Women get the message early on that no one wants to hear our stories. This is a real message - in that, we really do receive it. It is not real, though, in that, actually, people *do* want to hear our stories.
When we work on our affirmations only, when we encourage ourselves and each other in limited quantity, we miss the systemic sexism that keeps women telling their stories down. I've been reading Rebecca Solnit more lately, and while I have definite critiques for her (she never mentions racism, not once, not explicitly, in Men Explain Things To Me, which is a serious chronic white feminism issue), she is incredibly articulate about the silencing of women. And this is crucial for women writing memoir, and those reading women's memoir, to consider.
So along with this recent post on Melissa Febos, I wanted to include some encouraging - and enlightening - passages from Solnit.
In describing an incident where a man mansplained her own recently released book to her at a party, and neither she nor her friend could get a word in edgewise to explain it was her book, she wrote:
I like incidents of that sort, when forces that are usually so sneaky and hard to point out slither out of the grass and are as obvious as, say, an anaconda that’s eaten a cow or an elephant turd on the carpet.On describing a Native Canadian feminist movement, Solnit reminds us that women's stories must be spoken if we are ever to see the larger, systemic trends:
One of the most exciting new political movements on Earth is the Native Canadian indigenous rights movement, with feminist and environmental overtones, called Idle No More. On December 27, shortly after the movement took off, a Native woman was kidnapped, raped, beaten, and left for dead in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Ontario, by men whose remarks framed the crime as retaliation against Idle No More. Afterward, she walked four hours through the bitter cold and survived to tell her tale. Her assailants, who have threatened to do it again, are still at large.
We have far more than eighty-seven thousand rapes in this country every year, but each of them is invariably portrayed as an isolated incident. We have dots so close they’re splatters melting into a stain, but hardly anyone connects them, or names that stain. In India they did. They said that this is a civil rights issue, it’s a human rights issue, it’s everyone’s problem, it’s not isolated, and it’s never going to be acceptable again. It has to change. It’s your job to change it, and mine, and ours.
Silencing is a symptom; speaking up is a cure. However, not all of us feel safe to do so - which is part and parcel with the same conditions that created out traumas. So get the support you need and take the risks you can. And if a tiny - or not so tiny voice - claims no one wants to hear it, share it with a friend. Remember why you wrote it. Remember those who have inspired you to write about it, and know they, too, doubted their right to write. Then, at least write it, even if you don't share it. Help alter the sea change currently in the works.