women and self-censorship at the Sfouf Cafe on Jan. 11. On the panel were Pirolo, blogger Tracey Steer, and Christina Vroom, Associate Director of University Advancement at McGill University’s Faculty of Dentistry.
The event, broadcasted as a live podcast for Béatrice Média, spoke to the choice that women are confronted with everyday: Do I speak up or do I keep my mouth shut?
It was a part of the launch for Imago Théâtre’s production The Intractable Woman. The play, which is about the esteemed Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, who covered the second Chechen War, will debut on Feb. 9.
The Fear of Offending
It’s a situation that many women relate to. You are uncomfortable with a person’s advances and know you should say something. You tell yourself that it isn’t a big deal, that you can handle it yourself. You stay silent and internalize your anger, all the while feeling violated and betrayed by yourself for not speaking out.
It’s state of mind Vroom knows all too well.
“An individual that I have to work with makes me very uncomfortable and likes to spend time with me,” she explained.
“I have no interest in this individual outside of the work we do together and I find myself in a knot every time I have to see [them] because all I can think of is, ‘I have to be pleasing,’” Vroom continued. “I have to put on a brave face and suck it up and I walk away thinking, ‘I should say something.’”
Steer recalled moments in her life where she faced discrimination and chose to nurse her wounds in silence. She spoke of an occasion when a women complemented her son and mentioned that she was lucky that he had “white features.”
“I was gobsmacked and I knew I should have said something,” she explained. “But I didn’t because I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable. Those kinds of things have happened many times.”
Pirolo pointed out the change has to start with women dismissing their fears of offending and practicing assertion, despite the negative connotations.
“[I’ve been told] that women are too nice,” explained Pirolo. “Say it as it is. […] Don’t worry about offending anybody.”
The Angry Woman
A 2008 study titled “Can an Angry Woman Get Ahead?” conducted by Yale researchers Victoria Brescoll and Eric Luis Uhlmann, found that while men are likely to gain respect and stature by showing anger, it has the opposite effect when displayed by women.
The study found that they are “consistently accorded lower status and lower wages, and were seen as less competent, than angry men and unemotional women.”
Steer brought up how, in staying silent, it may avoid escalating a situation. But what is being sacrificed in the exchange?
“Being a woman of colour, I don’t want to carry around so much anger,” she said. “But there is something to be said about being a pleaser and keeping a harmonious house.”
One by one, audience members voiced their opposition to modifying their language for others’ comfort. One audience member questioned the arguments for using metered language and explained that feeling angry might be justified in oppressive situations.
“What can you concretely do tomorrow to change a situation?” replied Adriana Palanca, co-founder of Béatrice Média. “It’s important to embrace and be immersed in that anger. But once you’ve felt into it and […] you get that it’s there, what do you do next?”
They suggest education. “I think the future is female,” Steer said with a smile in an interview with The Link after the panel.
Throughout the evening the women expressed the importance of educating others against self-censorship and teaching women to be assertive and confident. Steer brought up how she has even observed the importance of those teachings in her own daughter.
“One thing I’m noticing my kids do with each other, is they don’t let themselves be cut off,” Steer said. “Even if they’re having an argument. If my son starts talking, my daughter will say ‘I’m talking’ and she’ll continue. I’m so glad about that.”
Palanca brought up how absolutely necessary it is for women to point out problematic language amongst family and friends.
“If we can take anything from this, it’s that it’s a long game. Pick your battles, be smart about how you educate people, don’t stop speaking out, be relentless.”