Perfection is the voice of the oppressor. – Anne Lamott
I was getting ready for work this morning and decided to put a braid in my hair before tying it up into a bun. As I went to select my earrings, I deliberated for a moment. Should I wear the gold hoops or the silver studs?
“You don’t want to look too ethnic,” I thought to myself as I reached for the studs. “The braid plus the gold hoops would be too much.”
For me, “too much” is always related to my brown skin and female body. The places where I am different, more vulnerable to judgment. And this judgment doesn’t only come from the outside world. More often, it takes the form of a voice in my head.
The voice of oppression (or what I like to call “VOO”) speaks to me regularly, arising unbidden from my subconscious, using words that sound so much like me. Its false promises of protection, safety, and even success are misleading and confusing. There is no protection in my perfection. No safety in my fear. No success in my playing small.
And so I’ve learned to ask myself, “Is that true? Or is that VOO?”
Is what I’m hearing my true belief or the voice of oppression? The latter being a voice that says I’m not enough – not good enough, not ready enough, not smart enough. That I’m too much – too emotional, too insecure, too irrational. That I’m less than – less competent than, less intelligent than, less prepared than.
Not enough. Too much. Less than. These voices have become so familiar that it takes extra effort for me to hear them. And to speak back to them.
Not enough as compared to whom? Too much according to whose standards? Less than in comparison to what?
But speaking back to the VOO is only the first step, because even when I reject it, I am still defined by what I am not. I am not not enough. I am not too much. I am not less than. A double negative becomes a positive, the voice of oppression still present in my attempts at liberation.
And so I must continue the dialogue and ask questions that go beyond what I am not to what I am. To what is true. The voice of oppression speaks to my marginalized and minoritized identities, so I focus my questions through the lens of gender and race.
What strengths have I had to develop because of my gender and race? What skills have I had to cultivate to succeed? What perspectives do I have that others may not?
The answers to these questions are self-defining, an act of personal liberation, the “true” to my “VOO.” Ask these questions of yourself. Share your answers with others. Select one and make it your mantra.
Replace the voice of oppression with the voice of what is true.
Amplify contends that a hidden force undermining women is internalized oppression. This plays out as the oft-cited Imposter Syndrome, where women feel like frauds regardless of their competence, to the conflict women experience around their identities and life choices. Amplify will provide tools to recognize and change our perceptions of ourselves and other women. We hope you will join us.
Support Amplify. Contribute to the Amplify word cloud by answering the question, “What one skill, strength, or perspective have you developed because of your identities?” Results will be shared in the next blog post. Click here to participate in the anonymous poll.
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Alexis Kanda-Olmstead is a lover of books, Beyoncé, and really sharp #2 pencils. She leads talent management and employee engagement efforts at Dartmouth College and coordinates Amplify, a CASE D1 venture-funded women and gender initiative. Alexis holds a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Studies from the University of Michigan, a master’s degree in College Student Personnel from Bowling Green State University, and a certificate in Organization Development from Colorado State University. She is a certified StrengthsFinder Educator and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Practitioner, TEDx speaker, and feminist mommy blogger. She doesn’t have any hobbies per se, unless you count trying to change the world for women and girls.