Mouthy Women Unite

This week in Louisiana, a teacher was arrested for speaking at a school board meeting. Let that sink in.

The teacher, Deyshia Hargrave, spoke out against a proposed raise for the school superintendent. The school board voted to give the superintendent the raise and Hargrave spoke up again, complaining that the superintendent was getting a raise while teachers continued to live with low pay and limited classroom resources. It’s a common complaint in school systems, where teachers are expected to dip into their own meager earnings to provide tissues, cleaning supplies, paper, pencils, and other basic necessities for the classroom. It’s ridiculous and something’s gotta give, but the issue here is not the pay disparity; the issue here is that a woman spent a night in jail for speaking her mind. That’s nuts. And this particular school board has a history of ejecting mouthy women from its meetings.

As a mouthy woman, I am alarmed.

Remember when Mitch McConnell shut down Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor because, in his words: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” It’s rich. We could fill every football stadium in America with examples of men’s long-winded, rambling, off-topic speeches from the Senate floor. Men, it seems, can go on and on, but women, like children, should be seen and not heard. In the case of the teacher ejected from the school board meeting, that was exactly the explanation offered by the school board president. He figures if teachers can send an unruly student to the principal’s office, he ought to be able to send an unruly teacher to jail.

At a time when more women are speaking up, it is disheartening to see so many of them dismissed and minimized. As Hollywood awards season heats up, there is already plenty of backlash for the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns. People—both men and women, to be fair—complain about the black dresses and the speeches tinged with politics. They don’t want women spouting their opinions all over the red carpet. They want women to shut up and act or sing or look pretty. I suspect most of these women would like to stop shouting and focus on their jobs, but it’s difficult when you find out your male co-star is making twice your salary or when you have to dodge the handsy studio executive every time you want a cup of coffee.

And that teacher in Louisiana would probably be perfectly happy to sit quietly during school board meetings, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that the superintendent is getting a raise equivalent to your annual salary when you are forced to calculate whether your school has enough toilet paper to make it through the month.

The fact that a teacher can be jailed for expressing a dissenting opinion at a school board meeting is a travesty, but a predictable one. Anyone who believes women have gained equality in the workplace, the political arena, or anywhere else should take note of how often grown women are told to sit down and be quiet. It happens all the time. It happens in big public forums and in small meeting rooms. Women are interrupted, cut off, dismissed, or belittled on a regular basis, and we’ve grown so accustomed to it that many of us don’t even register the smaller insults.

We live in a world where the Dixie Chicks are told to “shut up and sing,” but Ted Nugent gets a standing guest spot in the Fox New lineup. We tell Elizabeth Warren to sit down, but indulge Ted Cruz as he reads Green Eggs & Ham in an effort to keep children and families from getting their grubby hands on health care. And we elect an unqualified blowhard to the presidency and tell the qualified woman candidate to take up knitting.

The only way to stop a pervasive pattern of injustice is to call it out and tear it down. Women have held their tongues and keep their opinions to themselves for too long. We’re seeing more and more women speak up and insist on being heard. I’m with these mouthy women. They can’t throw us all in jail.

Tiffany Quay Tyson
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Tiffany Quay Tyson