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Marginalization of a Woman’s Voice

35 Comments 20 August 2010


There have been two events in my life in the past week that have served as vivid reminders for me about what happens when a woman asserts herself within the world of conservative religious circles.  Now first, let me give you a disclaimer and remind all of you who will be rabid with defense of your particular church/religious culture, that I am speaking of my personal experience.  [Although, I truly do believe that my experience, if we are honest, is fairly par for the course. I know this is kind of a disclaimer to my disclaimer, but as MH says, “Too bad, so sad, oh well!”]

First I will give you the two instances and then I will give you my thoughts on what happened.

Last week I was asked to sit on a panel to discuss the theology of working with young women at a youth conference at my current church.  The conference was attended by youth workers from around the country and these workers were predominantly men.  The questions centered around how they could help their female youth.  At one point, during the discussion, there was a point of contention between one of these [male] workers and myself.  We simply did not see eye to eye and this lack of congruence in our views caused him to misquote the entire panel and oversimplify what we had just said.  I quickly and firmly corrected his misquote.  I spoke with authority and passion, but I was not angry or ugly.  He quipped back, “Hey, calm down!”  After assuring him that I was indeed calm, I proceeded to once again communicate what we, as a panel, had stated.

The second instance that I was involved in happened just yesterday and this time it was online.  I did something that I rarely do.  I commented on a minister/friend’s Facebook page on an issue that he brought up that involved politics and faith.  So, my friend makes a comment, I respond and eventually, one of his other commenter people comes after me and my comment.  Initially it is fine and I quote Anne Lamott, “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”  This guy begins to tell me that I am unclear on what my faith is about.  I disagree and we have a couple of back and forths.  Then, when I decide I need to do my ‘BIG LIFE’ and stop dilly-dallying around with this guy, I try to excuse myself, with humor, from the conversation.  This is how the conversation went:

Jorja:  ok, XXXXX, i’ve got better things to do than debate guys like you on issues like this. hope you have a lovely day and a lovely life. like [our friend] said, he was stirring the pot, and your pot has officially been stirred.  blessings.

Marginalizer:  simmer down… guys like me? funny. I speak for a lot of people I just lack the diplomacy to sugar coat things I call out. I’m a harmless kitten… I didn’t me to upset you, I apologize.

Jorja:  i love the humor of ‘simmer down’ and ‘upset you’…i simply said i’m done, not angry dear. did you miss blessings? again. blessings to you. we are all welcome to disagree within the body. i am sorry if ‘guys like you’ was offensive. i simply meant guys who want to continue to argue. have a lovely day. goodbye kitten.

What is wrong with the two instances above?  What is the message, the primary message?  Emotion in a man = passion and confidence…he’s a straight shooter.  Emotion in a woman = lack of rational thought/thoughtfulness-she’s a piece a work.  How do women lose respect within the religious culture, particularly in the South, but really, across the board?  When a man speaks with authority or passion he is seen as just that, an authoritative and passionate voice that has a strong conviction about whatever topic he is speaking.  He, like Mr. Marginalizer above, simply “lacks the diplomacy to sugar coat things.”  When a woman speaks [specifically in opposition to a man] with authority or passion, she is seen as being emotional and harsh, or even worse, she is ANGRY, and needs to “simmer down.”

Let me be clear, I will not ‘calm down’, ‘simmer down’ or NOT ‘get upset’ if what I am speaking about or writing about deserves a passionate and emotional voice.  I will use my voice in whatever manner, as a wise, intelligent and discerning woman, I see fit.

Women are emotional creatures.  It is a beautiful and necessary part of who we are and how we function and the world and men are BETTER for it.  However, it can often be the number one thing that is used against us, to marginalize our voices, in the institutions that mean the most to us and our families.  And this marginalization is not limited to our religious institutions, it happens in the workplace, in our marriages and in our schools – everywhere.  Across the board, I believe that we are all, taught to see emotion in women (and even men) as an opportunity for exploitation, instead of an invitation for respect, or reflection of insight, passion, wisdom,  or strength!

There is a wave of shame that washes over a woman when she is told to “simmer down,” “calm down,”  or “don’t get so upset!”  Certainly there is a need to use prudence where our emotions are concerned, we can’t be unleashed with every whim that courses through our emotional veins, but we must not buy in to this false notion that to feel is wrong or somehow less than!  Even the terms “calm down” and “simmer down,” don’t they remind you of something you would say to some horse that was flaring her nostrils and about to go up on her hind legs in attack mode?

Watch, listen and observe, in your own life and the conversations between others.  See if you can catch a glimpse of this marginalization.  Remind yourself and each other that passion, conviction and our ‘raised’ voices should carry the same weight as those of our male counterparts.  Teach the same to your daughters.  This notion that we are less-than because we “become emotional” is foolish.  After all, when is the last time you heard someone tell a man to “Calm down!” or “Simmer Down!” or “Don’t get upset!”  They would have a come apart if we said that to them.  These are phrases that are meant to belittle, shame and demean.

Speak with passion, unashamedly ladies – use your voices – just be sure you are using them with wisdom! [And honestly, I would prefer you just use them, even if you have to come back later and say, “I may have been a bit hard on you…”]  I’m just sayin’…marginalization is wrong!

*This is the AMENDED part:  To clarify, my main point in writing this post is not to argue that women should be able to be as ’emotional’ as they choose to be, but instead, that women should not be accused of being ’emotional’ in an attempt to discredit/shame/demean.  All for now. 😉

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35 Comments so far

  1. PopandIce says:

    Kudos to you for taking on discussions regarding religion with men. It would certainly be quite the feat to be taken seriously rather than pandered to. I applaud your efforts!

    • Jorja says:

      why thank you dear! yes, it would be delightful to be simply respected and treated as peers, partners and otherwise human!

  2. Dena says:

    “goodbye kitten”…lol! That’s awesome!

    • Jorja says:

      dena, i must say, my husband laughed his ass off last night when he read the kitten remark and my friend melissa simply said, prrrrrrr! thanks!

  3. jackie says:

    jorja, this is one of the most valuable things i learned from debate. we as women were / are judged by a different standard of expectations for proper communications protocol. if we as women attacked emotionally, we were seen as either weak or b****y. thankfully i had a very wise female coach who helped us learn how to communicate our passion and logic in such a way to be heard and respected by our male judges and opponents and to WIN. great tools for life – i’d like to change the status quo but until then i have to learn to use my voice well within it. tricky but possible. glad you’re out there speaking.

    • Jorja says:

      hello jackie, yes, i too learned those things in all of the speech courses that made up a portion of my undergraduate degree and i do recognize the truth in it. however, i think the main point that i am making here is not that women should be allowed to use emotion, although, i do believe that is true, but that they should not be ‘accused’ of being EMOTIONAL as a means by which to demean and marginalize them. i know that seems like the same thing, but really, in both of the instances i describe, i was not emotional, but firm. my point is that culturally, the charge of emotional, when leveled against a woman, shames and discredits! and as far as the status quo, i am fairly confident that it will always remain the same until women begin to use their voices to change it. thanks for reading love!

  4. Jen L. says:

    EXCELLENT post, Jorja! I run into this all the time at work, but I also grew up in a church environment where this was an ongoing problem. Of course, I didn’t realize it had been a problem until I was in my late 20’s looking back, but it was definitely present. Good for you for not being a doormat. Women are strong, and thank God we are! Emotions have a time and place in every situation and if used with a modicum of intelligence, can usually lead to excellent results.

    • Jorja says:

      jen, enjoyed your vlog today, ha! again, as i mentioned in response to jackie, i am not advocating that women communicate with more emotion, but that they do not allow the ‘tag’ of emotionalism to be used as a way to shut them down or discredit them. thanks for stopping by…have fun at the lake!

  5. Yes, a million times yes. We need to remind ourselves, our daughters, our friends, all women that our voices are valid. We’re not being bitchy or emotional; we’re being passionate and convicted.

    • Jorja says:

      kate, it is a very difficult line to walk and i want to be very careful to say that i love men and this is not about bashing men, but it is about empowering women! thanks for the encouragement babe!

  6. Judy Helfand says:

    All I need to say is this: I understand.

    The old rule about avoiding discussions about politics, religion and sex, is probably a good rule.

    Many years ago I was asked to serve on a board. Most members of this board were men. The mystery of why they invited me was solved when at the first meeting I attended, they voted me in as SECRETARY. (If I have related this story to you before-hit the delete button.) I was honored and took copious notes. I went home, typed (I do mean typed) the notes, made copies, and mailed them to the officers. The next meeting I was called upon to read the minutes. In the next breath they said to me, something like: “You can’t put all the details in the minutes…we could get in trouble!” So I figured they needed a WOMAN to take the notes, but they didn’t want the woman to be forthright and diligent. I said just that to them and resigned!

    Speaking up, fighting the good fight…that sums up most of my life. Sometimes, many times, I was marginalized. Last year I looked back on this when I wrote We Should All Thank Lilly Ledbetter

    Today I am glad to know you and to know you will speak up for all of us.

    • Jorja says:

      judy, i think your experience is fairly par for the course. and i know what you mean with the sex, religion and politics. i fully believe that we, as women, should be able to engage others, both men and women on all topics. i recognize that i can not change the world, but i can change the way i respond to those who attempt to manipulate and shame with the cry of “emotionalism”!

  7. Judy Helfand says:

    Let me be clear about something, when I said ‘The old rule about avoiding discussions about politics, religion and sex, is probably a good rule.’ I was not suggesting we shouldn’t engage in these discussions…tongue in cheek,I just meant avoiding them might keep our blood pressure controlled.

    A “friend” once assured me that I would not go to heaven, as I am a practicing Jew! The friendship changed alot…don’t you know.


  8. Kim says:

    Hey Jorja! haven’t had time lately to read too many posts but thanks for this one. I really believe no one can see it the way you do (by you i mean you that is uniquely each one of us…’….you) no one can communicate it, paint it, write it, sing it, say it , feel it, the way YOU can. We have a completely unique voice in every way. Infinitely important because it is only ours.

    • Jorja says:

      kt, thanks for reading anything! hope you are getting settled! yes, we ALL have a voice that is uniquely ours and we should all be using our voice in whatever small or big way that we feel compelled to do so! love you woman!

  9. angie says:

    ah…you articulated so well thoughts i’ve had but could’t put together quite as well as this. thank you!

  10. kate says:

    and what you’ve written here shows bravery. because you know some will write it off and others will misjudge you for it.

    but i thank you.
    having a voice and using it is a gift (and responsibility) we’ve all been given.

    • Jorja says:

      kate, yes, that is really what keeps me or any of us from speaking. we fear the response, the reaction and being once again “marginalized” as a troublemaker. a friend of mine [woman] was very concerned this past week about two different issues, one at our junior high and another at our high school. she finally decided that she could not NOT say something and thus wrote e-mails to address the issues. she has insight, wisdom and she has seen a problem. that is often times, what we as women are best at doing, yet she feared being labeled a “troublemaker” mom for addressing these issues. why? experience. we have all been there and watched as the raised eyebrow, the eye roll, the long, deep sigh. but we as women must lay our own insecurities and need for approval aside if we are to change anything…our children’s schools, our families, our local government, our national government, our religious institutions…you name it! we know when we should speak, we hear ‘our voice’, but we have been taught to hush it up, shut it down and fall in line with the status quo. i think at this point in my life, the mid-way point (or at least i hope so 😉 ) i am done. i want to speak. not out of some reserve of anger to right what i have not done in the past, but out of a deep hope that i can change the future! brave, not so sure about that, but i feel god’s pleasure when i am who he made me to be…if that is brave, super!

  11. angie says:

    amen to katie. thanks for encouraging some of us to be more brave 😉

    • Jorja says:

      angie, you go girl! i agree with kate, it is both a gift and a RESPONSIBILITY to use our voices in whatever small corner of the world that we inhabit!

  12. Joy says:

    Might I also add that our emotions are a gift from God to mirror His character in our likeness to Him. I believetOt is how we (women) are made in His image. Love you, Jorja. Want to be more like you in this way!

  13. amy says:

    jorja, a big hearty AMEN! soooo get where you are coming from with this. one of the things that i have to remind myself when people try to discredit emotions as having no value is that they are fallen. just as fallen and sinful as every other part of me, including my intellect. AND, just like every other part of me is being redeemed, so are my emotions. when john frame shared that in a class, it was so empowering to me.

    • Jorja says:

      amy, while that may be true, it think that our emotions are a valuable indicator of our intuition, which though it may be imperfect, is oh so valuable!

  14. amy says:

    jorja, i totally agree. which is i guess what i didn’t articulate well. i had always elevated my thought processes over my emotions, and to realize that they were essentially the same in their value (as far as brokenness and redemption) enabled me to give more value to my emotions and to learn to trust my intuition too.

  15. SUCH an awesome post! As someone who is usually *very* clear about what I believe, what I want, and what I find unacceptable, I’ve often noticed the same attitude – not just within the religious community but the world at large. Thank you for this thoughtful reminder not to “calm down”! Much love – Stacey

    • Jorja says:

      stacey, so intrigued by your life and your mission! sounds so amazing. i would have been much better off had i had a mid-wife around when i birthed my three babes. (my body would have thanked you as well!) i think it is pervasive, regardless of the arena of life that we travel in…so, we all must stand our ground! be strong lady! although, i doubt you back down easily! 😉

  16. keri says:

    jb…i really love what you wrote. i have really been convinced lately that women’s voices need to be heard (more). our opinions, thoughts, passions, hearts are not there to be shushed down but to be freely spoken and respected. and you are doing exactly that–and i respect it!!

  17. Jorja,
    This is my first time to your blog and I loved this post! I am a very passionate person and feel my emotions deeply, but unfortunately in the heat of things tears tend to start falling and I believe that reduces my credibility. It seems when I get angered about something, I start to cry.

    If we cry over ‘good’ emotions, we are not seen as weak, but sensitive, but over anger we lack control.

    Do you believe it is perceived that way?

    • Jorja says:

      bernice, so excited to have you come on over and read along! i think, in general, we live in a society where emotion is equated with weakness. these roots can be traced all the way back to the stoics and then back again to our good ol’ pragmatic and no nonsense American culture. we want a woman to be kind and caring with our children, we want her to be lusty and passionate in the bedroom, but let’s not let her bring that same concern and passion out into the big world. i am going to write more about this topic. i do believe that if we become indignant about something that is unjust, it stirs us deeply, and this can, for some women elicit tears…and yes, when this happens, we are marginalized. it is a shame, but i do think there is a flip side to it and that is part of what i am going to write about.

  18. Hey Jorja! Thanks for the kind words – here’s to not backing down! – Stacey

  19. Andy Bryant says:

    After reading your post and considering what I have observed in different work environments I would like to interject the idea that it might not be as much some men meaning to put-down, or marginalize females. Making comments like you’ve noted might be partly due to the lack communication skills of many men.

    Emotion can be tearful, or it can be boisterous. Men are familiar with loud voices and how to ‘man-up’ to a disagreement; it is what’s expected, we’ve have that engrained in our very being. But for a man to encounter a lady who becomes even minimally emotional, then what I see as a defense mechanism will be engaged (you may have seen Captain Kirk on Star Trek call out, “Shields-Up”). Like so many self-defense mechanisms people are armed with, “Whoa-Nelly” comments like “simmer down” and “don’t get so upset” will cause many people to stand-off, or become upset and allow the upper-hand in the conversation to be maintained by the other person (all this in my humble opinion).

    By the way, you did well in your two encounters and I really enjoy your blog entries.

    Twitter ID @_andybryant

    • Jorja says:

      andy, thanks for stopping by and for reading. i agree that what i have experienced is most likely a defense mechanism. i think the underlying patterns of what we expect and allow from women and men is very affected by our culture/upbringing and overall view of the opposite sex. come back!

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“I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wondering awed about on a splintered wreck I've come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them...” Annie Dillard

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