Speaking While Female

by Shari Graydon

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve been battling my yoga teacher for months. She’s personally warm and professionally competent — but I can’t actually hear her. Especially at the start and end of every class, her soft-spoken voice is barely audible, even when I’m seated front row centre. (I would read her lips, but my eyes are closed for om and savasana.)

It’s not that I haven’t asked her to turn up the volume, but complying causes her to lament, “I feel like I’m yelling!” (My husband, on the mat beside me, assures her she’s not.)

I’m equally annoyed by her default repetitive vocal pattern. It rises and falls in an infuriatingly predictable rhythm guaranteed to distract me from my downward dog. I write to her in my head, searching for a diplomatic way to say “You’re undermining your authority AND lulling us into a dull stupor. Please stop!” I want to encourage her to overcome the cues so many women absorb like osmosis about the importance of being seen and not heard.

But unsolicited criticism is a very delicate endeavour, so I vent to my friend, Vickie, instead. She laughs and gently suggests that I try manifesting the kind of generous and evolved spirit more appropriate to the practice of yoga. Chastened, I apply myself, and finally make it through an entire class focused firmly on my asanas, rather than the yoga teacher’s childlike voice.

And then she announces she’s moving to Brussels. (I’m elated for us both!)

Running the Informed Opinions project, where the explicit mandate is to amplify women’s voices, I have permission to nudge program participants into vocal practices more likely to position them as authorities. And so I do. Because in a world where gender bias continues to handicap women unfairly, it’s important to make the best use of all our assets. And last week, I was happy to receive a commission from the Globe and Mail to write a piece on related linguistic trends. You can read it here.