When I was little, I was often, affectionately (I think anyway), referred to as “Little Miss Chatterbox”. As far as I can recall, this was not used as an insult, or as a way to tell me essentially to shut up – it was just a way to describe me. So when, exactly, did I go from being the chatty one to being the loud one? When does talking become something that can be used against us, become more of an insult than simply a personality trait?
Not so long ago, when involved in a discussion with someone at school over America’s gun legislation, rather than present a reasoned argument to counter mine, the person I was debating it with referred to me as “hysterical” and “screeching”. I must admit, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. I was furious. He may have been somewhat correct – I was becoming frustrated with the discussion, and it was something I was passionately sure of my opinion upon. Yet why should this be something I should be ashamed of? Why should this be something that can be used against me? I have never heard the words “hysterical” or “screeching” used to refer to a male, so why is it that this is how arguments against women can be won: by attacking their way of argument rather than the argument itself?
Now, studying at Cambridge, I think I probably remain the loud one. In the first few weeks, it was something I was incredibly conscious of. I know that I have a tendency to talk someone’s ear off, particularly if I’m meeting an abundance of new people and I’m a bit nervous (Fresher’s Week in a nutshell.) However I’m also pretty vocal in supervisions. In my eyes, this wasn’t something I expected to be an issue – yet I quickly noticed the pointed glances or rolling eyes when I chipped in again, or stopped to ask a question. Before long, I noticed that I began to censor myself – I tried to speak less, or to wait longer before answering, leaving, more than once, some uncomfortably long silences. But about halfway through term, as I began to become more confident in my surroundings, I started to question my new behaviour. I came to the realisation that if I wasn’t going to be myself here, If I wasn’t going to work hard and offer my opinions in my supervisions, thereby making the most out of them, then I was doing myself a disservice.
Maybe I do just talk too much sometimes. I know I probably do, and I certainly am making more of an effort to talk less, and listen more. (Burr’s line from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton comes to mind: ‘Talk less, smile more’ – yet Hamilton’s response to this is ‘You can’t be serious?’) But I don’t think that being the loud one is something I should be ashamed of or try to change. If that’s how people are going to see me, I may as well make the most of it. Because being loud doesn’t have to be synonymous with being obnoxious, or being rude. To me, it means having the confidence (or getting there) to share my opinions, and to challenge others on theirs; to ask the question when I don’t understand something, and to answer it if I do. So if I have learnt anything in my journey to Cambridge and my first term here, it’s to embrace, and utilise, being the loud one.