Lucy Mangan

Lucy Mangan: “We need to practise speaking out – then do it”

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Lucy Mangan
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Women shouldn’t be ashamed for making their feelings known, says our columnist. 

The longer I looked at the list of “Good statements for women and girls to practice” recently posted by @necessaryaf on Twitter, and the more it gained momentum, the more furious I became.

Not because it was a bad list – it wasn’t. It was good, useful and righteous: from the generously explanatory (“You interrupted me”, “I’m not finished talking”, “That isn’t appropriate”) to the superbly brief (“No”); from the generally applicable (“I already know that”, “That isn’t funny”, “Leave me alone”) to the specifically instructional (“Stop ignoring what I’m saying”, “You owe me an apology”).

And, while I would also add “I will need 10% more time/ money for that” to cover all work contexts too, I heartily endorse every one of them. 

But oh, my god, how are we not there yet? By which I mean – how are we not, in the year of our Lord 2019, saying these things as a matter of course? Why are they not a wholly unremarkable part of our repertoire, deployed in our service as naturally as breathing and without need of encouragement or support?

Simply put, it’s because saying them would require us to possess an entirely unfettered right to assert and protect ourselves. And people, society – you see, I am already pulling my punches, because the word I actually want to use is ‘men’ – see no advantage in letting that happen. It would seriously undermine the power structures from which they happily benefit. 

Thus women making their negative feelings known, clearly and unambivalently, is still so massively disapproved of that it remains astonishingly transgressive and correspondingly rare. And when it does happen, it is frequently penalised in myriad ways, from small to very large.

You might get an immediate “Bitch” – verbally or internally. You might get marked at work as a non- team-player or one of those famously ‘difficult women’ when it becomes clear that you won’t stand for bullying or inadequate managers.

You might, in certain cases (I’d call them extreme if they weren’t so readily imaginable or already personally experienced), face a physically violent response. There are plenty of contexts in which a stark “Leave me alone” instead of playing nice can bear a much greater risk.

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It strikes me that a phrase @necessaryaf does not include, but might serve us even better, is “I am angry”. So early was I, like many of us, trained not to acknowledge this emotion that I still frequently misidentify it as anxiety, PMT or fatigue. Or I turn it inwards and it emerges as depression.

Yet it is none of these. It’s pure anger. Anger because society ignores what we are saying, if we even get the chance to say it. Because people interrupt us to tell us things we already know. Because men won’t leave us alone until they want to. Because so many owe us, and generations of women before us, apologies that we are never, ever going to get. And because the stakes are so high when it comes to challenging any of this. 

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The speed with which @necessaryaf’s list went viral highlights the need we have for support in speaking out. But it also speaks to the support we’ve got. We all feel it. We can all, as she advises, practise saying things, first in private, then in public. We can all do it, normalise it, and stand by it safely, en masse. But first, say you’re angry. And stand by that. 

Image: Ailuj Art/Shutterstock

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