Let me start off this post with a caveat–I promise that I had already decided on this as the subject of the post before Sunday’s royal interview expose–really really. But, if the timing works for you in understanding why Oprah gets all these interviews, I’m happy for your attention too!
I started this week talking about assertiveness and narrowing that to the willingness to talk up and to negotiate. Another part of assertiveness is the framing piece of how you talk and what makes people want to listen. Some of this is tied to reputation–if you are known for telling it like it is, people are more likely to trust your words. And the willingness to be candid and to talk about things that are unpleasant give people credibility as it often conveys authenticity. Moreover, in the examples below of being candid about things that used to be considered shameful, women have become examples of strength instead of weakness.
Oprah has made a career marked by her willingness to be open about her life. (There’s a ton of other talents as well, to be sure, I’m just focusing on this one.) As she said this weekend during her interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, “no subject is off limits.” After being haunted that she did not speak up earlier in her life, Oprah had another opportunity in 1986 to speak up about her own assault and she seized the moment. This igniting moment “paved the way for a string of people to sit on her sofa and confess. ” When accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes in 2018, she said
“For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men, but their time is up. I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say “Me too” again.”
And, as we know, more and more women are willing to talk about their assaults and refused to be shamed. Katie Roiphe in reviewing two memoirs (one on domestic violence and one on statutory rape) this past weekend for the The New York Times noted
In the course of [Tanya] Selvaratnam’s careful, detailed narrative, we see how a story that looks extraordinary isn’t extraordinary. We see how millions of other less sensational, lower profile stories of abuse are contained within this one.
And that is the power of these candid revelations–to share what, in fast, is commonplace but often not shared. More recently, and about another painful subject, women have started to share their pregnancy losses. Actress/model Chrissy Teigen went public this past fall on social media with her miscarriage including pictures of her and her husband, John Legend, in the hospital. As one commentator put it,
it is at once brave and discomfiting. Miscarriage is often stigmatized, uncomfortable to talk about and uncomfortable to hear about, and as such encourages many women not to talk about it at all. This, in turn, leads them to feel ashamed — as if their bodies were failures — and alone. Like anything, the more we talk about it, the more normal it becomes and the less shame is attached, and the easier it will be for women and their families to find and offer support. And that is the point–instead of stigma, it brings strength.
You might also recall another famous person sharing her miscarriage this past fall. As the Duchess of Sussex wrote in the New York Times,
Losing a child means carrying an almost unbearable grief, experienced by many but talked about by few. In the pain of our loss, my husband and I discovered that in a room of 100 women, 10 to 20 of them will have suffered from miscarriage. Yet despite the staggering commonality of this pain, the conversation remains taboo, riddled with (unwarranted) shame, and perpetuating a cycle of solitary mourning.
And now that we’ve mentioned the Duchess, let’s note the other negotiation skills exemplified by both Oprah and Megan Markle in that interview. There was extraordinary empathy and social intuition (just watch the body language) on Oprah’s part–it’s a good reminder of just how talented she is as an interviewer–and how all of these skills can be used together. And Megan’s willingness to discuss yet another area of discomfort–mental distress–should also be noted.
The shame that women can carry about their bodies–after an assault, a miscarriage, or even because of a normal monthly cycle (which keeps thousands of girls around the world out of schools because of the lack of menstrual products and continues to interfere with education here in the US) can be paralyzing. All the more reason that our examples of candor and authenticity should be the women who proclaim otherwise.