So, what exactly is Breaking the Legacy of Silence?
When I was growing up in the Chattanooga, TN and North Georgia area, I was told first that, “Children are to be seen and not heard.”
Secondly, I was told, “Women are to be submissive to their men.” It starts with our fathers and all other men who are our elders. This was also applied to any other male who had more say than I did because I was a girl, even boys my own age.
Much of the justification behind this directive was quoted from the Bible. Specifically, I was taught as a young girl being brought up in a Southern Baptist family:
“Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and THY DESIRE SHALL BE TO THY HUSBAND, and he hall rule over thee.”
Genesis 3:16, KJV
“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”
1 Corinthians 14:34-35, KJV
This directive to keep silent and to submit was extended in the home, the community, and at work.
As a girl and later a woman, I was expected to defer to all the males in my life. My father first, then my bosses, my husband, and all men who had any authority or were elders to me. I was also told, in so many words and actions, that boys had more power and ability, and their words would be accepted over mine.
When I was growing up, my dad and mom were so young when they had my sister and me, they hardly knew what they were doing. All they knew was what they were taught by their parents and grandparents. Women are secondary to men. Men were the main breadwinners. Women took care of the home and children, and tended to the needs of their men. Even if a woman worked outside the home, her status remained the same. She must defer to and care for her husband, get all of the house work done, and take care of the children.
For instance, my great-grandmother worked a good part of her young adulthood. She married my great-grandfather, Tom Carter, and was soon divorced from him back in the 1930’s when divorce was taboo, because he beat her anytime he got drunk, angry, or both. She was the youngest of eleven children from a conservative home in the South. When she divorced my great-grandfather, she was essentially ostracized from her family for not conforming to the rules.
Later, my great-grandmother, Dorothy, married my great-grandfather, John Wesley Scudgins. She knew him from school when they were kids. He was kind, gentle, and he stood by her side every step of the way. He helped my great-grandmother to finish raising my grandmother, Marie. He stood strong as the Patriarch of our family. As far as I knew growing up, and now as an adult, John Scudgins was and remains my great-grandfather. He taught unconditional love, kindness, and provided a quiet strength our family sorely needed.
My grandmother, their only child, was raised in an abusive environment with her biological father, Tom Carter, until she was around eight-years-old. Having been born in 1928, my Granny Marie was also taught that women are to be seen and not heard.
Yet, her mother was an exception to the rule. Dorothy Newport Carter Scudgins told her family, her ex-husband, and the world that she was not going to put up with a man beating her just because that was the way it was.
When my Granny Marie, Granny Dorothy’s daughter and my dad’s mother, married my grandfather Bob Bailey, she soon learned what her mother had gone through. Bob Bailey was an alcoholic, misogynist, and a wife-abuser as well. When my dad was only two-years-old, in 1948, Granny Marie divorced him after he broke so many bones in her body she was rendered helpless in a hospital for months. Though it was still considered shameful, she divorced Bob Bailey in 1948 for his heinous treatment of her, and she found another life with the man I consider my true grandfather, Bill Phy.
As much as I loved my dad, his belief that men were dominant over women became his Achilles Heel in his marriage to my mother. Despite the imperfections and terrible things my mom and dad did to one another, my dad believed that women had less value—even though his own mother and grandmother had bravely divorced men who abused them—and he felt it was his right to exercise this control over my mother.
He was great when he wasn’t drinking or doing drugs, but the problem remained that he was doing at least one, if not both, most of the time. He became abusive to my mom. They both cheated on one another during their fourteen-year marriage. Eventually, mom said she couldn’t do it anymore, and she became the enemy to my dad’s side of the family. My dad—he moved from Georgia to Florida and took up his drug-dealing lifestyle, womanizing, and wild ways with gusto. He lived in a way that helped him not only cope with what he felt were his failures as a husband, father, son, and grandson, but in a way that netted him a substantial income as a drug kingpin. Eventually, this lifestyle caught up with him and he wasn’t able to continue. He committed suicide at age 41 when his back was out and he couldn’t do construction work, and he felt there were no other options. By that time, my mom had moved on. I was a young mother. My sister was pregnant with her first child.
The legacy of silence was ingrained in me. I was afraid to say how I really felt about my parent’s divorce, my dad’s womanizing ways and drug dealing, my mom’s need to have a man take care of her, both parent’s indiscretions, and my own depression and battles with body image and eating disorder.
When I was ten, my mom left my dad for another man. I heard so much negativity from my dad and his side of the family about this I could not express my feelings, so I began to write. My words were private at first. I spoke out and found it was not received well by my dad and his family.
I married young and found my words were not received well by my ex-husbands, either.
Essentially, my role was set. I was to be seen and not heard not only as a child, but as a woman.
I was not satisfied with this role.
When I was a young mother of three, I was participating in therapy as part of a group of women who had been sexually abused. I was attending this group weekly, provided by the local Women and Children in Crisis organization. I wrote a poem about my experience as a child who had been sexually molested when I was eleven-years-old.
My husband, at that time, was a manager with a major oil company in Oklahoma. When he learned my poem was going to be published on the front page of the Women and Children in Crisis Newsletter, he was livid. In his mind, this was a “shameful thing.” He did not want his coworkers or their families to know that his wife had written such a poem and was part of such an organization, or had been sexually molested.
Well, that was just the beginning of the end for our marriage. I was in a phase of my life where I was learning to take back my power. It had been stripped from me when I was a girl, further stripped when I was abused, and I wasn’t having any of it anymore. I was going to tell my story. I was going to start the healing process and write my words.
It took some time, many years later, for me to get serious and start doing this on a consistent basis.
When I was in Italy in 2010, I saw a psychologist on the Navy base in Gricignano Di Aversa near Naples who challenged me to write my life story and to pinpoint the moment that had most profoundly affected me. After some consideration, I decided that moment was the time my mom left us when I was ten-years-old, when my dad was still in the Army in Fort Benning.
Once I began to write, I found the courage and strength—and words—to write more. I began to tell my stories. I created a crude blog and wrote crude words, but at least I had begun.
Today, I have a blog where I contribute at least weekly, speaking to current issues, what’s really going on in my life, lessons learned, and hopes for my future as a writer. I now have this column, where I Break the Legacy of Silence on a weekly basis.
Some people in my life don’t appreciate my candor. I’ve had some family and friends unfriend me, unfollow me, and block me as well as become estranged from me, because they didn’t care for my words and my stories about my life. Not only have some of my own in-laws done this, but my own flesh and blood, my children.
That’s okay. It’s their prerogative, right?
Still, I can’t help but wonder why it is so difficult to accept someone else’s version of their own life experiences and what they gleaned from them.
What is it that makes it so hard to accept another person’s truth and experience about life?
Perhaps this is the Million Dollar question.
I don’t know the answer.
However, despite the punitive actions by “family” who have cut me off, blocked me, and continue to be estranged from me because they didn’t like that I told my truths and my stories, I know my calling is to write about it anyway.
So here I am, Breaking The Legacy of Silence once again.
May we all be so brave as to tell our own truths and our stories, regardless of the consequences.
Kim Bailey Deal writes Women’s Fiction, short stories, poetry, and non-fiction. She is currently revising her first novel and finishing her second, as well as co-editing an anthology. Publications: MORE Magazine’s Member Voices, The Pull of Strays; Issue 3 of Firefly Magazine, A Journal of Luminous Writing; Writer’s Digest as part of editor Robert Lee Brewer’s blog. She lives in Chattanooga, TN and is the mother of four grown children, three boys and one girl, and “Nim” to her husband’s grandchildren. To connect, she can be found at kimbaileydeal.net, Kim Bailey Deal Page on Facebook, @wordjunkie1966 on Twitter.