As some of those who read this blog may know, I have kept a diary since I was a teenager in the 1970s. I still write a diary entry each day – and find it helps me to process and to reflect on my experiences and emotions. I’ve written more about this here, and I also talked about it in the TEDx presentation I gave in Norwich in 2019. Revisiting ‘this day in history’ from past decades is always interesting, and invariably makes me think.
On 19th November 2021, I reread diary entries from thirty and then twenty years ago. In 1991 I was a Head of English in a state school in south Manchester. On that day I had attended two meetings (in addition to my teaching, a lesson observation and Year 8 parents’ evening. It reminds me of how hard I worked as a HoD!) The first was an in-school meeting about the appraisal/professional review system we were about to introduce in the school. The second was after school, led by the LA English Adviser, bringing together all the Heads of English in the Authority to discuss oracy. In my diary I had written:
“I didn’t feel X handled the Heads of English meeting terribly well, and I think he probably finds me a pain, but I had to say what I thought. I felt some of the staff were irritated that I said too much in the appraisal meeting, too. But in the car on the way home it struck me that, if I’d been a man, people would have responded differently to what I’d had to say in both meetings. Is it so dreadful for a woman to speak up?”
And then I read my diary entry from the same day in 2001, when I was in my second year of headship in an independent school. On that day I was attending a national heads’ conference in Brighton, and in my diary I had recorded:
“After tea I went into a discussion session (in which I, typically, said too much…)”
I find myself wondering whether I did dominate the discussion on each occasion. Were those around me really irritated by how much I said? Did some feel I wasn’t listening well enough to others, or giving them the chance to speak? Or was that just my perception? And, if so, where does that perception come from?
While I was mulling that over, I went into Twitter and found a discussion on my timeline which resonated. It was about muting others. I recognise that some people mute me, or unfollow me, because of the volume of my tweets – I must regularly overwhelm others’ timelines! I understand that. I hope they don’t mute or unfollow me because they are offended, irritated or simply bored by the content of my tweets!
The original post was this one from Kate Owbridge (@kateowbridge):
Kate: ‘Finding myself muting more and more people who I used to have lots of time for. I truly expect there are those doing the same of me, but both of those things are quite sad.’
And my subsequent exchange with Zoe Enser (@greeborunner) went as follows:
Zoe: ‘I think increasingly people have muted me, as some don’t reply, even when I try to engage with their tweets. Just want to take this opportunity to say sorry for being irritating enough to drive folks to that.’
Me: ‘Not sure what’s happening to us all! Are we becoming less tolerant of each other, or more critical – and maybe also less tolerant and more critical of ourselves? I appreciate people may mute me because I put out so many tweets! Sending best wishes to you both.’
I then quoted the extract from my 1991 diary, and concluded: ‘It was 30 years ago, so I hope we’ve moved on to some degree since then!’
Zoe ‘Hi Jill. I do wonder if we are more used to reading things around being annoying or opinionated due to gender/class etc. I know I have a lot to say for myself which irritates people sometimes (most notably my dad when I was growing up), but maybe we need to say it anyway :-)’
Me: ‘I certainly irritated my dad, too!’ I shared the entry from my 2001 diary at this point, and said, ‘It’s making me thoughtful.’
and Zoe replied: ‘Worrying about saying too much has made me be quiet in meetings in the past where I wish I had spoken up. I think I am better now at contributing, but experiences where I knew my voice wasn’t a welcome one can easily make me revert. I am less bothered as I get older though.’
This prompted me to write this blog post. So now I’m thinking about the following:
- There have been times where I have been one of only a few women in a professional gathering. If the other women have said nothing, or very little, I have sometimes found myself speaking up as a reaction to that. I don’t want women to be silent and passive when they are in a minority. I know from my diaries that sometimes the response I received was less positive than I’d hoped.
- I do talk a lot – socially as well as professionally. Do others react differently to that because of my gender, or would a vocal man have the same effect on the gathering?
- Do I listen well enough? Am I one of those people Nancy Kline refers to as just waiting for their turn to speak and, when I do speak, am I simply keen to convince others, rather than to understand them?
- Looking at Zoe’s comment: ‘Worrying about saying too much has made me be quiet in meetings in the past where I wish I had spoken up’ made me wonder, would I regret NOT speaking out if I hadn’t?
- Do I, as Zoe suggests at the end of her last contribution, care less about what others think of my contributions to dialogue than I did when I was younger – in my early thirties in 1991, and my early forties in 2001?
- How valuable have my contributions been, over the years? Have they made a positive and constructive difference?
- Or am I just TALKING TOO MUCH?
I’d be interested in others’ views on the subject!
Thanks for reading.