Are female voices stronger today than they have been in the past? Are we heard? Are we taken seriously? Have we come a long way or is this just another mirage with no real substance?
I was born in 1948, a time of hope and burgeoning prosperity in Canada. I had what most people would describe as a happy and carefree childhood on a southern Alberta farm. But… I was a girl. From the time I was very young, it was drilled into me that children were to be seen and not heard. The subtext was, especially girls. I was a talkative, open, and honest child. I said what was on my mind and I expected the same of everyone around me. Silly me!
I cannot count the number of times I was told “You can’t say that.” “We don’t talk about that.” “You are too young to have an opinion about that.” Of course, some of this came from the conservative values held by my family and the surrounding community. Family secrets were never to be revealed and adults were not to be contradicted. However, I gradually began to realize that these unwritten rules applied much more strictly to girls. Boys were just being boys when they spoke out of turn. It was unbecoming of girls to speak up, very unladylike.
As entered my teenage and young adult years, I understood that I must not come across as too intellectual or express strong opinions. That wasn’t attractive to boys and older adults believed that young ladies should “know their place”. I adhered to these restrictions as best I could, but it wasn’t in my nature to keep quiet. At a family gathering during my first year of university, my grandmother commented that I had “lost my modesty”. Family judgment weighed heavily on me.
Despite all this, I am still that talkative, open, and honest person I was from the beginning and these qualities still seem to get me into trouble. Women have definitely made strides in equality since 1948 but are our voices as strong as those of men? I don’t think so. People (especially older men) are still very uncomfortable with female assertiveness in 2022.
Every female in the public eye is scrutinized down to the very smallest detail. We can’t laugh too loudly or too long, we can’t be too serious, we can’t be too authoritative. The list goes on and on. There is immense societal pressure on women to remain youthful, beautiful… and quiet.
I think we all remember the debate between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump during the 2016 U.S. presidential race. She was the smart girl with a toolkit full of well-thought-out plans and ideas. He was the big, loud, dumb guy who got all of the attention. This same scenario could have been set on any school playground in 1958. It is pretty clear that ‘enlightened’ western society still has a long way to go.