WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE

by Scottie Johanna Hill

One morning during the impeachment hearings, I was walking to class, sleepy, grumpy, and hungry. A very well dressed woman walked up to me and asked if I had seen the Clinton testimony as it aired. Sure, I had accidentally seen about two minutes. She wanted to know what my gut reaction was. We chatted. Then she asked me if I would mind saying everything I'd just said on camera.

I had a funny looking sunburn down the front of my nose from a concert the day before, no makeup on, and had not exactly brushed my teeth, but I said yes. So I was on ABC news. I spoke my mind. As we wrapped up our on-camera conversation she spotted her next potential victim and moved on. The camera man thanked me for going on the air, for being so honest and vocal. I told him he had come to the right school if he wanted opinionated, vocal, women.

I attend Mills, an all-women's college in Oakland, CA. Why did I choose to do that? Well, it's a long story and even I was doubting the sanity of the decision this past semester. At small colleges, gossip is a sport. Women cut other women down just like in the real world. it's not pretty, but it's reality, and I had to adjust to the fact that women's
colleges aren't matriarchal utopias. We don't all stand around holding hands, singing "I Am Woman" in perfect pitch. But last summer I took my first co-ed class since high school, and I was reminded of one of the reasons I should be happy I did choose to attend my college.

The co-ed summer class I took was an intensive creative writing class at The Naropa Institute in Boulder, CO, America's only Buddhist University. Everyone there was very much in touch with their inner child. They were incredibly PC.

But I noticed in the first few days of class that I was the only woman who would venture to speak. Seeing as how we changed classes every week, there were a lot of days when only male voices were heard.

I realized this when I wrote a piece to be critiqued in class about a model trying to explain to a photographer how she could pose with her mind worlds away. The teacher touted my sentence structure. The guys loved my imagery. It wasn't until we were all allowed a ten-minute break that I got feedback from the women in the class.

I was waiting in line in the ladies room when someone tapped me on the shoulder. She said she'd loved my piece, that I had really shown how women in particular can separate their bodies and minds because society does it for us all the time. She said that as a woman she could appreciate it in a different way than had been expressed in class. I was, and still am, quite flattered by what she said. It wasn't until later that I realized what had actually happened. Why hadn't she said it during class? And why, when she did speak in class, did she apologize for asking questions or offering a different perspective? Why weren't any of these women fully participating in the classes they had paid for?

I wasn't used to women holding back. I was, am, accustomed to vocal women. At my school, we are, in a sense, trained to be a bunch of loud, talkative, women who don't give a damn if no one else in a square mile agrees with us, and who won't be intimidated or silenced. At a women's college, they break you of the habit of sitting in back, not speaking your mind, or apologizing before you speak or write. At a women's college you
must talk in class.

This translates into the larger classroom of the "real world." Too often women are quiet, or talk meekly, as if what they have to say might be silly. It's only the woman who speaks clearly, directly and with confidence who is heard.

In short, it's about moxie. It's about not hushing up when a controversial topic is raised, at work or at the neighborhood barbecue. It doesn't have to be on camera, but how we speak, what we say matters. We, as women, need to watch our language.


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