By: Blanca Tallaj
I remember sitting at the dinner table with Mama, Papa, and my brother when I was about ten. Mama was telling Papa a story about her day. Papa was sitting at the head of the table scrolling through his phone, not listening to her. By the look in her eyes, I could tell she felt sad that he wasn’t paying attention to her—it was like she was talking to a brick wall. Before she was even done with her story, however, Papa looked up, interrupted her, and started complaining about his day. When she was interrupted, Mama tightened her lips but didn’t say anything. She kept eating. From this and other exchanges between my parents, I indirectly learned that my verb was “to please,” and should always be “to please.” During that dinner scene, Mama let her voice be secondary to Papa’s. I indirectly learned that women’s voices were inferior to men’s, and this damaging lesson has followed me throughout my entire life. Now, however, I want my verb to be “to voice,” because I am an individual whose opinions are just as important as anyone else’s. I undergo subjective experiences like everyone else, and though people might not relate to my perspective, I am a part of this world, and I want to use my voice to help other young girls and Latinas.
Growing up, my verb was always “to please,” and any variations on that verb, like “to be silent” and “to be nice.” As a young girl, I was always taught to be nice. I remember one day, when I was about seven years old, I told Mama that I hated a boy in my class because he was mean. I thought Mama would reassure me. Instead, she looked at me with her brow furrowed and said, “Blanca, young ladies don’t ever say ‘hate.’ That’s not nice.” From that point on, I tried being the perfect “nice” girl in order to please my parents. When adults met me for the first time, they would smile at me and tell my parents that they “raised me right” because I was “such a quiet, nice young lady.” I was raised to be nice, and in our society, most nice people are young girls because being nice is synonymous with never offending anyone and silencing yourself to please others. Girls are often taught to cater to the needs of others before their own. As a child, I rarely disagreed with anyone, even if I knew that what they said was wrong. I was taught to tend to others’ needs before my own, and this philosophy is still true for me today.
Recently, I realized that my verb is still “to please” because I haven’t completely shed the mentality that informed my earlier years. About a year ago, I was trapped in an unhealthy friendship. I let that friend isolate me from my other friends. I stayed with that friend—even when he insulted me and made me feel bad about myself—because I felt a duty to stay in that friendship. It wasn’t “nice” to abandon him, even if he was unhealthy. However, after much help from my family, I finally left the friendship. I thought that after I left the friendship, I overcame my verb, but now, I realize that I haven’t. Leaving the friendship was a great first step, but my mindset hasn’t changed. Sometimes, when I start voicing an opinion, it sounds idiotic to my ears. Halfway through my comment, I let my voice peter out into mumbling. If no one hears my opinion, then no one can take offense. I am afraid of people getting offended because of me. This is one of the reasons I often don’t voice my opinions.
I want my verb to be “to voice.” For so many years, I’ve been taught that my voice is not important, that it is secondary to a man’s, and that my ultimate goal as a “nice young lady” should be to never offend anybody. However, now more than ever, my voice matters. Donald Trump is president. Trump supporters around the country are rejoicing. They feel empowered. It’s important for me to use my voice to fight against the bigoted opinions currently sweeping the nation, because if I don’t, then these dangerous ideas will grow and spread. My voice could get drowned out, but at least I’ll know that I tried to share my opinion. I don’t want to keep silent any longer; it’s unhealthy for me to keep my opinions and my anger inside. I will only feel truly empowered when I utilize my voice.
I know I can’t change my verb overnight. It’s going to take a lot of work on my part. I’ve always been a little quiet, and even raising my hand in class can be a struggle. However, I am determined to push myself to speak. I’ll start out slow. If someone makes an intolerant joke, I won’t laugh just to make the other person feel better like I’ve done in the past. Instead, I’ll call the other person out by explaining why the joke isn’t funny. I risk offending the other person, but I’ve slowly come to realize that offending someone isn’t the worst thing in the world. It just means that I’m not as “nice” as people thought I was. Over time, calling people out will help me feel more confident in my beliefs. Finally, I’ll be able to voice my opinions more freely. The day that I feel no hesitation calling someone out or voicing an opinion, even if I know no one else agrees with me, is the day that I know my verb will have changed. Maybe someday, girls won’t be taught to please; they’ll be taught to utilize their voices. Then, there will never be a girl who doesn’t know her own strength.