Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Powerful Voice

All of my adult life I have longed for a powerful voice. There is a small soprano sound which my vocal cords emit, and this voice does not serve me well. As a swim coach, I need a powerful sound which carries over the splashing. With such a voice as I have, I must earn my authority as a coach slowly and painfully. When I answer the telephone, even today as a woman of a certain age, people ask me if my mother is at home. I have wished for a voice that would command attention and respect.

Here's the comment fmhLisa made when she met me:

And as long as we’re being scary mean uber feminists, can I just say that I’m still a little blown away by how supremely feminine Bored in Vernal is. Her blog voice in my head sounds a lot like a super firm Eleanor Roosevelt, but in person she this tiny little thing, with a very very feminine way about her, and a tiny little girl voice. I was just following her comments around the nacle and trying to read them with her actual voice in my head rather than the “Roosevelt esque Bored in Voice” I’d created for her, and I couldn’t do it. Is that weird?

I was so flattered that my blog voice was commanding.

With my "tiny little girl voice" and less than statuesque height, I have throughout my life confronted and pondered issues of respect and authority. And lately I have wondered what I would do if placed in such a position. My recent blog post, "If You Were a (Female) Speaker At General Conference" was my effort to see what other Mormon women would do given an authoritative placement in the LDS Church. Although this post was read by over 200 people, I tellingly only received 4 willing speculators. Perhaps many are uncomfortable with "aspiring" to a calling. I can sympathize with this feeling, since I have been hurt by accusations in the Bloggernacle of wanting to be a Bishop or usurping the Priesthood. In addition, after I had put the post up, a furor arose over Julie Beck's talk in Conference, and I think many were reluctant to seemingly denigrate her remarks. However, I think it's important for us to define our personal philosophies regarding this issue. The probability that each LDS woman will at some time in our lives hold a position of some small authority is quite high.

The first thing I would do as a high-profile woman would be to choose one or two specific platforms. I think for everyone from political candidates to Apostles it is extremely effective to become known for one or two strong stances. I'd choose something that was meaningful to me and something I think that women could have a strong influence over. I'd strive diligently both for revelation and to get to know the concerns of LDS women worldwide. I'd eschew platforms such as modesty or homemaking in favor of education or literacy or saving the earth. I'd strongly consider service as a platform, though it would have to be more specific and defined than the broad category we now invoke. I think a woman leader must select causes which are universal to women in every circumstance, which cause a great good for the entire world, and have eternal implications.

Next, I would give talks which emphasize my platform in a way that reaches all within the sound of my voice. When a woman gives a talk in General Conference she is speaking to all: women, men and children; members and non-members; rich and poor; mothers, single women, divorced women, etc. Though she might address herself to mothers or to young women, her messages fall upon the ears of the fathers and the young men and give them subtle messages also. For example, a father might pick up from a talk given to mothers that his wife is responsible for the length of their son's hair.

I regret the fact that appearance makes such a difference in the regard in which a woman in the public sphere is held. However, I would recognize that I must present a clean, fit, and professional appearance in order to be taken seriously. This would not preclude my wearing of the quirky items I love on occasion and in appropriate circumstances. I think I'd also wear pantsuits to travel and give talks in (a la Hilary Clinton.) I noticed in a press release about newly called General RS counselor Barbara Thompson that she said she felt more comfortable in pants than dresses. I wished that she would continue to wear her pants often, and to make them more acceptable in Mormon circles.

Finally, I would travel widely and attempt to make Mormon women everywhere aware and accepting of other cultures. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the General RS presidency recently met for lunch with 17 women from African nations. The visitors included a Muslim from Djibouti with whom Beck fasted in honor of Ramadan. I was extremely impressed by her willingness to experience cultural and religious diversity in her calling to serve the women of the world.

Now, the title of my hypothetical General Conference talk: Using Your Education as a Spiritual Force for Good. I'd emphasize the variety of levels of education to which we can attain--some are self-taught, some gain their education through life experience, some through advanced degrees. Some are educated in music, some in physics, some in nutrition. These can all be used as a spiritual force for good in whatever sphere we are placed. I wouldn't address my remarks specifically to the female sex, though I would hope my remarks would resonate particularly with women.

With that, I'll give all you readers a second chance: tell us what you'd do with a powerful voice!


fMhLisa said...

Is that a mullet, do I have a mullet?

(because all posts about women in positions of authority eventually devolve into a talk about hair, I decided to just start out there.)

Zillah said...

I've often fantasized about what I would say in a GC talk, particularly when the women are speaking. My answer changes with my mood/existential crisis, but here are a few ideas I've had:

1. A discussion of faith--the faith that is required to truly engage in experiences with other people, with God, with the world around us, and with ourselves, the faith required to be open to those experiences, rather than either shutting ourselves off to them or automatically categorizing them so that we can deal with other people, God, and experiences in ways with which we are already comfortable.

2. A discussion of the faith (there's always a theme) required to truly love somebody, whether one's spouse, child, family, friend, mere acquaintance, or God. Also the danger of what is too often passed as off as love in the Church, which I feel is simply a demeaning manifestation of pity for one whom we are not comfortable allowing to be our equal.

3. Why we should all read Augustine.

4. I would really, really love to give a talk on modesty that never mentions hemlines or how a shirt fits, or even the word modesty (since it makes guys tune out), but instead focuses on intrinsic worth and the importance of developing one's own gifts and interests and seeing value in those--and those of others.

5. Why we shouldn't mock other religions for believing in the Nicene Creed.

David said...

I am contacting you on behalf of the MY HERO Project Gallery. we are a non-profit, project based, on-line educational resource.
I would very much like to feature the artwork I've seen here entitled, (I think) ManyWomen, a beautiful, colorful piece embracing cross-cultural beauty and dignity.
Please let me know how I can obtain permission to share this art with our many friends.
Thank you for all you do.
David Kemker
The MY HERO Project