This post is inspired by a story I was told recently about a writer friend I knew a long, long time ago. I think it might resonate not only with women, but especially with women who come from cultures/families where silence for the sake of the family’s dignity and at the expense of one’s peace of mind is cruelly expected from them.
Before you enter, if you read this and felt like this eerily mirrors your situation, please accept this virtual hug!
So. What is the power of writing?
Writing is not just about being able to tell stories. Often times, its power comes from being able to tell a writer’s own particular story. I can’t tell you how many readings I’ve been to where people are reading from books, poems and short stories that essentially speak to their own personal experiences, life journeys, fears, passions and worries. Don’t think this doesn’t happen in fiction – and don’t think it doesn’t happen in fantastical fiction, for example, genres like Science Fiction or Fantasy.
Regardless of what you write, you can write your own perspectives, feelings and histories into your work. You can give voice to your emotions.
But most importantly, you can give voice to your pain.
That is the power of writing.
But what happens when, for cultural or personal reasons, you feel like you’re not allowed to even do that?
I find a lot of women especially go through this predicament, particularly (and I might be guessing here) women who come from homes where silence is expected.
Let me tell you what I mean. Often times, in certain households, women are taught that bringing shame to their family by telling others what might be happening to them in the domestic space is absolutely forbidden. Even if you live with someone who is treating you terribly, you are told that you are not allowed to voice your pain, not allowed to seek outside help, even through writing.
Everything must be kept within the family.
I believe that this is a reality that a lot of women writers face. It’s not so easy for some writers to tell people about the horrors they might be going through in the home. The story I was told really got me thinking especially about emotional and psychological abuse. Other more physical forms of abuse are just as difficult to speak up about, however in society, emotional and psychological abuse are often not even considered to be abuse – not by society, not by the abuser, and sometimes not even by the victims. If you are convinced that ‘this is just the way things are’ you might be hesitant to label your experiences as such. Particularly if you know the offender, if they are a loved one or a family member, then out of loyalty, you may feel unwilling to label that person as an abuser. However, all this does is further the silencing of female victims who are made to believe that whatever they are going through must not, under any circumstances, be given “voice” or, as it were, given words.
One’s fear of what would happen if others knew about one’s situation creates a situation of silence. In actuality, telling others could very well lead to one’s liberation. But some destructive lessons are hard to unlearn. Keeping silent may only allow for the writer’s situation to continue. She might think, ‘if I keep quiet, it’ll pass.’ Yes, it may pass, but it may also never end.
Even if a writer may not feel comfortable telling others with her voice, she has another voice – the voice of words. The voice of storytelling. An outlet to allow her to tell others about her situation. An outlet to speak to all she’s lost while suffering in silence at the hands of someone who puts his own comfort and his own selfish desires at the expense of others’ dignity and peace of mind. But imagine if you’re in a situation where you feel scared to even write about what you’re going through?
I’ll give you somewhat of an example. One old writerly friend from university once wrote and self-published a book in which she incorporated some of the most negative traits of an adult male family friend who, despite some good traits and deeds, emotionally abused his female family members for years out of his sheer refusal to be responsible for himself and responsible for the sake of others. Despite the disdain and disrespect he would many times aim at the women taking care of him, he continued to demand that they essentially keep taking care of him and putting up with him forever.
Given this situation, this writer (who was personally affected as well) wrote and self-published an adult contemporary book in which one of the characters basically mirrored this male friend of hers. However, when the friend found out, he sent her a verbally abusive email complaining about her ‘betrayal’. Instead of being reflective and trying to understand what he might have done to her and others that would cause this writer to need to speak about her experiences and traumas through writing, he turned himself into the victim and turned her into the bad guy, blaming her for hurting HIS feelings.
Essentially, he gaslighted her into feeling guilty about speaking out. He gaslighted her into keeping silent about it. And my friend consequently lost her desire to write at all.
I’ve spoken before about how important words are to fighting injustice. But while I wrote this in relation to larger political issues, I think it’s important to remember that writing about our pain is also a form of fighting injustice. Speaking through our work, through our words has always had the power to heal. To know that we are not alone, that we do not have to suffer in silence, that we do not have to keep quiet about the misdeeds of the people in our lives in order to spare them or our family humiliation – that kind of freedom saves. It saves lives.
Stories can be healing. Stories can be freedom. Never forget that.
Now for another hug!