Silence is Loud
by Alexa Dato
“Indifference is not a luxury I am afforded in this world”. This is an original quote from my good friend, Amber Scales. From the moment I read it, I understood a truth about myself that has frustrated me internally for years. I have always been loud and opinionated. Participation points were the one thing I could count on to boost my grade in every class while some teachers avoided my raised hand because I was never shy to guess an answer to a question. Like other women, I policed my voice for the attention it brings and for years I’ve criticized myself over and over for speaking up too often when others choose to be silent.
During my first semester of college, my Women Studies 101 professor asked the class if we considered ourselves feminists. I stayed silent. How could I call myself a feminist if I didn’t really understand what feminists stood for? All I knew about feminism is that it supported women’s rights and I had once been called one as an insult that I didn’t understand. My professor explained that if you believe that all women should share political, economic, and social equality with men, then it’s that simple: you’re a feminist by definition.
After class, I was embarrassed for freezing and not speaking up. I spent the rest of the semester asking questions in class, reading beyond the required assignments, and participating in the extra credit events to make sure I would be prepared if asked again. My professor didn’t ask the class again, but for the next 3 years, I would approach topics in politics using the same method of consuming as much information as possible to avoid an ignorant indifference.
In pursuing a better understanding of social issues, I’ve become #MadOnline and I am passionate in person about more issues than I can count. I’ve had awkward dates because I openly discuss fragile masculinity and I’ve definitely been the source of some tense moments at the dinner table by calling out family for subtle racist remarks. I no longer stay quiet out of fear of saying the wrong thing or offending someone. Rather by speaking up, I’ve never felt more confident and passionate. I know the social punishment for voicing my opinion can mean alienation and the occasional Twitter fight, but I cannot understand the stigma surrounding using one’s position of power to discuss sexism or racism.
In staying silent out of fear or simply not knowing enough about an issue, we are wordlessly agreeing that we accept injustice and are protected by our privilege to not have ever been affected by it. By privilege, I specifically mean a person’s power through a leadership position or the ability to avoid discussing social issues because we are not personally being discriminated against. Further, when we decide to never include our voices in the discussion for reproductive justice for all women or the fight against systemic racism, we signal to our friends and our community that we are complacent with the way things have always been. We must use our privilege to lift others up with our voice and not shy away from tough conversations. Silence is the enemy of progress.
Passion and action are catalysts for social change. One voice in a crowd isn’t enough, but a chorus of voices can start a movement. Today, find out what you’re passionate about, learn more about the injustices that plague those who are different than yourself, and encourage your friends to call in rather than call out. While women are often stigmatized for expressing their opinions in a male-dominated space, the stigma is lessened when we encourage other women to sit at the table and join the conversation.
So here’s my truth: Speaking up for the first time is difficult, and so is every time after. You might be judged or criticized for your opinions, but there is more courage in going public with one’s passionate beliefs.
But here’s the dare: Everytime you speak up, your voice grows. The trickle down effect applies here: for every woman that uses her power to call out an injustice, other women are empowered to join the conversation. Every woman (and man) has a social responsibility to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves, and no one is too privileged to stay silent on powerful issues forever.