I’m in a dream where I’m speaking, but no sound is coming out

I’m standing in the middle of a 19th century historic ballroom, wearing bright pink Crocs, in front of a dozen people I’ve never met before and yelling at the top of my lungs:

“I’m speaking out loud and I’m not ridiculous!”

No, it’s not one of those bad dreams like when you look down and realize you’re naked. I’m at an improv comedy workshop at the Morrin Centre (the hub of Quebec City’s English-speaking community) – the Crocs are to protect the hardwood floor.

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I might be screaming as loud as I can, but the truth is, I’m not actually very loud. And over the noise of the rest of the room, I’m barely audible.

I’m actually surprised I’m able to yell at all. I haven’t raised my voice to someone since a verbally-abusive boyfriend in my early twenties made me feel like it was shameful – not to mention – futile to scream my emotions.

I’ve quite successfully been able to control my emotions since then – with mostly positive results for my life, but my voice has literally gotten quieter over the last several years, as if someone else has control of the remote and they’ve been turning down the volume.

This isn’t unique to just me, I know. I recently participated in a focus group where the women were all asked to “speak up” (that is, to speak at the same volume as the men) “for the microphones.”

In my personal case, moving to Quebec City, where I’m often self-conscious of my accent and French grammar hasn’t helped. “Not being loud enough” is becoming an issue I’m more and more aware of. Every time someone asks me to repeat what I just said, it’s a gut punch to my confidence.

All that to say, that’s how I ended up here, at the Morrin Centre, spontaneously inventing (in collaboration with the group of strangers) a skit about a world invasion of flesh-eating chickens…and strongly questioning the first warm-up activity: speaking out loud was entirely ridiculous.

Why have I and so many other women lowered our voices and retreated into our shells? Have we all had too many bad boyfriends?

We’re the victims of an accumulation of what Alanis Morissette refers to as “little rejections:”

When he cut me off in the middle of a story to laugh at something the dog was doing, my voice learned to trail off…

When he whacked me in every argument with the words “too feminist,” forcing me to either own the moniker or denounce all the other women who did, he politicized my value of equality and then with his fancy liberal arts education debate skills convinced me I was inarticulate…

When he often vocalized what he thought was “feminine” or “sexy” without ever once asking me what I thought, he made me feel like I had no say when it comes to fashion, games of attraction or sex…

It’s distressing to feel that my ability to control my feelings and speak calmly under stress is a sign of important emotional growth for me and then, on the other hand, to feel like someone broke me.

I think about contemporary feminists who have promoted being loud and taking up space – I’m glad they can, but I somehow can never see myself as one of them.  I hope that instead of learning to speak as loud as the men in the room, I might provoke change in the world, by influencing others to speak quieter.

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