I have so many blog posts that I want to share with you, but not enough hours in the day. Or at least not enough hours to nap and write a blog post.
There’s my newly landscaped garden to write about, several French recipes I’ve recently tried (always recipes to try), a trip to the Island of the Impressionists where you can see the actual scenes that Monet and Renoir painted (set next to a copy of the painting so you can examine real against illustrated).
Actually that’s where my family is right now, but Petit Prince needed a nap (I’m fighting the nap) and I desperately need to clean the house for my in-laws who are coming over for tea. They may be the coolest in-laws on the planet, but (as my mom put it) it’s best not to challenge their tolerance.
All of that for another day, because today I was enlightened to the fact that I have a voice.
I have a voice! I am a woman! And I can say things and be heard! And what freedom, what tremendous power that fact holds, especially when you measure it up against history. Or against other societies, or even against the women in less fortunate circumstances right here around us.
I am not a pre-teen about to get circumcised then sewn up again in a desert in Africa with a dirty blade and no anaesthesia, ensuring that my older husband of an arranged marriage (whose household I will join as the third wife) will always experience pleasure whilst I never will.
I wish this no longer happened but that is far from the truth.
I am not a young girl who is silenced into a crushing muteness, repeatedly raped by her brother, her father, her grandfather, often as a spectator sport for their friends.
I wish this were infrequent, but I have several friends who carry these memories … several.
I am not in a country torn apart by genocide where I witness my entire family brutally killed before my eyes before being gang-raped and left for dead. Life flickers before my eyes in short bursts as I lie there alone. I so long for death, but the force and strength of life is an unwelcome interloper.
This is happening all over the world but we turn a blind eye because we do not know them. We have never been to their country. This is not our culture; these are not our friends.
I am not a wife walking around in a trance, bent by submission – not just to a husband’s will, but to a society that judges, that silences, that molds free will into a girdle of constraint too tight even for breath.
I am not bound by a society like that. No. I have a voice. I can talk about my depression and the fact that I’ve been on medication for over ten years (and that I’m currently testing the waters to go off). I can talk about how I no longer drink because from the very first time I did, it was apparent I should not be. I can talk about my struggles, my indignation, my fears, my despair, my joy.
I will not be crushed by your judgement; rather my words will be met with your openness, encouragement, understanding. And any thoughtless uneducated words in response will be the exception and not the norm.
I can debate about politics without fear of being thrown into prison for my words, unlike the Chinese consultant I worked with on my business trip to Beijing. She was beautiful and dressed in designer clothing, but the nervous tic of constantly clearing her throat belied her anxiety. She was desperate to succeed and make money because that was all she had. I don’t know how I knew that, but I did.
When I asked her about the massacre in Tiananmen Square as we were driving by, she motioned to the taxi driver and shook her head angrily. She said “we don’t talk about these things.” In politics, she had no voice. In her emptiness, she had also given up her voice.
I can be open about my religion, knowing that the only persecution I might face is ridicule for being so weak and naive. I remember sitting in a Bible study in India once where an old woman wrestled with a new faith. She came from an impoverished neighborhood and grew up Hindu. Her two sons had become Christians but her husband was very angry at their conversion and her interest in the Bible. For her, the decision to become a Christian meant counting the cost on death.
Christian teacher (also Indian): “Are you willing to die for your faith?”
Older woman: “Yes.”
Teacher: “Are you willing to see your sons die for their faith?”
Older woman: “Yes.”
Teacher: “Your husband does not agree with you. Are you willing to be locked out of your house for your faith?”
Older woman: “He cannot lock me out. We have no door.”
All three of us laughed to find this unexpected good in poverty.
I can debate openly about my beliefs and my religion (although I probably won’t. I realized only too recently that agreeing perfectly on religion and politics is not a pre-requisite for friendship. But then, it’s better not to beat the point and get frustrated).
What have we to worry about really?
For most of us, it’s just inconvenience. Our lives are so filled with freedom; it pervades the very air we breathe so that we no longer notice it or see it as a gift. We only wrestle with the shackles of inconvenience and use our voices in an attempt to shake the binding off.
Yet I can shout from the rooftops and be heard because I have a voice.
You know, never have I realized this fact as clearly as I have since I started blogging. I think that is because you respond instantly, validating and respecting my words. And I read yours too. Collectively our voices go out into the universe to express, to teach, to sway, to delight, to protect, to share, to resonate and to be heard. And they are heard.
So many women do not have a voice, or they simply haven’t found theirs yet. If we used some misplaced energy to speak out on their behalf, we might have the power to remove shackles that cut more deeply than just inconvenience.
But barring that, if at the very least, we stop taking our voice and our freedom for granted and seriously see it for the precious and liberating gift it is, we will be honoring our sisters who are not so free.
And somehow I can see them – the ghosts of choruses upon choruses of women from history, from intolerant societies, from dreadful circumstances, the women who would be grateful for just a fraction of the liberty we have, the women with no voice – I can see them looking on with approval, and nodding in grim satisfaction.