A few weeks back, when our now Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris declared, “I’m Speaking,” during the Vice-Presidential debate, her words were directed at one individual who was interrupting her. The littlest of sentences, but the most powerful of words.
Any woman who has been cut off while speaking, asked to tweak their approach, or feels unheard, can relate to how VP-Elect Harris was feeling and have had their own “I’m Speaking” moment. Women have long experienced these struggles. This was a moment of inspiration!
This got me thinking about feminism. I’m not exactly a scholar in the field, but something about the declaration of “I’m Speaking” at that very moment, on a national stage in a Vice-Presidential debate, made me feel that VP-Elect Harris upped the feminist movement a level or two.
What is Feminism?
Feminism is simply about all genders having equal rights and opportunities. It has zero to do with hating men or believing we are better than men (snarky comment SO tempting!). Feminism is about respecting diverse women’s experiences, identities, knowledge, and strengths and empowering us to use them.
Here’s my truth, although I believe in social, economic, and political equality of the sexes (as well as race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.), I’ve never considered myself much of a feminist. Is that bad? Naively, maybe I thought we were already there? Perhaps, selfishly, I thought the great women before me did the hard work?
Can You Hear Me?
Maggie Kuhn (1905-1995), a social activist who worked for the rights and welfare of the elderly said: “Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind – even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants. And do your homework.” (date unknown)
Rebecca West (1892-1983) made a name for herself as a fighter for women’s suffrage: “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” (1913)
Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005), the first African American woman in Congress and the first woman and African American to seek the nomination for president of the United States from a major political party. Chisholm was blocked from participating in televised primary debates, and after taking legal action, was permitted to make just one speech: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” (circa 1972)
And of course, the late great Ruth Bader Ginsberg (1933-2020), who paved the way for many a women’s rights said: “Fight for the things that you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you,” in response to being asked what piece of advice she’d give young women today. (2015)
Each quote portrays their individual approach to be heard, yet still offers an underlying theme of “I’m Speaking.” How long have we had to say different variations of “I’m Speaking” just to be heard?
Authenticity Speaks Volumes
I’ve become a little obsessed with this quote from Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand because her words have followed me throughout my life – especially in my career.
What fascinates me is that this very feedback has been piled on me in an organization that is primarily women! I am not the loudest one in the room. I never was, and I never will be. But, I work hard, I’m smart, and I get results. That should be enough. If I can get the same results as the “aggressive” colleague, why do I have to change who I am?
Empathy is far from a weakness! Empathy allows you to feel the emotions and perspective of those around you, almost as if they are your own. While you may disagree, you understand, which can make a big impact on your decisions. You give credence to what others are saying. Having empathy has been instrumental in helping me make decisions, both personally and professionally. It’s given me the ability to take a global look at a situation and consider many factors to make a well-rounded sound decision.
Women can and should continue to challenge the norms and expectations that have historically told us how to act, look, and communicate. Be authentic. Be you. I am a big proponent of not changing who you are. That’s a strength that no one else in the world has!
At a recent campaign event, VP-Elect Harris was dancing in the rain on stage, and a seasoned reporter stated that “She’s coming across as insubstantial, frivolous….it was embarrassing.” This reporter happened to be a woman. Wait. What? Interesting evidence that even some of our fellow women aren’t ready for this next level of feminism. Yet, another indication of those “expectations” of what a woman is supposed to do or not do.
The more we stay true to ourselves, the less we will be expected to tweak our approaches to meet societal norms. Don’t transform. Be vulnerable. Be authentic. And let this become the norm one day!
At 50 years old, the words “I am a feminist” do not easily roll off my tongue. I’m not sure why. Though when I think of Kamala Harris, Jacinda Ardern, Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai, among many others, I sense that they are enhancing the face of feminism for various reasons, most importantly, diversity and inclusion. I’m not even referring to politics, beliefs, or stances – it’s about permitting them to be themselves and communicate as such.
Agree with them or not; they are using “their” voices to get their words out. The overarching values of feminism are still present – and although we still have areas to fight for, the women before us did make incredible strides. They paved the way for the next level of feminism.
Be who you want to be – not who “they” want you to be. We all have something to offer, no matter how it’s spoken. “I’m Speaking” when I want to speak. “I’m speaking,” how I want to speak. This, I believe, is our next wave of the feminism movement.
On the flip side, I wonder if introducing the word “feminist” to our children implies obstacles to being a woman? Wouldn’t we love for this to be an outdated term by now? If only.
As a result, Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris won’t be the last to say these words. But because she did, it makes it easier for the rest of us and future generations to come.