Why do we speak?

A very simple question that seems to have multiple quick answers:

  • for people to listen
  • to spread ideas
  • to teach
  • to scold
  • to solve a problem
  • to mend or negotiate
  • to unite people either in conversation or around a common cause
  • to silence other people

And unlike Waldo, speech is everywhere.  Not only in a literary form, but in advertisements, music, dance, poetry, art, a gesture, or a roll of the eyes.  Speech surrounds our every waking (and sleeping) existence.

To the (sometimes) annoyance of others, I speak to ask questions.  One that I find myself returning to is: What is feminism?  I can’t speak for anyone other than myself and my experience, so that’s what I will do.  To me, feminism is women (and men) fighting to gain equal rights for women and teach about the woman’s experience from the woman’s perspective.  Feminism is a type of bearing that withstands the burden’s of society, culture, histories and top trends to speak for the women who supersede all these preconceptions.  Feminism is a living idea that gains its existence from the thoughts, experiences and values of different women around the world.

My first speech and debate coach in high school was a feminist.  I think I first understood the concept of feminism under her tutelage.  Despite her traditionalist attitude of dress, she pushed the team to select speech pieces that represented the different points of view of a woman’s experience.  Back then, I didn’t really understand what feminism was.  I had heard the term before, but understood it as a more militant version, that spurned men and fought aggressively to propagate their ideas.  I also had come from a very liberal elementary school (Montessori) that did not have (apparent) discrepancies in gender, therefore, I didn’t appreciate what feminists were trying to accomplish.  For that first speech competition, Maya Angelou’s poemPhenomenal Women, was the piece I was asked to present.  The speaker of the poem presents many arguments about how she is a phenomenal woman who people are attracted to but don’t understand.  Most reasons are physical:

“It’s in the arch of my back,”

“It’s the fire in my eyes,”

“The ride of my breasts,”

In other words, confidence and passion, a conviction that she indeed is phenomenal and even more so, a phenomenal woman.  I cannot speak to Angelou’s intentions but the message of this poem to me is an unadulterated, unapologetic shout in support of feminism.

How?  Because the speaker boldly and without out hesitation acts/is a woman; she speaks to the natural strengths of a woman, outside of societal conceptions, and will not change to fit a man or societies’ ideas.  In high school (despite the fact that mine was all girls), this message of women’s empowerment was crucial.  In the formative years when people are discovering who they are as a teenager, understanding and spreading the necessity of equality between the sexes is part and parcel of how that teen will treat people of different sexes and genders later in life.  For freshman high schooler me, this poem gave me the confidence to speak my perspective and value my own as much as any one else’s.  Present day me loves the attitude of the speaker, who is unquestioning in her sensuality, and will not back down from what society says is the “ideal woman”.  And it is due to this attitude and confidence that this poem speaks feminism, as well as…

– The right for women to be who they are without requesting permission and without compromise

– The right for women to represent themselves in speech, dress, art, music, dance…and not be silenced

– The right to change what is negative, oppressive, and dangerous to the woman’s existence

– The right to be

The last stanza:

“Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing

It ought to make you proud.”

Feminism does not have to be loud (but it can).  It does not have to be bold (but it can).  It does not have to be one discussion.  But it does need to be expressed, argued for and questioned.  It must be spoken.

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