Oprah’s speech at the Golden Globes has stirred the world. With almost 8 million views on YouTube and countless shares on social media, it resonates with what women are going through at these interesting times. (It’s down below if you haven’t seen it yet)
We have a culture of silence. Girls are trained at a very early age to keep quiet, to not make trouble, to not rock the boat and to go along.
We can be silenced about big things like abuse and violence but also about little things. Depending on your culture and family it will take on different forms and shapes. Even in cultures where women seem strong, vocal, opinionated and “bossy”, there is an underlying message that we should tone it down; we should not speak too loud, we should not laugh too loud, we should be more demure and lady like, we should not seem vulgar and abrasive.
Growing up in a Jewish religious family and going to all-girls religious schools, I was told not to sing in front of men. During prayers and celebratory meals, when singing was traditional, if there was a man teacher or rabbi present, we had to sing in very subdued voices because “female voices could lead men to sinful thoughts”. Talk about a message of silence! It still breaks my heart to see little girls being silenced from expressing their bursts of creativity in my family.
I think it is VERY IMPORTANT that we tell our stories of being silenced. What was it like for us? What was it like in our families? What messages did we get? I invite you to tell your story, even if it’s only to the page and if you feel inclined, share it here in the comments.
In my practice, I see the direct connection between this culture of silence and our health. When we are forced, encouraged or even gently nudged to not voice our needs and concerns, it manifests in so many different ways. See if you can find yourself in one or more of these examples:
• Shelley was woman who came to my women health circle and always sat at the back in total silence. After a few meetings she finally opened up and told us how her doctor, husband and children were controlling her food environment, not allowing her to shop for food and putting locks on the pantry and refrigerator. Shelley was morbidly obese with a rampant food addiction and their intention was to save her life, but their strategies were not working… Controlling her food environment was a very ineffective short-term fix which would always back-fire because Shelley would naturally rebel against it. She slowly revealed the abuse in her childhood she was never allowed to talk about. Learning to tell her story and taking charge of her health is what eventually saved Shelley.
• Monique, a dear friend of mine, with a budding singing career, was told by a prestigious record company that they will only sign her up if she lost weight. Monique was a slim and healthy young woman who by no means needed to lose weight. Feeling like she could not voice her outrage at the men who ran the record company, she started starving herself in order to have the career of her dreams. After many conversation with me and with other women, Monique took charge of her life and career by turning the record deal down. She realized that weight was just one issue of how she will be controlled personally and artistically by working with these particular men. She now has a successful career on her terms.
• Flora is a wife, mother and grandmother who’s children’s families lived nearby. She has been trying to transition to healthier eating in order to heal her many health issues, but her husband and family would not have it. She is retired with a small volunteering job that she likes but she still cooked, cleansed, did laundry and babysat for her children. She just could not say no to any of her family’s demands. During our consultations Flora realized that her health will never improve if she kept on taking care of everyone else except herself. She made changes that were met with a lot of initial resistance, like deciding to cook healthier versions of family favorites, telling her children she can no longer do their laundry and agreeing to babysit every other weekend instead of every weekend. Her family slowly adjusted and came to appreciate her decision to prioritize her health.
Every woman who has done my consultation program or participated in my women health circle has her version of those stories. More and more women are learning that in order to heal and thrive we need to prioritize ourselves and we cannot do it while keeping silent. We need to voice our concerns. We need to communicate our needs. We need to be vocal about what is not working for us and ask for what is.
Let’s decide together that #Time’sUp for being silent and step into our powerful role of taking charge of our health and our life.