Think about the last time you raced. Not the last race you participated in, but the last race you really raced. I’m talking salt-and-snot covered face, can’t walk the next day racing. Where you put it all out there for everyone to see. In these moments of extreme effort, we’re vulnerable – physically and mentally. But you also don’t pretend these moments were easy. No, you show the world just how hard you worked. You wore all your training on the outside, and it showed. Some people praised this effort, cheering you on, encouraging you in your pain and facial distortions. Some recoiled in your aftermath, afraid that the salt/sweat/snot/blood mix from your exertion may rub off on them. But you know you put it all out there.
In racing, we see this as normal. We toe the line to put ourselves out there, ugliness and all. It’s expected. But what about off the track? When have you last put yourself out there – in all your ugly, hard working glory – to be vulnerable, even if only with the slightest hope of “winning”? This is much harder. As women, we feel comfortable, even confident, letting our legs do the talking on the racecourse, but still often feel reserved doing it in our daily lives.
Hopefully this post will help inspire you to speak out a little more – to put yourself out there in life as in a race.
Though naturally an introvert, I am not shy about speaking out and putting myself out there. Whether it is talking about my rape, combat-related PTSD, being one of the first women to break into a previously all-male occupation, politics, or religion, I am comfortable speaking my mind, taking a stand, and letting it all hang out on the racecourse that is life.
This wasn’t always the case, however. While in the military, I remained very tight-lipped about my own experiences and opinions. Partially out of restrictions on speech placed on me due to my positions*, and partially out of trying to find my own footing and voice, I remained quiet on many things that were important to me.
While there were very real restrictions placed on me, my real hesitation was that I didn’t believe that I was ready. Much like toeing the line for a big race and thinking that the competition is much more deserving to be there than you, I believed that I was insignificant in the race of life. Who was I to inspire people? Who was I to have an opinion worthy of discussion, debate, and perhaps persuasion? I’m no Elizabeth Warren, or even an Elizabeth Gilbert. I haven’t written a best seller, and Julia Roberts sure hasn’t played me in the story of my life.
But a funny thing happened when I stopped comparing myself to my competition and started to metaphorically run my own race. I realized that people did want to listen. I realized that all the pain – whether sexual trauma, moral and psychological combat trauma, the sleepless nights trying to figure out how to fit in to my squadron – had actually been building me up to be a better advocate. Just like a muscle that’s been broken down by training and come back stronger, so has my heart and passion for being vocal. Where there was once pain and bitterness, there is now passion and empathy. In addition to a robust social media following, I now regularly contribute to the media and public speaking events.
However, this does not mean that it has been easy. Women, in particular, are susceptible to ridicule and backlash in public forums. In the last few weeks alone, I have received rape threats and praises for my rape. I have been told that my days are numbered. I have been called ugly and disgusting, and had my gender and relationships questioned. This is an unfortunate reality for women who dare to break the stereotype of the demure feminine. But it is a reality that can be changed. The more of us that step up and refuse to accept that our place is silence, the more normal our public participation will become. So step out, and, more importantly, amplify those women who do.
If this little piece has inspired you to give speaking out a try, I present to you three simple rules to help you be successful.
- Speak from the heart and the head. While it is true that you can only speak out about those things you care about, you also need to be informed when doing it. Passion based in fallacy will disappoint, and even cause harm. Just as you can’t fuel a marathon on a diet of Twinkies and cotton candy, your public persona can’t be based on just what makes you feel good. Dig deep into the issues that your experience drives you to be passionate about. Do your homework. Your passion is only going to be enhanced when rooted in some objective truth.
- Build an amplification network. No one can be an advocate alone. Just like you need a coach, some pacers, and a cheering squad, you need people who you know are going to have your back, even when you start feeling down. This is especially true if you choose to engage in social media where faceless trolls will make sport out of mocking a woman they don’t know. Build a trusted network of supporters who will come to your side (making sure they’re armed with both passion and facts) so you don’t have to do all the heavy lifting on your own.
- Be respectful, but firm. Speaking out and being passionate doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk. Especially in today’s political and social climate, emotions and tensions are high. Being kind, or at least nodding towards inclusivity, helps spark conversation. However, don’t be a pushover. Stand your ground, especially when you know you’re right. Listen, but don’t necessarily accept, differences in opinions. Cultivate yourself as a space where respectfulness is expected, even if opinions are not always the same.
I truly believe that we are in a time when women speaking out is going to make all the difference. From breaking the cycle of rape culture, to bringing mental health to the forefront, to saving our precious natural resources, women are key catalysts to change. We have experiences in all these areas that diverge from the patriarchal norms, bringing fresh perspectives to ever important topics. Now is not the time to be silent. Let us together face these contentious times with our heads up and wings out.
- Kyleanne Hunter
*Note: I am a firm believer in the political restrictions placed on active duty military personnel. There is an important civil-military relationship that shouldn't be compromised.
Connect and learn more about Kyleanne here.