Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Female, maddened and mute

At the writers festival I heard Alexis West read some of her poetry. It spoke of the frustration she has with having to explain repeatedly why golliwogs are offensive, and the way her patience was tried by white people wanting recognition and gratitude for “having black friends”. It was raw and real and I loved it.

Then she apologised if her poetry was too angry or offensive in any way to our paler sensibilities. She told us she hated being "that person" - the angry black woman. I wished she hadn’t apologised. There's not enough anger expressed about this kind of thing, in my opinion. 

Also, in a small, hesitant way, I could relate. I sometimes feel as if I'm continually an angry feminist. Like black women, but obviously to a lesser extent, women in general are constantly assessing whether to express our anger in response to sexist behaviour and be “that person” or just swallow our offendedness, smile and move on.

This dilemma was highlighted to me the other day when I posted a feminist cartoon on facebook which seemed to spark reactions from various folks in my social media network. The conversation seemed to take on a life of its own, going in directions I hadn’t envisaged, and raising sub-issues that I hadn’t previously considered. 

Then some people started getting quite angry, reacting to other people's comments. And I began to feel a little bit uneasy. But a voice inside told me not to moderate...just yet. And sure enough, somebody else felt it was their job to moderate. A male friend. “I think we all need to calm down now” was the sentiment. 

It seemed to me that women were angry, and men couldn’t handle it. One man had already left the discussion, in fact. I began to wonder why the anger of the oppressed is so confronting. Sure, it's raw and uncomfortable and not "nice". Yet, that anger is a direct result of violent and discriminatory systems that are not nice either. And certain groups have benefited from this structural violence for centuries.

So, why should Aboriginal people be expected to consider the feelings of those of us who have benefited from their dispossession and discrimination for the past two centuries? Why should the LGBTIQ community be expected to consider the bigots who have bullied them their whole lives as equally entitled to voice their toxic views? And why should women constantly accommodate the discomfort of men? No! I think those of us who are oppressors and benefit from oppressive structures have no right to tell the oppressed when to be silent.

This whole outpouring of frustration reminded me of a book called “Women who dance with wolves”. This book, which draws from Indigenous fables and stories, explores a number of archetypal women who are expressed in their rawest form. One character is a skeleton woman who follows a fisherman back to his cave. Another is a woman who makes more animal sounds than human ones and collects bones in the desert. A young girl dances like crazy in her new red shoes until she becomes a cripple. These women are angry, sad, ecstatic...the full gamet of emotions. I wonder why our so-called modern society tries to suppress this rawness and realness and "not nice-ness" in the expression of emotion?

So, as I process my own anger, and choose which battles to fight and which ones to let go, I will seek out poetry and literature and art where those raw expressions of emotion are evident. I hope people like Alexis West don't stop writing their poetry. Because it's through expressing the anger and pain that we not only move through it, but open up the possibility for the "other" to reach an understanding about their own privilege and power.

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