Written by Anonymous
Graphic by Hengjia Liu
CW: Anxiety, mental illness, institutional betrayal.
I have always struggled to speak. I spend minutes before I raise my hand perfecting every thought, pre-writing my contributions beneath my notes, underlining words for emphasis. My heart thuds in my chest, my throat closes. I speak, rushed, tripping over words painstakingly written out before me. I flush from my chest to the roots of my hair. I am usually prepared; my comments are expected, obvious. Speaking out of the ordinary would draw attention, a risky statement could be wrong.
When I am challenged, I usually tear up. I grab onto air. Force it into my lungs. I say thank you. I didn’t think of it that way. I’ll take your advice.
I have always been this way. I am 22 years old. I am intelligent. By all measures, I am privileged. I am white. I had a private school education. I was moderately well respected and never bullied. I could be anything. I wanted to become a politician, and I was never forced to consider the barriers.
I recognise my privilege has granted me an ability to be very slow in solidifying my opinions. In my three years in student politics, it took me two and a half to begin to challenge my peers, to consider that maybe their well-worn doctrine was incorrect. To realise that the men didn’t actually know more than me, they were just more confident. To understand that senior women often got there by staying silent. The politics of cheap pints purchased for recruits, of whispered stories and subconscious misogyny covered up by doublespeak and vague, directionless statements of outrage.
I did get angry then. It tormented me. I replayed conversations over and over in my head. I planned confrontations in the shower, in my sleep. I remember vividly one occasion, my second to last. I wrote the whole damn speech out. I memorised it. Practiced it in front of mirrors until my throat didn’t close over anymore.
When the moment came, I cried. I only got through three lines. My carefully crafted words of sincerity and righteous outrage became less than the muck scraped off sopping shoes at the end of a week of rain. I left. No-one followed.
Women only get one chance in that sort of politics. That was mine. I was a bit too much trouble after that.
My regret at breaking down, at failing at the one chance I would get, was all-consuming. I don’t think I slept for days.
I’m angry. I’m angry at the men who attend the protests outside parliament shouting in support of equal opportunity and affirmative action while simultaneously ensuring that loud, unusual women don’t get past their first campaigns. They perpetuate a culture that means we have to work five times harder for half the credibility; where emotional speeches from women are seen as weak and hysterical, but from men seen as proof of some godly level of emotional intelligence.
My anger doesn’t make me powerful. It is a liability. I have learned that I have to be calculated. I can’t be, and I hate it. I turn it internally. My inability to express my anger in an acceptable way amounts to a failure that bleeds into self-hatred. Why did I say that? Idiot. Why didn’t I express that in a better way? Worthless. Why even bother? Better off dead. Why can’t you do anything right? You’re throwing it all away.
I have always worn my heart on my sleeve. I love easily. I hurt easily. I cry easily. I have always seen it as a weakness.
But why should it be?
I’m trying to convince myself that the world needs us emotional women, that I have a place in this assertive, cut-throat, patriarchal world. Maybe my weaknesses can be an asset. How that would work, I don’t exactly know, but societal attitudes sure as hell aren’t going to change if we keep blinking back tears and forcing speeches through tight throats.
Canberra is very effective at fostering an apolitical attitude in its students. Fear of unemployment crafts a culture of silent acceptance and careful politics. A culture of ignoring pain and refusing to seek help because a recruiter might ask about it. It’s not good enough. It hurts us far more than we realise.
I’m sick of it. I can’t keep staring in the mirror and reciting my own lines to myself. Fear of failure holds us all back.
I’m starting to think of anger like a muscle: if we don’t use it, it’ll weaken, wither. Die. The more we speak up, the easier it is. The stronger we are.
Maybe if I allow myself to be angry, I’ll get better at it.
It’s worth a shot.