Empowering Women’s Voices

As I am developing the post-OU, new professional chapter of my life, I find that I am becoming more and more energized by the topic of Empowering Women’s Voices. I have technical skills and techniques for releasing the voice, allowing women to have a more powerful, authentic and expressive speaking voice; and I have also been reading large amounts of Feminist literature, significant works that gave voice to the movement that were largely unknown to me. If I want to truly empower a woman’s voice, I want to have a deeper understanding of the cultural, societal and psychological reasons that women as a gender have been denied a voice in places of leadership. I have observed that young girls reach an age when they start hiding and even denying their own voice in order to maintain relationships with other women, within the family and with men.  Psychologists tell us that young women suffer trauma as they feel forced to bury parts of themselves in order to survive in a culture that says girls must be soft, sweet, compliant,  compromising, in order to be deemed worthy. These young women feel betrayed when they feel forced to deny their power to be assertive, to lead, to set agendas.

Because I was one of the millions of women before me who bought into what the Feminist term “the patriarchy,” I became quite good at denying the stronger masculine sides of my nature – leading, speaking out, setting agenda – for fear that I would be seen as “hard to work with.” I developed a self-depreciating nature, content to play the professional peace-maker. Not that that is a bad role, I am proud that I am good at that function, it has served me well in several organizations. But when I finally did develop emotionally and mentally to a place where I felt ready for leadership, I was denied that opportunity because others viewed me a weak, they did not trust that I could have the difficult conversations, or make the hard choices.  I felt I found my voice too late, even though, ironically, I have spent years developing my actual voice.

Here is the double edge sword I see for us, as a society of voice trainers who can impact the voices of our young women, we must offer them a range of voices and behaviors. Provide opportunities where they can practice claiming their power as leaders and also encourage them to be peace-makers as the situation requires. We must model for them how to set the agenda and make the hard decisions; yet, also demonstrate how to nurture relationships and to adapt to what each situation requires. In Feminist terms that means encouraging both the “feminine”  traits of nurturing and building relationships and the “masculine” traits of self-sufficiency and belief in their ability to take charge. If we could provide that kind of training to our young women,  actual voice trainers like myself would find an easier task of empowering the actual confident, authentic and expressive voice.


Rena Cook

Rena Cook is Professor Emerita at the University of Oklahoma. She is a TEDx speaker, author, voice, speech, confidence, and presentation coach. She is the founder of Vocal Authority, a training consultancy serving attorneys who want to use their voice in more commanding and authentic ways. She has authored several books, including Her Voice in Law, which she co-wrote with Laurie Koller. The book provides additional advice on the above topics and more, and is available at https://www.americanbar.org/.

Leave a Comment