What Happened When I Started Being Silenced in the Classroom (and How I Learned to Overcome It)

What Happened When I Started Being Silenced in the Classroom (and How I Learned to Overcome It)

I have always been a very outspoken young woman. From the time I hit high school, I was the one constantly raising my hand to give my opinion or input. When I got my first job, my independent attitude was something I thought would benefit me. I would speak up when I saw it fit, and I was not afraid to be critical of things that needed improvement. My friends would laugh at me every time I got up on my so called “soap box” in order to express myself, but I never quite understood why they found it so bizarre that I was so passionate.

Slowly I started to notice that I wasn’t getting called on in class like I usually did. At first I thought maybe I needed to step back, give some less confident students a chance. Then I noticed that I was the only person not getting called on. The students who were speaking were male students that talked even more than I usually did, and were even harsher critics than I was of everything from authors to political systems and even our teachers. I didn’t understand why I was being singled out, why my opinion all of a sudden didn’t matter. Then I started to get comments about my confidence. People told me I was too intense, too eager, and too critical.

My new nickname became “Negative Nancy” with both my friends and my teachers. As a result, I started talking less in class. I said yes to things I didn’t agree with for fear of being singled out and I didn’t argue when the male students in my classes made comments I was personally offended by. In fact, I stopped raising my hand at all. I became quiet and subdued, though no one seemed to notice or to care. I continued to compare myself to the men in my classes who would speak out against things and not be criticized for it. I noticed that no matter how I phrased things or how carefully I chose my words and my outspoken moments that if I went up against a man, I was always wrong.

Once I started college, I began to take careful notice of the conversations happening in my classes, and I saw that despite the fact that my small private school had a larger female population and my classes only had a handful of men in them, those few male students were the ones that were always talking. I started to realize that my issue wasn’t so much my timing or my words as it was my gender.

Even if I made the same sentiment a male student did, he would somehow receive more praise for his insightfulness. My strong opinions made me a “Negative Nancy” while the same comments from a man would make them “promising leaders.” It became clear to me that my criticisms or comments were not welcomed. I became angry and I wished that just for once I didn’t have to endlessly worry about my word choice, my expression or even my posture in order to not come off as “bitchy.” I wished I could be open and honest in the way that many of my fellow male students were.

Ever since I made that revelation, I promised myself that these comments would not prevent from being the confident, intelligent, and strong willed person that I had always been. Although it hasn’t gotten much easier the older I’ve gotten, I’ve discovered that sticking to my guns makes me a better woman; both personally and professionally.

Although it’s likely that women will always face this stereotype of being labeled as bossy instead of passionate and rightfully ambitious, it’s important for young women to remember that if you love something, you must criticize it. Whether it’s a school, an organization, or just a project, if you hold back your opinions out of the fear of how others will see you, it will only hurt you. The harder we work to fight against the idea that a woman should be seen and not heard, the more likely it is that someone will hear us.

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