Do Not Silence Young Women

I’m currently on assignment in FL.

Weren’t you just there, Cydney?

Yes, but now I am back for work.

I traveled all day Tuesday from Boston to Jupiter, FL via Miami. I spent all day Wednesday and Thursday and half of today with a group of college students who spent their spring break volunteering instead of getting hammered on the beach. They are a pure, fun, kind bunch of kids and my work has been hard but satisfying.

Along with the students was a chaperone I’ll call John. John was great adult company. We’d chat about life in general and make observations about the “youngsters”. Mostly very nice comments, but occasionally, we’d whisper something like “When is that kid going to stop singing every national anthem he happens to know the words to?” because kids can be annoying.

There was one student I’ll call Sarah, who is very high energy. She’s the type of person who, while I’m sure is a wonderful human being, I would personally need to take in doses because of her decibel level and what I perceive as immaturity (I mean, their college kids, it’s to be expected). Was she the only loud student? Of course not! These people are amped up to get to know each other and volunteer. They’re excited and the level of noise reflected it.

There was a break in the work on the second day I was there with them. The group stood around chatting while waiting for their next instruction. John turned to me and quietly agreed with a comment I’d made earlier about Sarah being…a bit much for my personal taste.

At this moment Sarah was laughing and talking exuberantly and so on. John went up to her and said “Where’s the volume?”. She looked confused, and then, in front of all her peers, he reached up and turned down an invisible dial on her shoulder.

She shut her mouth and shriveled, mortified. She folded her arms across herself, her shoulders dropping. It was clear she was very hurt.

I was not happy about this, and almost blurted out “You be as loud as you want!”, but didn’t want to call attention to the situation in case some of the fourteen students didn’t witness the public put-down. As annoyed as I was, I also didn’t want to embarrass John (which frankly is bullshit under the circumstances).

John left the space for some reason and I walked over to her and said very quietly, “Hey, I like John, but you don’t see him telling the guys to be quiet.”

“No” she responded, quiet as a mouse.

“You be as loud as you want.”

She looked slightly relieved, and I felt torn.

I have been trying to do my part to speak up when shit like this happens, and I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go up to John and “call him in”, which is a term used for educating another person when you’ve witnessed them overstepping. John spent this whole trip truly being very supportive and encouraging to these students, but this move was unfortunate and a classic case of making a “joke” which was actually really mean.

I don’t believe that John would ever go up to one of the boys and do what he did to Sarah. When someone – especially a man – tells a women- especially a young woman – to lower her voice when all she’s doing is being comfortable in her skin, enjoying herself and not disturbing the peace or saying hateful things, they are literally telling that young woman that who she is is not OK.

Complaining quietly to a trusted confidante that you can’t stand someone is totally fine. Going up to them, alone or in front of others, and telling them that being themselves is too much is unacceptable.

I have a friend who every once if a while will comment on my decibel level. I have a family member who I overheard not-so-quietly bitching about my “loudness”. Those comments are literally suggesting that the way I express joy is not acceptable. I don’t love that I have a booming laugh. When I somehow hear a recording of it, I find it’s suddenness annoying and startling, but when I feel happy, or something reaches my funny bone, there is literally no way to stop the eruption that comes from my heart and out of my face.

And that’s just me. Take me or leave me.

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