Full-Skirt Alert: Did You Just Say That?

post by Janetta Cravens, Vice President of Programs

What a blustery day we’ve had!

Does anyone remember when, back in the ‘80s, weather forecasters in Oklahoma called that a “Full-Skirt Alert?” That poetic phrase harkens to a time when women regularly wore skirts – and hose – to work, and windy days were a direct threat to decency with the wrong outfit choice.

Today, that phrase rings quaint, distant, strange, and like something I would have to explain to my millennial niece. Not like a phrase that wore out “so five minutes ago,” but like an expression that left with the expiration of an expectation on a whole generation of women. If I texted my niece and said, “It’s a full-skirt alert for sure!” I might as well have said “boy-howdy” or “doozy” along with my birth date. And I imagine her text response would be, “Really? Did you just say that?”

Not many of us would likely use “full-skirt” to communicate “it’s going to be windy today.” What a different time. But, it is a reminder that different eras bring different expressions, and language is a reflection of culture. And, culture is a system built by experience, expectation and understanding. We have more modern expectations of women in the workplace, fortunately. And yet there are still lingering ideas about women that need adjustment, and some might say, major realignment. I’m grateful to women who bravely present clear visions about the role of the modern woman and who give everyone permission to craft a world where no one ever has to say #metoo.

If we’ve had to find new words to say “it’s windy,” is it any wonder that we, from time to time, find ourselves unsure of the right word to use when the far more complex matters of culture arise? Or what about gender and its many expressions, religion and its vibrant rhythms, immigrant and indigenous experiences, class and economy, and the many infinite possibilities of what it means to be a human being in this world and experience this wild, wide and wondrous life?

The words we use are important, the phrases matter, so our tongues trip and minds stall out leaving conversation in full free-fall. Is that the phrase for this? If I say that – can I? Will I sound like an idiot? Is that wrong? Is that a phrase that was so five minutes ago or a word that has gone the way of full-skirt alerts and what-if-I-try-it-and-really-offend-someone-and-they-think-I’m-a- …? You get the picture.

It may feel that language evolves at the speed of text-speech and emojis, but there are some standards for communication that never go out of style. Skills such as listening, and apologizing when we accidentally offend someone – whether intended or not – are crucial. Do we ourselves assume good intent when we are the ones who were offended? Do we give grace while not giving each other an out, and holding each other accountable and speaking up instead of bottling it up?

That’s why I’m personally grateful for strong women, and cultural leaders like Mana Tahaie who work to shape our language and experiences here in Oklahoma so that that we can find more ways to stay engaged with one another as our very complex awareness grows. Mana’s class, “Did You Just Say That?” introduces our language conundrums in safe, illuminating and sometimes funny ways. I hope you’ll join me and the many others in our nonprofit sector who are trying to help all of us stutter our way into a new phraseology that makes the value we share for diversity and the hope we carry for inclusion, a more attainable reality for every Oklahoman.

We all need confidence, and grace, to update from “full-skirt” to an “alert” for a new era. Join your voice and stuttering tongue as Mana gives us new phrases to try and provides deeper understanding of “why” the language we use and the grace we give, matters. Because mistakes are human, learning is lifelong, and we are exponentially more successful when we face our conundrums together.

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