Earlier this week I posted a piece from a new series I have been working on. Daughters of Mothers is about our collective experience with ancestral wisdom, burdens, and gifts. My own mother was one of the first people to read what I wrote and share it on her Facebook page. She immediately contacted me and told me how proud she was of this piece. She spoke about hearing elements of our relationship in my words as well as her relationship with her own mother. and connected this piece with the common experience of all previous generations. She spoke with gratitude for the privilege that comes with each new generation and the ability to communicate and express more than the generation prior to it. I was deeply moved and grateful to have a mother who nurtures my creative expressions.
And then other people read what I wrote.
I write without an expectation that anyone will read my words so I am always surprised when I receive an angry response. To be clear, I wrote a piece about women using their voices to honor all the things left unsaid from the women who came before us. Then a woman used her voice to tell me I should not be using my voice to say anything like that. And the heavens rained salty tears of irony down upon us all.
Throughout the last few years, I have noticed how often women silence other women. It is not a popular topic to bring up at a dinner party and I am sure that writing about it will not help me to win any popularity contests. But I wonder about it all the time. Is it fear that inspires this type of silence or ignites the anger surrounding breaking some unspoken laws about what we do and do not say? When have I silenced other women? What triggers do I have that cause me to hush someone for speaking up? My personal experience has shown me that I do not get to sidestep this work with other women or myself. It pops up in conversations about sexuality, breastfeeding, marriage, abuse, recovery, and parenting. What is this invisible line that we have decided other women are not allowed to cross? Why do we feel that it is okay to shut them down when we so graciously allow for a plethora of racism, sexism, and violence in our daily lives. I would think that given the state of the environment that the topic of recycling would light more of a fire under people than some written words on a blog. Despite repeated experiences with resistance to my voice, I suppose I was not ready to admit how taboo it is to speak your truth. We have some work to do.
This work meets me in my personal life at dinner tables in my own home when older family members have instructed me to stop talking about a subject that they find controversial. I have to wonder how often they have been silenced in their own home and if they are mirroring the behavior of another.
It arises amongst friends when I have confided that a former partner continued to engage in abusive and harassing behaviors and was met with "You misinterpret what he is doing and saying. He has never done that to me and I have a hard time believing that he did that to you. You need to take a closer look at yourself instead of speaking about it." I wonder what abuses they grew up with and the price they would have had to pay for speaking up.
It has definitely shown up in work environments. In a cathartic time of women coming forward to speak about abuses they have experienced in the workplace, nothing is more cringe-worthy than having a supervisor repeatedly and publicly scream threats at you down a hallway. This happened to me in the presence of a newly hired staff member. He sat in frozen silence witnessing this and many other threats directed towards me. After yet another door slam he came to my office, looked at me in horror, and asked in a whisper if this was really happening. I nodded in defeat. We never saw him again.
Where does it say that we as women are not allowed to take up space or have a thought or speak our truth or have an experience that differs from yours?
When do you silence yourself?
When do you silence other women?
What are you doing to create space for women to speak up?
Do you advocate for women only when it serves a purpose for you?
We cannot possibly grow stronger while shrinking and silencing ourselves. I cannot prevent women from silencing other women. What I can do is speak my truth clearly and create spaces for other women to do the same. I can reflect on my own behavior, advocacy and lack of voice in moments of crisis. I can do better.
"One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these -- to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do."