Thursday, September 15, 2005

Tell Your Story!

I had another full day today. I had two different media interviews, two classes to teach, and a hiring meeting. I was grateful to get home, put on my pj's, and crack open a beer. I am now in a comfy spot, reflecting on the day, and, as usual, I have something to broadcast here to my loyal readers.

The last few days I have been reminded how important the basic act of telling your story is. In fact, I think telling your stories is one of the most significant political acts you can do, especially if you tell your story to young people. One clear piece of evidence of the political significance of story telling can be found right here on this blog. Antheia posted her eloquent and haunting account of her rape. Since posting this, she has empowered many other women who have experienced the same thing or who have nurtured women who have.

One of my classes just finished The Handmaid's Tale. While much of what is captivating in this novel is the illustration of what our country might look like if religious extremists were to take over, what captured my attention was the fact that our protagonist, Offred, chose to tell her story. Rather than allowing a totalitarian society to wholly erase her name, her memories, and her hope, she rages against this powerful force by reconstructing her life through story telling. She keeps fresh her memory of the past, refusing the pressures to keep her bound up in a monotonous present, so that she can imagine a better future. Perhaps she will not live to see the future liberation of her country from totalitarianism, but her recorded story will inspire the imagination of others to bring it about.

If we accomplished nothing else on Tuesday, we did bring our real stories to our Senators' offices. We demanded that they listen to the experiences of 15 women from small towns in Pennsylvania. We refused their tendency to reduce "feminists" to shrill positions and power plays.

We are real women, with real experiences of sexism, discrimination, or intimate partner violence. Some of us have watched women in far away places like Africa drink lye and chlorox to abort babies, because they didn't have access to any reproductive health care. Some of us had abortions because we grew up in abusive homes with little self-esteem, and found ourselves young, pregnant, and alone. Some of us grew up thinking that our bodies and desires were sinful, irrational, and threatening to a well-ordered society. Some of us were beaten brutally by our husbands, and had nowhere to go because he controlled our money and threaten to take our children from us. Some of us are young, vibrant and full of hope that the world will continue to be open to us, and give us opportunies for professional success and distinction. And some of us have overcome the pervasive and almost mundane experiences of our male colleagues belittling our passionate commitment to women's rights.

Story telling is a timeless act of building community. By telling our story, we ask our listeners to imagine themselves in our world, living our experiences and hence fight the all too frightening powers that threaten to reduce us, to strip us of our humanity, and to smugly pass judgment on us. Story telling is the opposite of spewing platitudes. We ask others to recognize that part of being human is to be full of contradictions, of tragedies, bad choices or choices made under limited options. Being human is also about yearning to belong and be nurtured.