8th March 2022
To mark International Women's Day, Sophie Mitchell writes about the pressures she feels as a woman who stammers, and celebrates the strength and achievements of other women in the stammering community.
To me, International Women's Day has always been an opportunity to recognise all that women can do and be, despite the public perceptions. Smashing past public perceptions could of course also be said for people who stammer, so it stands to reason that this article is a great way to acknowledge my experiences as a woman who stammers.
It is well known that stammering is more common in men, meaning that the research findings you read about are based on a population of predominately men. These findings are then applied to women who stammer, without the context of how our experiences may differ. Whilst I'm only writing about my own experiences, I'm grateful for the opportunity to fill some gaps in how we talk about stammering.
Worse for me, is hearing the famous phrase mostly heard by women of "Oh your stammer is so cute!!" I personally find this incredibly patronising and infantilising, like I’m being compared to a little puppy.
Pressures & expectations
My own stammering journey has of course varied over the years, both in terms of my fluency and my emotions around it. Whilst I don't feel that being female has affected these, it has affected my social experiences of stammering. As a woman, I always feel the presence of both internal and societal pressures of how I should look or act — let alone then how fluent I should be. It becomes tiresome to present yourself against a list of these standards. Worse for me, is hearing the famous phrase mostly heard by women of "Oh your stammer is so cute!!" I personally find this incredibly patronising and infantilising, like I'm being compared to a little puppy. My stammer is anything but cute, sweet or childlike. Instead it has made me the adult I am: strong, resilient, empathic and determined.
When I first started attending stammering events and conferences, I was struck by the fact that I was faced with a room of predominately men — all incredibly kind, but not like me and could therefore not fully relate to my individual experiences.
All the comments or judgements I've ever received about being a woman or having a stammer can feel incredibly belittling. It's tempting to hide away, to take up less space in the world. I feel that it's almost expected that as a woman who stammers I'll be quiet, shy and reserved. Those who know me well will be chuckling to themselves right now, given that I am absolutely anything but those things! I'm confident in saying that I have every right to be seen, heard and to own my place in the world.
Strength & achievements
Despite the frustrations, I am always blown away by the strength and achievements I see in the community of women who stammer. When I first started attending stammering events and conferences, I was struck by the fact that I was faced with a room of predominately men — all incredibly kind, but not like me and could therefore not fully relate to my individual experiences. Over the years, I have gradually found the women I could connect with and develop incredibly valued friendships with. These are women who I have laughed with and gained support from — but most of all, they have been people I always look up to for all they do. I've seen the women who will fiercely and bravely speak passionately at events; take time to build our community; who dedicate time to support the experiences of people who stammer in university; or even raise awareness even in times of their own personal distress. I have seen countless instances of incredible bravery, kindness and humility from all of these wonderful women.
Our voices may be the smallest in the stammering community, especially in a world where women and people who stammer are expected to be quiet. But do not fret, today is a day to rejoice as we can confirm, that we will always make sure that we are heard.
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