Why I Have a Problem With “Women Must Be Seen And Not Heard”

Have you ever heard people say, “Women must be seen and not heard?” Here is a short history lesson. The phrase “Women must be seen and not heard” originates from an old English proverb, “Children must be seen and not heard”. This proverb first appeared in a book by John Mirk published in the 15th century titled Mirks Festial.

The proverb “Children must be seen and not heard” means that children should not interfere in discussions being held by adults or grown-ups. The child’s job is simply to sit, listen and learn from the adults without making any contributions. Somehow, as the years went by, “children” was replaced by “women”.

One afternoon in secondary school, all the girls were called to attend a girls meeting and during this meeting, the teacher who was addressing us kept repeating the words “Girls should be seen, not heard.” I had no problem with it back then. In fact, I was very moved by her words. Many of us were!

Two weeks ago, a friend shared someone’s Facebook post to her WhatsApp status. In the Facebook post, the author describes an incident in a store where a woman was asking questions about things in the store and after she left, the sales guy and his colleague started passing comments about how women like her are rejects to society. Everything was driving towards, “Women should be seen and experienced, not heard.” You can read the full Facebook post below.

From “Coach Steady Divine” on Facebook

While 13 year old me was moved by my teacher’s sentiments in secondary school, me today completely disagrees with the phrase and this is why.

“Women must be seen and not heard” creates an environment where women do not speak up for themselves and where women who are confident or even self-aware are seen as a nuisance. It promotes the idea of women being nothing more than their outward appearance. It says “We don’t care about what you have to say, just sit down and stay pretty.”

The phrase also promotes a culture where women stay silent when they are uncomfortable and tells women that they have nothing of substance to contribute to a conversation and even issues affecting them. I would like to believe phrases like this are the reason why today you will see different organisations creating platforms to discuss issues such as period poverty and not have a single woman on the platform to talk about things women go through. You would think that those who have first hand experience with periods are better suited to talk about period poverty but no, “a woman must be seen and not heard.”

Photo By Alena Jarrett

In the Facebook post, the author uses this phrase to “correct” a woman who was asking the sales guy questions. The sales guy who works in the same store and is paid to attend to potential customers. He also went on to refer to her asking questions as “ratchetness”. I struggled to find the relation between the two. I don’t even understand how the woman was being extra but to go ahead and say she is a “reject to society” simply because she asked questions or she wasn’t silent is a problem. There is no need to advocate for women to be silent. I strongly dislike that phrase and I wish it could be done away with. All it does is undermine women.

If you are a woman and you are reading this, please ask questions when you do not know or you are unsure, voice out your opinions, speak out about your discomfort or how something makes you feel and please don’t be afraid to speak on issues that concern you.

What do you think about the phrase ‘Women must be seen and not heard”? Do you agree with the saying or do you disagree with it? I would love to know the reason for your answer. Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Thanks for reading!
Wonani Xx

Dose of Wonani

6 thoughts on “Why I Have a Problem With “Women Must Be Seen And Not Heard”

  1. Batsirai Chigama has a poetry anthology titled Gather The Children and one of the poems in the book Daughters Of Fire has the following line which has stayed with me 3 years after I first read it:
    ……Silence was taught to our mothers
    We rejected it at birth


    Liked by 1 person

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