What Happens at a Women's March When Women Don't Speak?


I live in a tiny west coast town called Carpinteria, population roughly 13,000.
After devastating wildfires and murderous mudslides, it felt more important to gather with familiar faces and hunker down in my hometown and join the local Women’s March rather than trek to LA or DC or NYC.
We marched from the Seal Fountain on Linden Avenue, to the main drag, Carpinteria Avenue, where we were met with horns and waves and cheering. We continued down Palm Avenue to the beach boardwalk and back up Linden Avenue to the Seal Fountain. Perhaps a mile all together.
I saw all the familiar handmade signs that the rest of America saw in their marches. Mothers with babies in slings, dads with children on their shoulders. Our future, our hope, our solidarity.
We all circled around the Seal Fountain, and then a curious thing happened. 

Nobody spoke. 

We all looked around expectantly, waiting for someone to say something. Where was the organizer to start things off with a few words? Where were the local officials who would nudge us into action and make us believe they were feminists too and worthy of our votes?
A couple of minutes go by and we realize we are a leaderless Women’s March. Committed, yes. Aligned in our mission for equality, it would seem so. But were we going to let our signs do all the speaking for us?

I turn to the person next to me. A 30-ish dad with a charismatic, cool vibe, and I say, “So, what’s the deal? No speakers? Do you know how the march was organized? Is there a plan?” He says he has no idea, he just wanted to show up for the cause with his wife and kids.
I begin thinking about what I want to say. And I, possessing a whisper that can be heard in the back row…I, the one who’s been rallying women to speak up for decades…I demur. I wait to give others a chance. After all, I’m always talking.
And then Mr. Charismatic jumps up on the little perimeter wall of the fountain and starts to rally the crowd with a chant, “What do we want? Equality. When do we want it? Now.” Or something like that.
He steps down and whispers to me, “I’m guessing a man being a man and the first to speak at a women’s march doesn’t look so good.” I say, “Yeah, it’s a cross between mansplaining and manspreading.” And then feeling uncharitable, I say, “You have a booming clear voice and you’re very compelling. It will be a very telling thing if you’re the only speaker.”

Still nothing, except for the internal cacophony that arises from self-suppression.

I cannot stand myself, so I jump up on the fountain and name the elephant: “Women, raise your hand if you have a habit of holding back…you know who you are.”
Hands go up, and I raise mine too and say, “What do you, and you, and you want?” And finally, women begin stepping up on the fountain wall to speak. Powerful, gorgeous, motivating words. After 20 minutes or so, the crowd disperses for breakfast and lattes and a little local business support.

What’s the moral of this story, eh?

You’ve heard it before, nature abhors a vacuum. So, imagine, being one of nature’s female creatures, you find yourself sitting in a staff meeting in which your boss asks for everyone’s feedback on the new customer service dashboard changes. Your mind is full of ideas and tweaks and refinements, but you demur to give others a chance to kick start the process. And like Mr. Charismatic, the men, noticing the vacuum, jump in and start percolating.
The percolators are seen and heard. They are acknowledged. Thanked. And then, one day very soon, promoted. And there you sit in your annual review asking why you were passed over for a leadership role.
Seven Reasons It’s Time for Your Voice to Be Heard:

  1. You never speak up first. Ever.

  2. Crickets are your least favorite insect.

  3. Because.

  4. Because.

  5. Because.

  6. Because.

  7. Because of the crazy-skilled, wonderful things you does.

Got it?