I am very much one of those women who has never quite learned the art of speaking up for themselves. I am not fond of confrontation, and I still have a need to please others. You would think that I would grow out of these habits, but alas, even at 30 I cannot seem to let go of the habit of simply shutting my mouth.
So what's the problem with that, you ask? Several things.
- Resentment festers when you don't speak up. Granted, there are right and wrong ways to speak up for yourself, but continually keeping your mouth closed means that you don't release your dissatisfaction, and eventually that leads to resentment.
- It nourishes the idea that what you have to say isn't worth hearing- in you and in other people.
- It can give the impression that you agree with incorrect ideas.
- It can be a disservice to people who need to hear what you have to say. If said right, speaking up can change the minds of the people around you, and change behavior as well.
Okay, so I'm completely preaching to myself here. There have been times in the past when I knew I needed to speak up for myself, but was too emotional to really get a grip on what should be said, or how it should be said. The result: either I say something incoherent, or I say nothing at all. Neither action was very satisfying.
Have you noticed that in fairy tales, the women who speak up for themselves are usually the wicked witches or evil stepmothers, or ugly step-sisters? Why do women believe that they are bad or ugly if they look after their own interests? Usually the heroine in the story is vindicated, but rarely because of something she has done for herself. There is some sort of intercessory power that puts things right, after she endures a period of silent suffering. Why must she be silent? To prove that she is worthy of the things that are supposedly her right?
There is a story called "The Goose Girl" in which is about a princess who is going to marry her prince, but her chambermaid overpowers her and takes her place. She is made to tend geese in the palace with a boy named Conrad. When Conrad asks her about some strange behavior, she does not tell him who she is, instead she answers,
"I am not allowed to tell you, nor can I reveal my sorrows to any human being, for I have sworn under the open heaven not to do so, and if I had not so sworn, I would have been killed."
At that moment she chooses to continue holding her tongue rather than stand up for herself. Instead, the truth is discovered after Conrad tricks her into telling her troubles to the woodstove, where she is overheard, and all is made right.
This is a story of a true and false bride but in this story, the powerful woman- the one who speaks up for herself, and apparently is not deserving of the fate she reaches for- is the one who must be destroyed. Does the story tell us that it is only in silent piety that we can be self-actualized as women??? This is probably a question for one of my wiser storytelling friends.
Instead, I think I should encourage my daughter (because she is the one that will learn from my actions or lack of action, how a woman should be) to be more like Molly Whuppie. A young girl who sees an impossible situation and takes action. She does not demure in the face of hardship, danger, or opposition. Instead she takes each as a challenge, and secures a fate for her two sisters, and for herself that they were not meant to have, but for Molly's clever mind, quick tongue and willingness to take risks.
I don't believe that there is piety in a woman who keeps her mouth shut and does as she is told until someone else notices her suffering and puts things right. I believe that there is more worth to a woman who takes action based on the conviction of her heart, because she believes that those convictions are worth voicing.
One of my favorite examples from the Bible would be Abigail, wife of Nabal, whose husband had treated David so badly, and put her entire family at risk. Instead of sitting back and hoping that things worked themselves out, she took the initiative and went to David. She did apologize to him for the wrongs he had suffered, but she also challenged him. She saw his anger, and knew he intended to kill all of the men in her family, and she let him know that his intent was wrong. Talk about speaking up for herself, and taking a risk. Her voice is what Abigail is remembered for, and that choice to speak up and use her voice is what make us believe that she was a good woman.