Ever been part of a group conversation where you lose your train of thought fully aware that nobody cares what you are thinking about? Ever been amidst friends and loved ones, and felt unheard even after hours of conversation? Being unheard is something a lot of us, who deal with loneliness, experience. But when other people pay no heed to what you have to say, it could also leave you feeling disempowered. Women in a conservative society such as ours often experience this subtle robbing of voices in drawing rooms and chats, where our comments and opinions are ignored, even if we are making a point. But are men solely to be blamed for this? Are women listening to each other enough?
I have been part of so many drawing-room discussions, where points raised on certain topics by women often go unheard. Some may argue that I come from a progressive background, given that women and men sit in the same space in our household and converse freely with each other. But alas, patriarchy isn’t that easy to root out. I distinctly remember one incident where an elderly male member of our family shut his wife in front of everyone present, elders and children alike, albeit comically, telling her she knew nothing. The woman swallowed her pride and the rest of us pretended that nothing had happened. Men carried on conversing on the same topic, while women, huddled together, diverted their attention to another topic.
It is not just about husbands, brothers and uncles openly pulling down girls and women for holding an opinion they don’t approve of. In more refined set-ups the idea is to simply look the other way and pretend you didn’t hear an argument or opinion. These days, the practice has moved to social media space, where most discussions are happening in the absence of family gatherings and meet-ups with friends.
But for women, the online space can be a boon, to help each other feel heard. All we have to do is to listen to what other women around us are saying actively, in every space – real or digital. By listening, I mean respond to their messages on groups, point out that they have raised a good point, or by retweeting and sharing their opinions with your own words added to it.
Simply telling a woman “I agree with what you are saying” can give her immense confidence. It is only when we are heard and appreciated, we find the courage to converse more freely, don’t we?
However, the art of listening is difficult to come by, in the digital era dominated by outrage and backlash. Each one of us has a lot to say, and in an attempt to get heard, there is a chance that we may end up not paying attention to what others are saying around us. Each one of us, no matter how aware, maybe guilty of this behaviour.
We need to ask ourselves, Is there a problem that a woman I know might be keen on discussing with me but cannot, because she doesn’t have my attention? Do I listen enough to my mother-in-law, or aunt or that teen cousin whose opinion no one takes seriously?
We cannot forget that women are as susceptible to discrimination based on every possible parameter, as men are. So there is a chance a lot of us who may pride ourselves in our listening skills, might be reserving it to specific voices. The voices we deem important or relevant. This is also something that needs to change. Let us not just listen to relevant feminist voices, let us also pay attention to those that go unheard, because these come from individuals who can truly benefit from being heard.
Lastly, listening to other women isn’t just about giving them a chance to speak up. It is also doing so with an open mind, willing to let their thoughts challenge our own. Evolution is a continuous process, and if we want to evolve into a better society, then we must also try to better our understanding on an individual level.
The views expressed are the author’s own.