I’m only five foot tall, but most people would tell you they’d never know it. I might be small, but I’m loud. I’ve got a high-pitched Disney princess voice that carries as far and wide and James Earl Jones’ soothing baritone. I’m the friend you have to hush in the library, the next booth over in the restaurant, the one who speaks just a little too loud, a little too much, a little too often. The one who doesn’t need a microphone at a protest or a rally.
But sometimes, when someone uses that voice with me, I shut up. I shut down. I’m out. You know that voice, the one your father, or your mother, or maybe your teacher used with you. The one that mockingly tells you that you’re stupid, that you’ve done something so incredibly offensive that you don’t deserve to be here. You don’t deserve to be you.
I’m an intelligent, educated, radical, loving, and loud woman, and that voice cuts me down every single time. It stops me in my tracks. It makes me feel as small as I am, smaller than I am. Smaller than a human can possibly be.
“We can’t be doing that.”
“I’m glad everyone’s being so quiet right now.”
“Why would you even think that was okay to do?”
“What were you thinking?”
I was not thinking, clearly, as you do. I was not expecting the talons of your hatred to come ripping me apart from this, your aerial position of trust.
I tell myself that that voice comes from a position of smallness itself. In its sarcastic, hateful mockery, it works to bring me down to its level. It is literally a voice of belittling, to make little, because little is not loud, little does not take up space, and little is never in the way of power or authority. Little is accommodating and nice and sugar and spice. Little is there to help, to be told what to do, to live vicariously through and just for you. Little gets shut up, put away, put out in the trash. Little gets left behind.
So, you see, that voice wants you and me to be little because if we’re not little, we’re big. If we’re big, we fill up the space that it can otherwise fill with hate. We’re in the way, we’re defiant and definite. We matter because we are matter, and if we get purposefully madder and madder and madder we can’t be little by being belittled.
Yet, no matter what I tell myself, what I know to be true, I can’t help feel the heat of my shame well up behind my eyeballs that are diverting their gaze to the floor. I can’t help but feel the lump of my self-hatred expand in my throat as it constricts to stop, to prevent, my voice. I can’t help but feel the aftershocks, the hot flashes of embarrassment that show up as rosy pink splotches on my face and neck hours, days after when I’m alone and stumble, accidentally, into my mind working through my most private of my most public of humiliations.
I am the loudest woman I know, but that voice is still too much for me.