Tuesday, June 10, 2014

#yesallwomen and "the task you cannot refuse"

Women Unmasked (M.A. Reilly. Collage. 2012)


I appreciate Audrey Watters' (@audreywatters) post about women, ISTE & misogyny and although the context of the post is about misogynistic actions by ISTE male leaders, I am reminded that such behaviors are and have been present in the structures of hierarchies (contemporary and otherwise) for far longer than there's been ISTEs and the internet.  We need only consider Aristotle's belief that 'women were naturally deformed or imperfect males' (Flood, et als., 2007 from here) to grasp a sense of the long, long history of the hatred of women and girls.  This has never been limited to the 20th or 21st century for it is a learned expression of power and violence interwoven throughout our institutions and found lurking in the ways we value and fail to value.  It is an ideology, not bound by time or place--yet (in)formed by each.

How such ideology is communicated and reported does alter with time such as we see via the Internet. Moveable type allowed for the transfer of meaning beyond the intimate boundaries of touch and voice so long as one could author and/or have access to written texts and possess the ability to read them or listen to them be read. Such spaces of permission, of course, have often been controlled. Nonetheless, moveable type allowed for the possibility of the preservation of language, of one's story, of the voicing of other. It is in these stories that are not bound to us by geography and time that we learn how to bear witness.

A Room of One's Own (M.A. Reilly, 2009)

Today, the access to connect and reconnect with others across the earth via social media--along with the speed to do so--creates new conditions for stories to be told and heard. Our uses of social media allow for the possibility of voices that have been largely absent, silenced, missing, singular, misquoted, defamed, and quiet--to be heard as it enlarges the field of who hears--of who bears witness.  And it is in the co-specifying nature of telling and bearing, that a power to oppose misogyny is given voice--just as such power will invoke an increased desire on the part of some to limit possibility by regulating the Internet so that stories, such as those being told via #yesallwomen, can be silenced. And so the ways women and violence to women are situated and expressed also travel with force and speed--a force that Watters and others call to our notice.

A Pocket Full of Stones (M.A. Reilly, 2009)

In thinking about #yesallwomen and the rise (and clash) of voices this hashtag has occasioned, I am reminded of Virginia Woolf who at the very end of  A Room of One's Own tells the story of the Shakespeare's sister and our responsibility to her:

I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister; but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee’s life of the poet. She died young — alas, she never wrote a word. She lies buried where the omnibuses now stop, opposite the Elephant and Castle. Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the cross-roads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here to-night, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh. This opportunity, as I think, it is now coming within your power to give her. For my belief is that if we live another century or so — I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals — and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting-room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky, too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves; if we look past Milton’s bogey, for no human being should shut out the view; if we face the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women, then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down. Drawing her life from the lives of the unknown who were her forerunners, as her brother did before her, she will be born. As for her coming without that preparation, without that effort on our part, without that determination that when she is born again she shall find it possible to live and write her poetry, that we cannot expect, for that would he impossible. But I maintain that she would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worth while.

The internet may well be a room of our own--giving rise to the courage to listen to other, to write,  to share, and to receive.  Hearing and telling have always been forms of bearing witness and in some ways reading the deluge of tweets via #yesallwomen allows us to bear the personal truths that may be difficult to voice and difficult to hear and yet we know bearing witness is an action we cannot refuse.

It's what we learn from the speaker in Adrienne Rich's An Atlas of the Difficult World who concludes:

I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn 
between bitterness and hope  
turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.  
I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else  
left to read  
there where you have landed, stripped as you are.


And so to the women publishing via #yesallwomen,  to Audrey, and to the still silent women:

We are listening, too

           for something


knowing you are

                    Shakespeare's sister

stripped from our very bones.

We are thirsty.

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