The Book of Esther opens with silent women. Not a word of theirs is quoted. Vashti is silent when called to the king by his seven male servants. Perhaps she just shook her head in refusal. Esther is silent throughout receiving instructions from Mordechai, her selection by the king’s servant, her waiting in the palace for her turn to meet the king, her betrothal and her marriage. Nothing, nada, gornisht.
In the last year, I have met woman after woman who has trouble speaking up: women paralyzed from fear of speaking in front of others, women who can’t make a single business phone call, women who silence themselves. Women who don’t ask for what they want.
In terms of the Purim plot, Esther is now in the palace, she has access to power holders. She is LinkedIn. Haman’s plan is revealed. It aims to silence her forever. It forces a change in Esther. She calls Hatakh, her servant, to convey messages to Mordechai. I imagine that she calls this servant to her quietly and that she speaks in whispers. She wants, after all, to communicate secretly with her Uncle Mordechai. No-one should know she is talking, but at least she gives voice. The moment she calls her servant is the moment she begins to act in the world. There is a connection between speaking and having an impact. In response to Esther’s fear of approaching and speaking to the king, Mordechai demands that she “not remain silent.” Speaking is the action she must take to survive.
She obeys him and speaks. And she does it well. In fact, Esther now emerges as an outcomes focused strategist. There is no hard sell. She gives her king what he likes, yet another feast. And for an entire day, again, she says nothing about her goal in hosting the meeting. This silence, however, is a very different silence. It is the silence of building a plan and moving pieces into position. And then, on the second day, she asks for what she wants.
This week, I met with a woman to prepare her for a strategic meeting. She wants to sell courses she has prepared. “Tell me a success story,” I ask. She responds, “I don’t have any. I’ve never taught any of the materials,” and she bends forward in embarrassment and puts her hands on her face. And then she remembers, “Oh, apart from that meeting where ten out of fifteen people I invited turned up, and, oh yes, there was that meeting with the roomful of people in my community who came to hear my presentation. And can you count the sessions that I ran at the…?”etc.
This is not an isolated case of low self-esteem.
What’s with that, ladies? Is this Persia, BCE357? Let’s make like Esther and go make some 21st century noise. Strategic, goal focused, major noise.