In praise of loud women | Daily News

In praise of loud women

Joy and power of being noisy and female

My big voice was frowned upon when I was a girl in the 70s. Now, celebrities from Beyoncé to Michelle Obama are helping to tear up the idea of what a woman should sound like

No one wants to sit next to a loud woman. I know this because someone recently moved the placement card on a dinner table to get away from me. That label – “loud woman” – has never been a compliment, even though some of us may wear it as a badge of honour.

So, what are we supposed to do with the idea of loud women in our post feminist age? In everyday life, there is still something uncomfortable for a woman about being called loud, because the implication is that a) you don’t care about the people around you (otherwise, why are you making them feel uncomfortable?) and b) you don’t care what other people think about you -to allow yourself to be loud as a woman is to be borderline psychopathic – to switch off your empathy and your emotional intelligence – to love the sound of your own voice, to take up too much space.

The reality, of course, is that the expression: “He is a loud man,” does not exist. Certainly, I have never heard anyone say it. A man may occasionally speak loudly. Traditionally, though, loud is a thing that certain women are, rather than something they do. Loud is a word we attach exclusively to women, often alongside the word “lairy”. Loud is a code that says to women: “Please stop doing that.” This, in turn, has often been a signal for women to turn around and say – almost childishly, but quite understandably: “I’ll take up all the space I want, thanks.”

What a loud woman looks like, though, has changed hugely in the past two decades. With Michelle Obama publishing her autobiography, Becoming, next week, it is clear that a new generation of women want to redefine the term. As the former first lady puts it: “I admit it: I am louder than the average human being and I have no fear of speaking my mind. These traits don’t come from the colour of my skin, but from an unwavering belief in my own intelligence.” If you ask women whom they would most like to be as a public speaker, many will say Obama. Her speaking style – controlled passion, warm authority, approachable charisma – is extremely attractive. She is the new kind of loud: the volume is calculated and in tune with the audience.

Just as the past few years have seen a rise in the body-positive movement and an understanding of the expression “fat shaming” and the extent to which those ideas have been internalised, I wonder if the “loud shaming” of women is finally being recognised. When I was a child in the 70s, it was common for me to be told to be quiet and stop showing off – at home, at school, by adults of all kinds. It was not until I was much older that I realised I was not being loud or showing off – I was just talking. This is not necessarily a woman thing; it is only in the past few decades that children have been allowed to be as noisy as they want. Anecdotally, many women will say that they learned from an early age that being loud – whatever this means – was not welcome behaviour. “Whatever this means” is important. Because I think we are redefining what it means to be loud. We are starting to understand that you are not obliged to be loud just because someone has told you not to be.


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