This article was originally published on BLAC Detroit Magazine.

For women, the fear of being “canceled” for simply speaking up is nothing new. Apprehension in personal and professional encounters for fear of retaliation or loss has long fueled a silence that has become both crippling and deafening.

While women raise families, engage communities, run corporations and prove themselves as undeniable leaders, the fear of speaking out continues to feel stifling. Women are gagged from knowing their worth, sharing their accomplishments and demanding respect.

Women are still underpaid, making only 80 cents for every dollar paid to men; they are overlooked in the professional arena. They often settle for less, and rarely challenge their circumstances. 

In their personal lives, women find themselves stuck in abrasive and abusive relationships for fear of instability, and loneliness. They’re tied with an emotional brick around their proverbial ankles, keeping them from protecting themselves.

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The #MeToo Movement highlights generations-old numbers of women who stayed quiet and cooperated with men who compromised them simply because they felt they had no right or reason to speak up. They fear they’d lose their income and lose their careers. So, they kept quiet and allowed themselves to suffer in silence. 

With factors ranging from being raised to sit pretty and stay quiet; being taught not to challenge authority, usually male, figures; suffering from Imposter Syndrome; or just basic fear of inadequacy — never has speaking up been more important than now.

KNOWING IT’S OK TO SAY YES — AND NO

We’ve all seen the memes that encourage self-awareness, celebrate the wonders of womanhood, and elevate female achievements. Yet, speaking up is more than a social media post. Speaking up begins within.

As women, we must first recognize, embrace and accept all that make us unique.  Our value isn’t rooted in public validation. But rather, it stems from self-awareness that stands tall and strong regardless of the presence or opinion of others.

It’s knowing that sometimes, our self-worth must be shared to be acknowledged and upheld. If we don’t believe it, why should anyone else?

It’s knowing that it’s OK to walk-away from what isn’t good or right for us — individually or collectively — and that doing so is sometimes what’s just needed to leverage our ask. 

It’s knowing “No” is a complete sentence that we have every right to say and practice to protect our peace and our progress. 

It’s also knowing to say, “Yes” despite what we’re taught as young ladies. It is OK to be who you are and stop relegating yourself to the sideline where you may be overlooked.

It’s knowing it’s OK to venture to where we are valued and compensated accordingly: commensurate with our skills, commitment, experience and potential.

This lets us walk away from friendships and relationships that are more draining than rewarding, and cut off connections where we are giving more than we are receiving.

This lets us uphold and uplift other women, recognizing the value of collective elevation: when one rises, we all rise.

Speaking up isn’t a bad thing. It doesn’t mean yelling, screaming or emotionally regurgitating everything you’ve held onto over the years. Instead, it’s a clear understanding and communication of who you are, what you expect, what you will or will not tolerate, and a picture of the landscape you expect to participate in.

None of this is bad or should ever be frowned upon. If you are told otherwise, it’s time to go.

FINDING THE COMFORT TO CLAIM WHAT YOU DESERVE

Know that you deserve to be in the rooms you find yourself in, even if you quietly second-guess how you got there. Own your opportunities and all the things that make you who you are — however real and imperfect it may be.

Finding comfort in who you are brings confidence. Confidence fuels competence, and therein lies your voice. At times, it may shake or may even be the lone voice at times, but it is your greatest weapon in creating and protecting your personal peace and professional sphere.

So, when something doesn’t feel or sound right, or if you know that you are due the longer end of the deal, speak up. Let it be known that you are worthy of more, entitled to better, and deserving of whatever is being denied. And only your vision and voice can secure these things for you.

The fear of being criticized or canceled should be just the fuel needed to drive you to an elevated place above the pettiness and chatter that may have before clouded your judgment. Speak up and move on.

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