"Women should not be heard but only seen," an old fashioned saying that teachers at my orthodox girls’ school frequently used to discipline us.
It was only after getting out of school that we finally realized how effective an instrument it is to dominate the minds of young females. Most female-led leadership programs, as well as feminist literature, urges young women to ‘find their voices.’ This could imply multiple things - it could simply mean not being afraid of protesting against injustice faced by them or anyone else or to be heard in corporate meetings and group discussions, generally dominated by men; it could also mean becoming a mouthpiece to narrate women’s experiences and stories (frequently used in Black feminist politics).
Feminist politics has actively appropriated ‘being heard.’ From the fiery speeches of the early suffragists to upbeat pop music (think Beyonce) to stories and art forms created by women to share their experiences: women make sure that they are heard. A critical concern of feminist politics and scholarship has been to give women back their voices and words, that the patriarchal powers denied them.
But, does such politics has space for shy or introverted women? Are women who face difficulty in speaking in public or articulating their thoughts to those unknown unwelcome in the feminist movement? Is it okay to be a feminist with few words to say?
It should be okay to be an introverted feminist. Here are ten reasons why:
It Is Both Nature and Nurture
Being an introvert is as natural as having black hair or brown eyes, but there can be factors or trigger incidents that may be traced back to your childhood that make you an introvert. Dr. Marti Olsen Laney, in her book The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child: Helping Your Child Thrive in an Extroverted World, writes that being an introvert is heavily influenced by genetics. Introversion or extroversion is strongly hereditary. The basis of being an introvert lies in our biochemistry—the lesser the dopamine drive in the brain, the lesser the buzz from external stimuli. Similarly, factors such as your upbringing also influence your introversion/extroversion. These factors have nothing to do with how you feel about feminist politics.
Being Introverted Has Nothing To Do with the Assigned Biological Sex
Though introversion/extroversion is an innate trait, it is not linked to the assigned biological sex, i.e. being a male or a female. The idea that women are by nature, introverted and quiet, and men are extroverted and aggressive is no more than a myth.
Such myths further give rise to ideas that extroverted women are exceptions or are just bad. Or introverted men are not ‘masculine’ enough. Such approaches are not only problematic but also contrary to feminist ideologies. A cishet woman may be an introvert and identify as a feminist at the same time. There is absolutely no relation between biologically assigned sex, introversion, and one’s political ideologies.
Being Introverted Does Not Make You Foolish
Another unfounded myth is that introverts are dim-witted or ignorant. This is not just baseless, but also extremely offensive. Much of online and offline bullying of introverts include unfounded, unscientific literature that equates introversion with dim wit or ignorance. That is not true.
Such baseless claims propagate false ideas and spread hate. They are also often extended to make misogynistic arguments such women are quieter because they know lesser or that women should keep quiet because they are slower than men. Such ideas work as tools of domination of women by a set of patriarchal structures. Some women are introverts because they were born that way or prefer to be like that. It does not make them foolish or unintelligent.
Introverts Have The Loudest Minds
“Quiet people have the loudest minds,” said Stephen Hawking.
Working alone, preferably behind closed doors, and focussing inwards are some of the signature functioning moves of introverts. Jay Johnson from the Executive Communications writes that introverts are known to carry on meaningful dialogues with themselves. They are more reflective and take more meticulously thought out decisions. They are also keen listeners and observers, and would often catch upon minute, yet essential details.
Most of the philosophers and thinkers were known to be introverts. Therefore, feminist politics and ideologies are more likely to be enriched by contributions from independent introverts who focus on philosophizing and theory building.
Feminist Politics is Inclusive
Over the years, beginning with the Suffragist Movement, feminist politics has become increasingly inclusive of race, class, caste, sexual orientation, and so on. Women from all walks of life: professionals, skilled, semi-skilled, or unskilled laborers, the disabled, from marginalized communities have increasingly found their places within the feminist movement.
Thus, feminist politics has evolved into a model for advocacy of rights and equality of women of varied experiences, irrespective of background or condition. Introverts are likely to face lesser problems while interacting in feminist circles. In fact, many introverts feel that feminist circles are safe spaces and are often comfortable in sharing their thoughts or emotions.
Being Quiet Does Not Make You Any Less Of A Feminist
Influencer and blogger at The Tempest Talah Bakdash identify as an introverted feminist. She is proudly quiet, dislikes raising her voice and confrontations make her uncomfortable. She prefers to write poetry than speak out loud. We’d make a mistake if we thought she was rude or anti-social. She loves people, but is most comfortable in her small group of close friends!
She writes of her struggle fitting into the ‘cool girl’ image: the loud, outgoing, go-getter. Most of the strong female characters she looked up to were loud and extroverted, like Elizabeth Bennet or Minny Jackson. She equated loudness with strength and feminism. It was only later that she realized that she remembered the wrong characters. More introverted ones, like Jane Bennet, Katniss Everdeen, or Mariam Wahatadi, were equally strong characters. They were introverted, strong, and thoughtful with great leadership qualities. She wants to be respected for her silence, rather than being forced to talk.
Introverts Make Great Leaders
Because introverts tend to look inwards, are great at observing details, and are thoughtful, they tend to be high degree achievers. As deep thinkers, they are not only creative but also solution-oriented. This makes them great leaders since they can swim out of sticky situations with their innovative solutions and leadership skills.
In any career, problem solvers and creative thinkers get ahead. A quiet, wise leader leading from the front without too much pomp and noise, is what the world often looks up to. Many great names were introverts: Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Barrack Obama, Warren Buffet are some of them.
Just Because You Don’t Dominate Conversations Doesn’t Mean You’re Necessarily Weak
Most introverts find it difficult to speak up in formal settings, such as corporate meets or group discussions. One of the agendas of feminist politics in the New Economy has been the struggle to give working women their voices amid corporates or board meetings, which are usually dominated by men.
Many women report being blatantly ignored or at a loss of words at these male-dominated meetings. Some extroverted women too feel intimidated to voice their opinions in such meetings. Not being able to talk in meetings must not be taken as a sign of weakness. Sometimes, it may just be a structural obstruct stemming from the systemic gendered hierarchy in workplaces; at other times, it is simply an inborn trait. In neither case can the inability to speak be attributed to the woman or she be held weak.
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Using Introversion As A Strength
As a group of sensitive and aware feminists, we must realize that feminists can be quiet. Introversion is not the same as being silenced, and loud is not the same as being strong. You can be vocal without being loud. Introverts are vocal when they see injustice, but their expressions are different from extroverts.
Having a rich inner world helps them cope with difficulties better. A creative and thoughtful mind makes them great achievers. Feminists who identify as introverts must not worry about being misunderstood. Rather, they must be motivated to use their characteristics as their strength to embolden the movement and fulfill themselves.
The Right Places To Speak
Introverts are known to articulate better in comfortable spaces and comforting company. As they embrace themselves and their strengths, they seek uplifting places to engage in. writing journals, letters to themselves, and engaging in supportive and non-judgemental forums may surely help them articulate and understand themselves better.
And remember, you can be really, really loud without even saying a thing.
Edited by Annanya Chaturvedi