“Little girls should be seen, not heard” is a quote I remember hearing as a child. One moment that stands out was in high school when a female student was talking and laughing loudly outside of the classroom and when she walked in the teacher, a woman, said this quote and told her that she should never be able to hear a young lady before seeing her face. It “wasn’t attractive” is what she said.
Though the teacher used the quote in a different fashion, it had the same effect and represented something deeply rooted in our history: Women should silence themselves to be seen as more desirable.
Telling little girls that they should be seen and not heard is teaching them misogynistic views early on. As novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once said, “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls: ‘You can have ambition but not too much. You should aim to be successful but not too successful, otherwise you would threaten the man…”
It normalizes and enables patriarchal and sexist views in our society and holds little girls back from their true potential. Unfortunately, as this teacher demonstrated, little girls get it from both sides. Both men and even other women reinforce these trash values and push them onto little girls and young women. Ever heard a mediocre man say, “I like to break my woman down?” Or talk about how a woman should know her place? Same concept, same results.
Why are we so afraid of little girls standing up for themselves, believing in themselves fully, and focusing on success rather than getting a man?
This notion of keeping quiet, not standing your ground was prevalent throughout my childhood, as in most black families. Children are to obey their parents, never talk back, never have an opinion. This was especially prevalent in the dynamic of the little black girl and her mother (which would take an entire blog post itself just to unpack the surface of it).
As a child, I never understood why I wasn’t allowed to stand up for myself or speak my mind. I never felt that I should allow anyone (male or female,elder or child) speak to me disrespectfully because even though I was a child, I was still a human being and deserved respect. So of course, I got in a lot of trouble for having a “smart mouth”.
Though I held these views at a very young age (and still do) after experiencing the consequences of being a little girl and making myself heard, it began to slowly chip away at me. I started silencing myself a little more as I got older, and sometimes I’d worry about the repercussions of speaking up, especially with men.
I thought “Will they not be interested in me? Will they look at my outspokenness as unattractive or drama-filled? If I continue to speak my mind, will I lose friends or lose possible love interests? Will no one want to be around or deal with me?”
I eventually started dating someone who thrived off of making me look and feel inferior. I allowed myself to be silenced on most issues to keep him. I thought if I was too strong he’d leave me, and if he left me I had nothing. I was insecure and damaged to the point of looking in the mirror and not recognizing the person staring back at me.
When I was finally able to drag myself out of that relationship (and let me tell you, I had to DRAG myself out), I started working on building myself back up. It was difficult. It took years. Hell, I still struggle with some things…
But I started this process of building myself back up with speaking my mind again. I became more opinionated, stopped biting my tongue.
Eventually, I realized that if a man can’t handle me standing up for myself or speaking my mind, then is that really the type of man that I want to be with? The same goes for others around me. If shrinking myself to make them feel taller is the only way I can maintain relationships with them, then are those really the type of people I want or need in my circle?
So often we worry about how other people perceive us, we forget about the most important perception of all, our own.
(Now that’s a word!)
Although sometimes the repercussions of being outspoken haunt me, I don’t let it stop me from doing so. I’d rather die screaming than live in silence.
Some people may not like you for being a woman with a voice, but others… others will respect and cherish the things you have to say. Others will be inspired by you and follow suit. Most importantly, you will be proud to be that woman!
In America, though we have the right to freely and openly speak our minds (for now, at least) there are still consequences that come to women who do, especially minorities. But, we have a duty to speak up for ourselves and other women who don’t have the rights that we do.
So to those of us who don’t mind facing those consequences, we must act. We must continue to speak up and speak out and we must pass on this lesson to the little girls that come after us.
It is our duty to build them up, teach them confidence and respect and to always remind them that little girls should be seen AND heard!