Honoring Female Storytellers
from All Perspectives:
Why Feminism and Feminists Need to Stop Dividing Women
Breaking the Legacy of Silence #42
Kim D. Bailey
“The uncomfortable truth seems to be that the amount of talk by women has been measured less against the amount of men’s talk than against the expectation of female silence.”
― Gloria Steinem, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions
As a female born in the mid-60’s to a conservative southern family, I was taught, “to be seen and not heard.”
This admonition was not to be taken lightly. The first rule was that as a child, I had no rights nor did I have any say in the decisions, actions, inactions, operations, or executions of family matters. The second rule held me at an even lower station because I was a girl, and therefore not as empowered, intelligent, logical, or capable of contributing to anything other than those things I was permitted to contribute to, or be a part of, by the governing body of my family—my dad.
Now, his mother and grandmother were strong women for their times. When held in comparison to strong women of my or my daughter’s time, they could be criticized for playing the game, acting the part, and manipulating the system to get what they needed or wanted. In my humble opinion, I think both were suppressed and oppressed, despite their vocal natures and inimitable forces within our family system. As women who were born in the early part of the 20th century, they held no power of their own. It came through and from the men in their lives. Period. Sometimes this meant they utilized this power to accomplish hard goals, but they found a way to make those goals a reality.
Whether they did so in response to the men in their lives, they did it, and I see their actions as not only revolutionary and noteworthy, but I respect they were doing the best they could at the time.
Therefore, when my dad—in direct rebellion against his perceptions of the strong women who raised him—made himself the king and ruler of our little family, my grandmother and great grandmother went along to keep the peace and in deference to a man they loved and held in high esteem. They did not see my father’s overwhelming use of fear and strength as harmful to me or my sister, or detrimental to our individualism.
No, it was the way it was. It was, indeed, a man’s world.
Everything that happened when I was a child—from domestic violence, alcoholism, drug abuse, drug trafficking, sex trafficking, sexual abuse, neglect, poverty, unfaithfulness, verbal abuse, mental abuse—all of it happened as a direct or indirect result of how men treated women in my family of origin and my parent’s families of origin.
Until I learned how to see this as 1) unhealthy and 2) unacceptable, I was no different than anyone else. When I did learn these truths and more, I learned to break away from the patterns that led me into the same or similar situations. Those lessons took years to finally learn and sink in. Years.
“Feminism…is not ‘women as victims’ but women refusing to be victims.” –Gloria Steinem, The Trouble With Rich Women
I had to learn not to be a victim. The way I learned this was through several processes. First, I went to therapy and did so off and on for many years. I learned some cognitive-behavioral methods to change my thinking, to learn to respond and cope in healthier ways to unhealthy events and toxic people, and to begin to see where my reactions played a part. I learned to set boundaries and speak up for myself.
Later, I was encouraged to write for therapeutic effect, to get to the root of my pain and anger. I did this and found that not only did I feel abandoned by my dad, but also by my mom, and pretty much by most of the family who were supposed to be there to protect and support me. My stories of pain and abuse were not only caused by the men in my life, but by some of the women as well.
Eventually, I learned to write to these life experiences, feelings, and alternative responses in a way that helped others who read my stories. It began with my personal blog, and moved outward into a weekly column. Much of my fiction, poetry, novel, and nonfiction writing are honest responses to actual events, feelings, thoughts, and people in my life. What began as a therapeutic process for me became a creative process, and one that also led to Breaking the Legacy of Silence, first on my WordPress site, then here on Five 2 One as a weekly columnist.
Although I write to many issues, as a woman and a mother, I wouldn’t necessarily call my column feminist, though it can certainly be interpreted that way sometimes.
At other times it’s an outright war cry for women and what we’ve been through.
So many of us, being born equally as beautiful and strong, were not born equally into socio-economic environments that nurtured our strengths, strong voices, intelligence, creativity, individualism, or privilege.
Many of us were born into poor, oppressed, suppressed, racist, masochist, patriarchal, families. For instance, in my case, I was born in the south where blue-collar work was the most one could expect, living hand to mouth, paycheck to paycheck, sometimes on assistance, marrying young and having children young, in a conservative, white, protestant, evangelical environment that expected me to “know my place.”
Some girls, born in the same hospital as me on the same day, were born into middle-class or well-off families who encouraged their daughters to go to college. They probably even paid for that to happen. Some had mothers who were nurturing and compassionate. Others had kind, loving, and gentle fathers.
The point is, we are all the places we have been. Therefore, each of us has a different story to tell. Whatever way those stories may originate, whether in response to what happened to us by men, or otherwise, should not matter.
Our validity as artists, writers, and storytellers should not depend on the origination of, or the reactionary beginnings, of our stories.
More important, it’s critical that women stand by one another on these differences. Whether one of my female writer friends is writing about her feminism as originating at birth, or another of my female writer friends writes about how she came to her feminism after having been sexually abused by her uncle—the message and ultimate result is the same: Women are telling their own stories. Women have their own voices. Women are speaking for themselves—and for other women—and being heard.
“I think the revolutionary role of a writer is to make language that makes coalition possible, language that makes us see things in a new way.”
― Gloria Steinem, Particular Passions: Talks With Women Who Have Shaped Our Times
My stories are mine to tell, just as another author’s stories are hers (or his) to tell. It’s not my job to criticize how another person arrives at his or her truth or story. I’m not only speaking to personal essay, memoir, or nonfiction. I’m speaking to all writing, which originates from real life events, thoughts, and feelings. Some fiction can be interpreted as purely invented, but when one looks closely at any plot, character, or meaning—in a good story one will see the honesty of all humanity in the story.
Whether it’s the movie Wonder Woman, The Handmaid’s Tale, Wild, or Eat, Pray, Love—each of these stories, depicting and/or told by women, are stories first of humanity and self-awareness, and secondly as stories of women and what they do in response to their surroundings.
Sometimes those surroundings don’t involve men. Most of the time, they do. After all, half of the world’s population is male and we are intrinsically and biologically connected to the men and boys in our lives.
What’s important, in feminism and any other form of activism and advocacy, when it comes to writing, movie-making, art, or any other expression from a human perspective—is that we honor the story and learn from it.
The end goal is to see things in a new way, from a new perspective, and to have not only an enlightened or educated awakening, but compassion and empathy for those we have just watched on the big screen, or read about, or heard speak at a Women’s Rights Conference.
When women begin to criticize and demean other women’s methodologies and origins of their stories, they practice a form of oppression and suppression, essentially mimicking those who came before us; those who told females of all ages to shut the fuck up because you’re causing a scene and you’re an embarrassment to the rest of us. Their criticism is exclusionary. They are saying, in effect, that women shouldn’t tell stories differently than they would. How is this okay?
All women have a story. Some of us have learned to tell our stories, some never will.
The point is, never quash anyone with a story to tell, especially a sister—a woman—who must fight for all the same rights and respect as you. Such disdain for other women from women is just as harmful, if not more detrimental, as the disrespect we have received from men who have historically kept their feet on the collective necks of women.
“Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke . . . She will need her sisterhood.”
Women must support other women, or we will never know a day when inequality is not only erased from our culture, but is a foreign concept and something future generations will never be subject to learn, except as a footnote in history books.
Ladies, it’s time we had one another’s backs. We cannot expect the men in our lives to save us.
We must save ourselves—and we must be willing to help save one another.