Songs for the Struggling Artist


How to Value a Voice
February 5, 2017, 10:26 pm
Filed under: advice, feminism, resistance | Tags: , , , , , ,

At the Women’s March on the 21st, I saw a sign that said, “Girls should be told that their voices are valuable.” And it stuck a chord so deep in me that it took me days to unpack it.

I don’t disagree. Girls should, of course, be told that their voices are valuable. But it’s not enough. Not even close. Being told your voice is valuable means zero if you’ve never been shown that your voice is valuable. Telling is useless.

It’s like when a customer service automated phone services says, “Your call is important to us” while you sit on hold for an hour. It’s disingenuous. It’s lip service. I have been in so many rooms where I have been told my voice is valuable but was then talked over, interrupted, ignored or dismissed when I tried to use it. I have worked in many organizations that claimed to value my voice but then made it impossible for me to express anything.

Telling someone that their voice is valuable ain’t shit without actual support for that voice. On top of that, whenever someone tells me my voice is valuable, it is almost always extremely patronizing. In fact, one sure signal to me that my voice is not actually valuable is to be told that it is.

My friends don’t need to tell me my voice is valuable to them because I know that they care what I think. My colleagues don’t have to tell me my voice is valuable because they listen to it and ask for my thoughts regularly. My family doesn’t need to tell me because they respond to what I tell them. I have even had employers who didn’t need to tell me my voice was valuable – because it was apparent from every angle.

I was at an event where I heard again and again how important it was to get the voices of the young people involved. I heard how the organization valued the voices of the young. But I never heard those voices. There was no space in the event to actually hear those “important” voices – which makes it clear how important they actually are. That is, not at all. And I heard from those young people how unheard they felt, how unwelcome, despite the constant verbal welcoming.

But what, you may be wondering, am I supposed to do if I’m leading a group of people who I want to encourage, who I want to support and/or mentor? How do I convince them to talk, for example, if they don’t?

It’s actually fairly simple. If you want to know what someone thinks, if you want to hear them talk, you’ll need to ask them what they think about something. If you want people to feel as though they’re welcome to speak in a space, you have to make space for them to speak. If you are in a position of authority, that is up to you.

One of the challenges you’d be up against is that people who have had their voices dismissed for an extended period of time – girls, for example – may be less likely to leap into empty space. Many women have learned helplessness in these situations. Women’s speech is constantly policed. Vocal fry, qualifiers, upspeak are all sins that women get bashed for regularly. Women might speak more quickly than men, hurrying trying not to be interrupted. We have less practice in speaking in groups because we have been socialized to understand that the space isn’t ours. It is entirely likely that this having an impact on your group conversation.

The same holds true for any marginalized group – anyone you’re not hearing from isn’t not talking because they don’t know how to talk – they’re not talking because while they may have been TOLD their voice is valuable, they have not been SHOWN. And you show value by welcoming, by invitation, by direct question, by listening, by affirming, by reflecting and acting on what you hear.

You value a voice by actually valuing a voice. Don’t tell. Show. It’s that simple.

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Do you value my voice?

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