Nancy: The Power of Women’s Stories

A few weeks ago, I had one of those strange juxtapositions that sometimes happens in life. While many in the US and across the world were riveted to the broadcast of US Senate testimony, I was immersed in a deep-dive workshop with writing mentor Jennie Nash. While I was submersed in discussions about the value of women’s narratives, pundits were debating whether one woman’s narrative should have any impact on a lifetime appointment to the US Supreme Court. And while my friends and I were celebrating the many opportunities for women to publish their stories in this day and age, one woman was painstakingly recounting her own personal story in the public square. A story that was ultimately whitewashed and dismissed by an all-male panel of senators.

For many of us, it was one hell of an emotional week. For women who have fought to be allowed to tell their own stories, who’ve been silenced or misbelieved, or who haven’t even been able to process their emotions to the point of putting words to their experiences, it was gutwrenching. It was triggering. It was infuriating.

On the news and across the internet, I saw expressions of rage. Almost simultaneously, I saw backlash, rebukes, and self-recriminations about women’s rage. That broke my heart all over again. If we are to be fully realized human beings, allowed to tell and write our stories, whether personal or fictional, we need to have access to every crayon in the box. Society telling women – or worse, us telling ourselves or each other – that we are not allowed to have anger, and if we do, at least god forbid don’t express it, is separating us from a vital part of the human experience. It’s that separation, dehumanization, and ‘othering’ of women that has gotten our world into so much of its current mess.

“A society that does not respect women’s anger is one that does not respect women, not as human beings, thinkers, knowers, active participants, or citizens…It is easier to criticize the angry women than to ask the questions “What is making you so angry?” and “What can we do about it?” — the answers to which have disruptive and revolutionary implications.” – Soraya Chemaly

Enter C-SPAN, ever a balm on our fractured national soul (I’m a fan, in case you couldn’t tell). The network’s brilliant series “After Words” provides interviews of non-fiction authors, by – and here’s the hook that makes me love it so much – other writers or experts in the same field. This week, Rebecca Traister, author of Good and Mad:the Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, was interviewed by Professor Brittney Cooper, author of Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower. You can see where this is going. Finally, an intelligent, considered conversation that unpacks, explores, and validates anger as an emotion intrinsic and important to all human beings, including women.

If you’ve been angry about the state of the world these past few weeks, or observing the anger of women taking to the streets and wondering whether all that anger, which will surely be reviled by ‘moderate voices’, is useful or even acceptable, I encourage you to watch the interview between these two amazing writers. Trust me, you’ll feel better. I hope you’ll also feel empowered, called to action, and entitled to your own emotions, all of them, regardless of what they might be. And I hope you’ll carry that range of emotions into your stories, whether you’re writing an article, a memoir, or a novel, and show women as human beings with the full complement of human emotions.

Today, I don’t have a happily ever after to share, or a parable to prove that good triumphs over evil. I only have my own voice, my own story, and my inalienable conviction that it’s incumbent upon women to tell their stories, in fiction as well as in the public square. Even when, or perhaps especially when our stories are full of rage and pain. We have to speak up and speak out until we who are 51% of the world’s population are no longer relegated to being ‘the other’. Until our faces and voices and stories are part and parcel of human history. Until we are heard.

And if you are a woman or have ever cared about a woman in your life, it’s incumbent upon you to listen.

“You should be angry…So use that anger. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.” – Maya Angelou

5 thoughts on “Nancy: The Power of Women’s Stories

  1. Something I heard somewhere: if they can send one man to the moon, why can’t they send them all there? (with apologies to all of you out there who are friends, mothers, sisters, and wives of the decent ones)

    The part that depresses me is that we saw all this before with Anita Hill and so many other women. It just never gets better. Jenny (or a commenter) published Dr. Ford’s forwarding address yesterday; I think I’ll send her a thank you note. She knew what she was letting herself in for, and she knew she wouldn’t be believed, and she did it anyway. A strong woman, like so many others who stood up, for so little effect.

    • And yet, we have to keep standing up or nothing gets even incrementally better. It’s exhausting, though, and as you said, depressing. As someone said in another comment section (maybe Jenny’s?), I hope this is an extinction gasp of the white patriarchy (and all patriarchy).

  2. One thing one of those white old guys got right, though, was the reason why there aren’t more women in politics or elite committees. It’s extra work, and the average woman is already tired. She’s probably juggling home and work, and maybe a family, children, schooling and a whole lot of other things. She hasn’t got the energy to tackle a huge mountain of bullshit.

    I know a young girl who could have run for student council president. But she didn’t like giving speeches. So, she arranged for a different guy to get president (he wasn’t very qualified, but he was willing to give speeches), and she did most of the work as vice president. She wasn’t completely satisfied with his performance, but she was happy she didn’t have to give speeches.

    So many women work behind the scenes to avoid all the crap; they work for the love of seeing something come together. And then the empty figure-head guy gets all the credit and all the love.

    If women stopped “wasting their time on the trivial stuff”, they’d have time to run for office and make some changes that way. But . . . civilization would probably fall down around our ears, because it turns out that “trivial stuff” is absolutely essential to the functioning of work, home, family and society.

    What we could use is a bunch of “wives”; people who can keep things functioning. They don’t have to be women-wives, but they do have to be somewhat responsible and efficient.

    Ah, well, I guess we just have to keep doing the best with what we have. Your call to arms (to pens?) is a good one, and maybe we should go on strike for a week, and devote our time to just telling our stories.

    • The number of women who are in politics and the even higher number running for office belie that little ‘truth’ those old white guys think they can peddle. While some of those women are past child-rearing age, others have actually gone through pregnancies and raising small children (Gillibrand and Duckworth come to mind) while holding office, and still show up to kick ass and take names. I assume they have/hire good help to keep their lives in order :-).

      Having a daughter in politics who works exclusively for women candidates of color, I can report that the real reason so many women stay away is less about fear of the workload or public speaking, and much more about the atrocious treatment they receive from the press, members of the public, and often at the hands of their D male colleagues (some of the things that have been said to my daughter by white male democrats would curdle your stomach). The men in the Black Caucus in both the Senate and the House have a pretty atrocious record of supporting black women candidates, endorsing white guys with a D behind their names over highly-qualified black and brown women candidates at an alarming rate. And white women don’t get much better support.

      *steps off soapbox and goes to get a good, stiff Bourbon*

      • Good soapbox! Dealing with snide comments from press, colleagues and the public at large is the kind of crap that makes it tough for anyone to run. It does seem that women attract more than their fair share of the crap, too.

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