Did you watch the Golden Globes? I have to admit, I missed it. But then I started hearing all the chatter about Oprah's speech so I pulled it up on YouTube. The whole speech was moving, but one line especially hit home for me: "For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth."
It doesn’t take just guts to speak the truth. It takes self-confidence and a lack of concern for how others might manipulate your meaning. Because they will manipulate it. As we see more and more women say “me too,” just as many women are silently saying “me too?” Women are so accustomed to the status quo that it’s difficult sometimes to determine if we are being mistreated or if we are being “sensitive.” It’s bullshit. Inequality is so engrained in society that men and women alike have trouble saying what’s right and what’s wrong.
When Oprah said “For too long women have not been heard or believed” chills went down my spine. Not being listened to and not being believed is a hopeless situation. And I (like so many other women) have personally felt that hopelessness. If people don’t believe that we have anything to speak up about, if people believe that the status quo is “pretty good” and that we should “leave good enough alone,” we cannot make progress. “For too long…” that’s my favorite part of the sentence. It implies that we have reached a new stage that involves listening to each other, believing each other, and working toward a new status quo. That’s a hopeful situation. But it will only lead to progress if we keep pushing forward.
In the spirit of Hollywood, allow me an example of why we need to keep talking (or maybe yell a bit). I went to see Star Wars in December at the Alamo Drafthouse in Dallas. (Don’t worry - no spoilers here.) Alamo Drafthouse is known for their quirky sense of humor. They usually have themed reels of old movies, commercials, terrible TV, and more to get you amped for whatever movie you’re about to watch. When we went to see Star Wars part of the pre-show was a summary of the previous Star Wars (Episode VII) as told by a young boy. If you’ve ever watched Drunk History, think that, but replace the alcohol with the mind and vocabulary of a child. It was entertaining, but when the boy got to the point of recounting the lead female character, Rey, he described her as “emotional” and “aggressive.” I was sitting next to a female friend in the movie theater. We both immediately turned to each other to see surprised and disappointed looks on each other’s faces. Arguably the most famous movie series of all time introduces a badass female lead in 2015 and a young boy gives her the labels “emotional” and “aggressive.” Can you imagine a male in that role being described this way? No, you can’t. First of all, men are rarely described as aggressive because it’s acceptable for men to be aggressive. It’s just part of who they are (in society’s eyes). You would never say, man that [insert male hero of any movie] is aggressive. And emotional? The male lead would have to give some seriously dramatic displays to get that label. When I saw the movie I thought Rey was portrayed as incredibly strong and perseverant. Her male counterpart, Finn, is certainly portrayed as more emotional (likely done on purpose to emphasize how strong Rey’s character is). But still, Rey is the one labeled emotional.
To me, this all goes to show that we have a lot more work to do. I’m sure the majority of movie-goers didn’t blink an eye at the boy’s description of Rey. I bet a lot of people will read this and think “Wow, Christine, you’re stretching here.” But I’m not stretching. Our younger generations aren’t inherently labeling men and women, they’re doing it because of what they’re seeing and learning in society. We all need to wake up to that. We need to break the lens of inequality we’ve all grown accustomed to looking through. We need to do the “small things” like call grown women, “women” instead of “girls”. We need to strike terms like “drama queen” out of our vocabulary. They may seem small, but they add up to big consequences for women and society as a whole. We need to get to a point where our younger generations won’t have to unlearn our unequal language and behaviors.
It’s time to step it up a notch—or several notches. Women have every right to be as ambitious as the next person. They have every right to be the heroine without discounts or aid from another. And we have the right and the responsibility to support our fellow females. Men and women alike will benefit from women reaching their full potential.
Oprah’s call to action couldn’t have come at a better time. Some magnificent women have made some magnificent moves. Unlike the women who came before us, we now have the advantage that people are starting to listen and to believe what women say. It’s not a perfect situation. People will still try to hold us down and turn our actions and words into something they are not. But it’s time we challenge ourselves to find and speak our truth no matter what others may say or think. In the words of Oprah, “What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.”
To all the females who are wondering if they’re crossing a line by bucking the norm, good. Do it. To every woman who ever thought, “is this harassment?”, it probably is, stand up for yourself. To the singular female in the room who literally has to yell to make her voice heard, the world isn’t going to quiet down for you. It’s time to start yelling.
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