Have you seen or heard about one of the sitcoms on NBC, coming this fall? It’s called Whitney, and while it’s a show about “relationships” (shudder), the title character is described as “loud and/or obnoxious.” The boyfriend, of course, endures and seems to love her in spite of, not because of, this particular character flaw.
Loud women are a difficult breed. As Rosanne Barr (probably the loudest of the pack) recently opined that for all of her attempts to receive proper recognition and respect on her show, she was labeled a bitch, a diva, and crazy. Loud women are either obnoxiously outrageous side-kick (think Karen, from Will and Grace) or promiscuous (think Samantha, from Sex and the City). When a woman speaks out, it is “obviously” a result of some other “character flaw.” Could it be that the “character flaw” is a result of the message that it isn’t ok for a woman to be loud?
Often women who are loud turn to comedy to use their voice, but in my mind also that comedy softens it. The message is softened to a certain extent when the loud woman becomes the butt of the joke. Rosanne avoided this; her humor was dark and so grounded in reality, she wasn’t the joke, the rest of us were. But often being “the funny one” (and thus taken less seriously) is a way for women to deal with the label “loud.”
(Note that this isn’t a criticism against those women who do succeed in comedy, a notoriously male and chauvinistic profession. I’m just observing that being loud is softened by also being funny. Now satire, on the other hand…But note there are very few female satirists, too.)
I’ve always been loud. My voice carries, as they say. When I first started teaching, one of the criticisms I received was that I didn’t need to yell (I wasn’t yelling). You can hear my laugh from a mile away (almost literally, depending on the acoustics). But just because I’m loud, volume-wise, doesn’t mean that I’ve always used my voice to speak up and speak out.
I do not get intimidated easily. I speak up for what I believe in, and while I am open, I have the courage of my convictions. I walk into my classroom like I own the room. My class is not a joke. I do believe that you have to earn your students’ respect, but I carry myself like I deserve that respect from the first moment they meet me. I speak up in meetings, I speak out, and I make sure that I am not talked over or ignored.
This, of course, is problematic when you’re a Female Academic; we’re supposed to be seen and not heard, apparently. I have had numerous people passive-aggressively suggest that I am too loud when I teach. I can’t imagine them saying something like that to a male professor. I’ve had others gently suggest that I keep quiet or keep my head down, for my own good, like I need to be protected from myself. I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth on more than one occasion, but I also know that it’s a risk I’m willing to take in order to make sure that I’m heard.
And to show that I’m not a joke.