The Long, Weary Legacy of Women’s Speech and Power

cover of book, Women & Power

When it comes to silencing women, Western culture has had thousands of years of practice. 

Mary Beard, Women & Power

You know it’s campaign season when then the New York Times runs a storyabout women tossing in their chapeaus for a presidential run. It feels vaguely familiar, doesn’t it, the idea of a woman presidential candidate? 2020 is on our doorstep.

Still, it is an uphill battle for women to be taken seriously in the American political arena. As the French say, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

The British Classicist Mary Beard, a professor at the University of Cambridge, pinpoints how the template for “silencing women” began and continued in her insightful book Women & Power.

The slim volume is derived from two lectures Professor Beard delivered, in 2014 and 2017, under the auspices of the London Review of Books, and subsequently published by LRB. This book brings her insights to a much wider audience.

Professor Beard posits the western cultural template has discredited women’s voices since the time of Homer, some 3,000 years ago.

By way of example, she points to Homer’s Ulysses. Early on Telemachus, the de facto head of household during his father’s long absence rudely dismisses his mother Penelope from the conversation with men, guests in her home. The business of speech, he says, is “men’s business.”

That little squirt Telemachus is strutting his stuff to impress the hangers-on, yet his very license to do so is revealing. In ancient Greece, women have nothing to say of substance, nothing to add to a meaningful discussion. They have no voice

There is a throughline to modern times.

A group of men and a lone woman gathered around a conference table. The man at the head of the table remarks,

“Excellent suggestion Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men would like to make it.” — Punch cartoon, ca. 1990s

That rings true. How many of us, muses Professor Beard, have had the “Miss Triggs” treatment.

I raise my hand.


What’s in a voice, and how is it heard?

Professor Beard is a gifted writer and esteemed historian of the Ancient World. (I’ll give a shout out to her best-seller S.P.Q.R. — a captivating history of Rome from a group of ragtag settlements to one of the greatest empires the world has ever known.)

She links her knowledge of our western cultural antecedents with the frustration many modern women face in being “heard,” of their voices taken seriously. Not a pretty picture to be sure, but it is illuminating to know that the cards have been dealt this way for a long, long time.

In ancient Greece, Professor Beard notes, “Public speech was a — if not the — defining attribute of maleness. Women simply didn’t speak in public.”

With that backdrop, what makes an ideal speaking voice? A male voice, of course. Deep, resonant. Beard cites an ancient scientific paper that stated, “a low-pitched voice indicated manly courage, a high-pitched voice female cowardness.” So there we have it.

I want to underline that this is a tradition of gendered speaking — and the theorizing of gendered speaking — to which we are still, directly or more often indirectly, the heirs. 

Mary Beard, Women & Power

I must continue to quote Professor Beard here because no one nails it so succinctly.

It is still the case that when listeners hear a female voice, they do not hear a voice that connotes authority; or rather they have not learned how to hear authority in it….You add in the craggy or wrinkled faces that signal mature wisdom in the case of a bloke, but ‘past my use-by date in the case of a woman. 

Mary Beard, Women & Power

If that doesn’t crystallize the frustration women feel in boardrooms, political caucuses, or simply school-board meetings, I don’t know what does. No shrill, no whining. A deep male voice.

We don’t need to be high profile public figures to experience the taint of “speaking while female.” I cringed at the following:

…you’re at a meeting, you make a point; then a short silence follows, and after a few awkward seconds some man picks up where he had just left off: ‘What I was saying was…’ 

Mary Beard, Women & Power

Wait, Professor Beard, were you the fly on the wall at my academic home in 2015, when, in a meeting of senior administrators, those nearly exact words were spoken to me? The speaker, a man, at least had the courtesy to preface his dismissive comment with, “Thank you, Jane.”

We all have our war stories.

Pivoting to women and power.

Here’s the central question:

How and why do the conventional definitions of ‘power’ (or for that matter of ‘knowledge,’ ‘expertise,’ and ‘authority’) that we carry around in our heads exclude women? 

Mary Beard, Women & Power

Beard points out to the lack of a modern-day “template” for the “look” of powerful women, other than she looks like a feminized version of a man.

I have one word: pantsuits. Think Angela Merkel and Hillary Clinton. It’s refreshing to see Nancy Pelosi wear (to great effect) dresses and suit jackets with skirts. And Teresa May with her much publicized shoe thing. And younger, female members of the U.S. Congress?

Could it be that for a very elite, select few, we are finally turning a corner?

I think this upcoming field of women presidential candidates might reveal something. Well, I’m hopeful anyway. It’s an uphill battle.

You cannot easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure. That means thinking about power differently. It means, above all, thinking about power as an attribute or even a verb (‘to power’), not as a possession. 

Mary Beard, Women & Power

I stopped cold reading this, thinking about Nancy Pelosi’s reprimand of President Trump. She exhibited power. And she did so in a skirt. Pointing her finger.

Power isn’t, or doesn’t, need to be the preserve of the elite, either. Professor Beard cites (complete with photograph), the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opel Tometi. Three women who have made a difference in our society. With no “power” going in. #Blacklivesmatter.

These are examples, only two but a start, in response to Professor Beard’s rhetorical question,

…if women are not perceived to be fully within the structures of power, surely it is power that we need to redefine rather than women 

Mary Beard, Women & Power

The Upshot

It’s a pretty long road from Homer to the second decade of the 21st Century. It’s centuries of teaching the way we “hear” women, respect women’s voices and subsequently value women’s power. In some ways, like Penelope, women are still being sent away from the room in western cultures, figuratively speaking, to tend to “ women’s issues.”

Even so, when women politicians (in the U.S.) champion the most basic “women’s issue” — the broadening of healthcare, they are met with metaphorical torches and pitchforks. We’re still a long way from allowing women a strong voice — or the power — to shape our lives.

Old habits die hard. Especially the ancient ones.

Copyright 2019 Jane Trombley

This post was first published in Publishous on Medium.

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Gardening & Writing: What You Need to Know

Editor’s Note: This post was first published on Medium.  it is republished here to expand the range of topics on  3 Score & More

Here’s what you need to know.

If you’re a writer and a gardener, maybe you already know it.

There is great similarity between writing and gardening. More than you might think.

Superficially, of course, they are not at all similar. Gardening is, most often, more physically demanding than writing. Writing requires greater, more focused cognitive attention. Most of the time.

Writing and gardening are beguiling taskmasters.

Once in your veins, writing and gardening can become obsessions.

Experience a bit of success, favorable comments on a blog post, publication acceptance of an article and the hook is set.

That buzz you hear are the writing gods at work to lure you to the craft.

The never ending list of ideas, begetting projects, begetting drafts, begetting revisions. And somehow you’re driven to reach for more. The next idea, the next pitch, the next freelance gig.

A delicious tidbit from your vegetable patch? The brilliant peonies lining the driveway? The garden gods have claimed you, probably forever. And there’s no escape. Just try to find the Exit door.

In gardening, the tasks are positively Sisyphean. You’re never done with the upkeep, battling pests, the seasonal repair after a brutal winter or a weather calamity.

Writing and gardening demand a strict production schedule

Both writing and gardening are 24/7 endeavors. During the “season” of productivity, you don’t/can’t stop.

Short breaks are allowed, but not long enough to disturb the rhythm of the process. Calendars are they byword.

There are deadlines in writing, productivity goals in blogging, an editors’ unending requests, a client’s unreasonable timeframe.

Gardening is no more forgiving and likewise calendar-driven. Can’t plant before the last frost (whenever that is if, like me, you live in upstate New York).

In many ways, however, garden’s diurnal tasks of each season are therapeutic. Dependable as the sunrise and sunset. Ancient as, well, the Byrds.

Writing and gardening favor right-brained thinking

This should come as no surprise to you writers and gardeners. Your creative, artistic, intuitive leanings are already apparent. That right brain of yours is on fire.

Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash

You can “see” the next year’s garden. You can imagine the flow of words.

In both cases it’s work to eke the raw material out to make manifest, in gardens and words, your creativity.

Yet, at the end of the day, creativity is the ultimate right-brain blessing. Don’t take it lightly.

Neither writing nor gardening are sociable activities.

Surely there are sociable gardeners. There are sociable writers.

The intense work to achieve, if not greatness, then respectabilty in these endeavors is a solitary pursuit.

You may have help; you may seek advice along the path to creation, but the blood, sweat and effort is yours alone.

There’s singular ownership. In their heart of hearts, both writers and gardeners know this.

Surely the results of these endeavors are social. The fruits of you labor, your latest post, book, cherry tomato or exploding perennial flower bed is is shared on all forms of social media.

“An phone with the Facebook app open next to Scrabble pieces arranged in the words “social media”” by William Iven on Unsplash

That’s the victory lap. Well-deserved public declaration of the completed task. And, we always hope, public appreciation for the effort.

The accolades are social. The work? Not so much.

In gardening and writing the balance between pleasure and pain is rarely symmetrical

There are moments of intense hard work. Disruption, frustration.

Moments of disappointment, rejection.

Moments of despair, when nothing is fitting or the circumstances have thwarted your every move.

Writing is like that. So is gardening. There are thorns among the roses. And it can all seem unrelentingly shitty.

Photo by Billy Cox on Unsplash

But then,

Moments of victory.

Ah Ha! moments of orgasmic proportion.

Moments when all the knowledge, insight and secrets of the universe have been revealed.

Moments of sheer bliss when the words come together to form the perfect sentence.The sentences weave into the perfect paragraph. The entire piece a symphony of word play and imagery. Your creation.

It’s sheer bliss when the hydrangea blooms like blue/pink/white fists. When, with a glass of rose, a twilight garden walk is otherworldly and the light infused with gold. With help from the Universe, your creation.

The Upshot

Writing and gardening will take a ridiculous amount of time and effort.

Just so you know, perfection in either pursuit is illusory.

It is a noble cause to seek, but manage your expectations. And don’t forget to have fun. Otherwise, it won’t be worth the time or the effort.


All claps and shares are appreciated with #gratitude.

How Time With Your Parents Can Make You a Better Adult

clock at Grand Central Terminal

 

Editor’s Note: This originally published on Medium, addressing Millennials.  Feel free to pass it along…

Hey twenty-somethings, now it’s your turn.

It doesn’t have to be travel, but it could be.

Remember “take your child to work” day when you were a kid?

Some employers made it a big deal, providing a plethora of snacks and diversionary activities so you could mingle with other employee’s children. After all, the worker bees still had to work.

If super lucky, you played with an ancient computer, ravaged through the desk, went to lunch.

Beyond the excitement of a ‘free’ day from school, you got a glimpse of the mysterious adult world of work.

And now you’re in that adult world with the laid bare: the need for an income.

It turns out the work part is but a piece of the adulthood puzzle.

Here’s another piece:

Take on the adult role of the host: invite your parent/s to join you. Maybe for just an afternoon, maybe for an overnight, perhaps for just a day trip.

WHAAAT?

Before the anticipated WTF moment hijacks your amygdala and you close down this post in disgust, or before your partner/spouse says, “over my dead body,” hear me out.

It’s the actual marker of having passed beyond adolescence.

If you can’t make it through a holiday dinner with your parents, a longer duration is not in the cards. You can stop reading now.

But for the rest of you, this is an opportunity to cultivate a more vibrant relationship. You’ll be the winner.

Sure they drive you nuts.

You drive them nuts.

But here’s what’s in it for you

Experience your parents as people.

Your parent/s may not be the uptight jerk/s you think they are.

They may be entirely different people over drinks than over the Thanksgiving table with the insufferable Aunt Susie.

Your invitation to spend time together may reveal some unrealized truths.

Isn’t it time to find out?

Give your parents the opportunity to witness your maturity.

You’re probably not the narcissistic jerk your parents think you are — or thought you were.

A near-universal dictate is that parents become smarter after their children turn 25. The reverse holds true: adult children become less annoying, and more interesting after they turn 25.

In truth, age 25 is considered a significant milestone. It’s not just an adage; behavioral science tells us that by the mid-20’s a person’s mindset becomes more long-range and less self-centered. Thanks, hormones.

Consider the value of building social skills.

Your parents taught you your primary language, how to ride a bike. Now you can use interaction with them as a tutorial honing advanced social navigation skills.

It will serve you very well in any number of your own personal or professional interactions.

What do I mean by this? Mull over these scenarios:

The Difficult Conversation. It’s often political. How do you disarm without offense? If you can do it with your father or father-in-law, you can do it with a client.

Too Much Booze.This is different from your pal over-indulging. Perfect the social pirouette of ‘getting mom to bed’ after that one-too-many daiquiris. Swap out “mom” for the tipsy sales prospect. See the connection?

Disaster Museum Visit. Not every plan is going to hit the mark. Vagaries abound. It can rain, it can be too hot, too cold, too far to walk.

But again, to use the work analogy: what happens when your PowerPoint presentation goes awry? Or when the wrong facts embedded in the “killer” summary prepared for your boss’s boss are your responsibility?

You pivot, you scramble, you concoct Plan B on the fly. It’s no different here.

Consider it a low-risk training exercise for life.

Parents want a touchstone to your adult lives and not be left behind.

Parents of adult children (and I am one, so I speak with authority) value nothing more than the gift of your time.

If you can treat, great; pride will burst their buttons, and it’s arguably the fast track to heaven.

But this isn’t about your credit line; it’s about your calendar. The true gift is your time. Parent/s know that.

Make it an afternoon, an overnight. A long weekend. Plan as a surprise or dive into the planning process together.

Agree on some ground rules from the git-go.

  • This event is not a make-over. Of your life or theirs.
  • This is not an intervention. There is another time and place for that.
  • You are not inviting them to opine on your life choices, nor will you opine on theirs
  • If your politics are at polarity, then put that topic in the no-fly zone.
  • If there is disapproval of either’s partner, lifestyle, or choices, well, likewise.

You know what will work. You know the buttons that can get pushed. Get agreement on not pushing them, or having them pushed — by anyone.

You’re a grown-up. You have more power, more leverage than you think. You can set the guidelines. It’s your party.

Let’s get specific.

You might be booking away WITHOUT finishing this article. If so, you’re welcome.

Otherwise here are some tips and tricks:

  • Make it pretty local as transportation can escalate the costs.
  • Is it realistic to tie in a sibling? Possibly tie in a sibling?
  • Play to parent interests:

– A favorite sport? A favorite team?

– Culture/museums/city day or weekend

– Country day or weekend

– Spa/Yoga/hair

– Cooking weekend

  • Play to joint interests

– Active stuff like hiking, biking, golf, sailing

You know your family’s interests better than I do.

A final word.

Do it. Do it now.

It gets more complicated with time.

It’s you who has the time constraint.

It’s you who has the distractions (or will) of family, spouse/significant other, job obligations. Working like crazy. Building that start-up — or the next start- up. Or the one after that.

It’s you whose life is the expanding universe with options, choices, obligations, decisions, and demands that are concurrent with the most productive years of your life.

Before things get too crazy, plan the time. You won’t regret it.

Who knows? This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. One that has been decades in the making.

Let me know how it goes.

Copyright 2018  Jane Trombley

This article first appeared in Medium.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Celebrating a Special Birthday With Poetry

photo of birthday card featuring elephant and giraffe

Today we’re taking another step to expand 3 Score’s purview and celebrate a special birthday (my granddaughter, Ava).

Ava turned one earlier in April, at the start of National Poetry Month.

So it seemed only natural to ask Elephant and Giraffe to join in.

Continue reading “Celebrating a Special Birthday With Poetry”

An open letter to young activists: please, please don’t give up

protestors in Washington DC

Editor’s note: The original version of this post appeared Saturday, March 24th on Medium.com.  It marks an expansion of topics covered by 3 Score & More to include those which resonate and are part of our larger societal conversations.    I look forward to your thoughts and reactions. – Jane

Dear Young Activists,

RE: #marchforourlives

Please, please don’t give up. Don’t give in. And by all means, vote in every election, local through federal, at every opportunity, for the rest of your lives.

You are saving our nation, our sense of decency and our sense of societal responsibility. Undoubtedly you are saving lives.

Saturday, March 24th was the national no, international, March For Our Lives. Driven by outrage, fear, empathy, the protests represent a commitment to finally, irrevocably, change the storyline.

 Emma Gonzalez’s moving speech (or lack of it) was simply riveting.

It redefined what 6 minutes mean. Actions speak louder than words.

No Small Impact

– You are calling it what it is. Gun violence in our schools and communities.

   – You are not copping out by making it about mental health, although that is a factor.

 – You are insisting on changes to our laws to eliminate easy access to militarized weapons, tarted up for consumer use.

 – You are respectful of the Second Amendment, important to many and foundational to our national identity.

 – You have reframed the argument from an attack on our “rights” to an attack on our lives. All of our lives. You have changed the conversation.

 – You have put the key issue — gun violence — squarely in your sights, to use an unfortunate metaphor. Bravo. And thank you.

Thanks to the #Parkland students who have admirably, bravely and coherently led the charge in the wake of unspeakable tragedy.

They have awakened and empowered their generation, and today we see a groundswell of unwavering support. And action.

The power of the ballot box

You have, or will soon have, the power of the ballot box. It’s something my generation didn’t have at the height of the Vietnam War protests in 1968.

Would the 1968 election turned out differently if the voting age had been 18, not 21? We’ll never know.

As a result, we had the draft. You have the right to vote. Use it. It’s a powerful weapon.

From one Boomer, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Copyright 2018 Jane Trombley All rights reserved.

How to be an Xenophile in your 60’s

Say  whaaat?   A  Xenophile? Sounds weird.  A bit creepy even.  But it really is the essence of travel.   In English, the word xenophile derives from Greek xenos meaning strange/unfamiliar (person or object). Combine that with the phile –  to love something or be an enthusiast. So think Anglophile, bibliophile, cinephile. A xenophile embraces new people, places, and experiences, the  very definition of travel.  One could say being an intentional xenophile enables living life to its fullest and richest.  In that case, yes, we want to be xenophiles in our 60’s.  Here’s how…

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Ringing in the New (Year)

Each New Year brings a commitment to change: making resolutions (preferably ones we actually keep), kicking old bad habits,  starting anew.

Continue reading “Ringing in the New (Year)”

Why I love to blog: 5 hopefully good reasons

Today is Labor Day in the United States, and my labor is this blog. The holiday honors those whose labor enabled a pretty nice life for many and, for the country, enormous economic advantage.  The day got me thinking about my own current labor. For the last sixteen months, during what otherwise would be described as “retirement”, I have labored at creating content for this travel-focused blog, 3 Score & More, the one that you’re reading now.  It’s unpaid labor; I’ve made nary a dime. It is sometimes very frustrating.  In the end, it is definitely a labor of love and here’s why….

Continue reading “Why I love to blog: 5 hopefully good reasons”

How to celebrate a milestone birthday

 

There are all sorts of ways to celebrate a milestone birthday: A blow-out party, cozy family event, festivities in all configurations. And of course travel… my favorite way to celebrate anything. 

It was an honor to join a friend’s milestone birthday celebration in Barbados.  A brilliant way to acknowledge gratitude for years past and anticipate the years to come with a gathering of friends and a smattering of spouses who joined for the last few days. 

Here’s how it went down…along with some practical how to’s for your own milestone celebration. Continue reading “How to celebrate a milestone birthday”

Travel and Discovery: My Bucket List Goals for 2017

2017 is well underway – do you know where your travel bucket list stands?  Because the lists themselves are often so willy-nilly… I’ve decided to create Bucket List Goals to help structure a sometimes feckless travel decision-making process. Each of these categories fulfills my passion for travel, style, and discovery.  And each promises to open new horizons.

You’ll read about all these adventures as they unfold, but here’s the plan-in-progress.

Continue reading “Travel and Discovery: My Bucket List Goals for 2017”