‘Keep your mouth shut – and do your own thing.’
I was happily perusing a well known newspaper this week when I came across an eye-catching article by the best-selling author Barbara Taylor Bradford – an OUT LOUD woman if ever there was one. Successful, articulate, her own woman – or so you would think. She was writing about her five top tips for a long and successful marriage (fifty years) and everything was looking pretty straightforward (passion, empathy and support and encouragement – so far, so pleasant) but then she came out with the above, a stunning piece of wisdom passed on apparently, by her own mother.
The ‘do your own thing’ part I can certainly get behind and would advocate that for men too, but ‘keep your mouth shut’?
Now I’m not sure what Barbara’s mother really meant but the notion that it’s better for a woman not to speak up, not openly state her opinion or beliefs is what I object to.
Why? Why should a woman keep silent in a relationship?
Barbara explained that when she got angry about something, her husband would entreat her not to ‘get excited’ so over the years she learnt not to argue. Instead she would just fume quietly by herself until she felt calm. She says there came a point when she realised that ‘men simply think differently. We can’t understand them, so don’t bother trying to.’
I know a lot of people see this kind of thinking as only good sense; peaceful relations are maintained and rows avoided.
But is this really a good thing? Is it not possible, in fact desirable for us all, regardless of gender, regardless of our supposed ‘differences’, (and, personally I prefer to focus on our similarities which are many – for a start, we are all human beings), to be able to say what we think and even say it forcibly if necessary and yet still avoid the inevitable descent in to a row? And even if a row does ensue is that so very terrible?
The notion of hiding away until our strong feelings pass and we can face our partner again with a calm, smiling exterior sounds very Stepford Wives to me – give me hot headed, fiery, volatile any day of the week. For if we bottle up all those strong emotions, if we never say what we truly think or feel, then where are all those feelings supposed to go?
We have feelings for a reason, we have emotions because we are human, they tell us things we need to know about – they are beautiful. We don’t need to rage alone or cry inwardly or in silence. Why can’t we express all of who we are to another human being? Will it really be a disaster if our beloved hears and sees the power of our emotion, what is truly on our minds?
Perhaps Barbara’s mother and all those others mothers who were probably only trying to protect their daughters, were on to something but somewhere along the line, the received wisdom got confused. Perhaps the worry was that if women really expressed themselves, it was too strong, too powerful, too disturbing to be witnessed. Too much and too dangerous. Possibly through fear or a desire to control, the power of the female became something to be denied and managed.
Now is the time to confront this misconception.
Women have been blessed with a heightened facility for self expression, women’s tears inform the world, women are able to access strong emotion and powerful intuition. We can show a world which has become far too reliant on left brain, logical thinking how to feel, we can educate men who may otherwise worry there is something shameful in expressing strong emotion, that there is nothing to be feared here, nothing to be avoided.
All of us – women, men, children (especially children) – need to HAVE OUR SAY, SPEAK UP, LAUGH LOUDLY, DANCE, SING, CRY AND ENTREAT. In turn we need to LISTEN to each other; there is so much gold, so much information in those yearnings, those pleas, that abundance of joy.
When we communicate, when we really communicate wholeheartedly, without restriction or censorship or limits, when we tell our truth and others listen with respect and kindness and with open hearts, then others can tell their truth too.
When we don’t speak up that is categorically not doing your own thing.
And it is definitely not being OUT LOUD.
So what’s your experience? If you are a woman, have you been told it’s better to keep quiet for the sake of keeping the peace? And if you are a man how does this play out for you? Is it sometimes better for everyone if a woman keeps her own counsel rather than risk an argument? Or do you like it when a woman speaks up? Do you revel in witnessing her full emotional range?
Please share with us; together we can all learn to be OUT LOUD.