Women Silencing Women
I follow several blogs by women I admire and who generously share their lives and experiences with other women. I find strength and comfort in their words as I see myself in many of their challenges and victories.
Much like my own writing, their offerings are intended to encourage others, to make the point that we are more alike than different and to remind us that we are stronger than we think we are.
But I have noticed something that disturbs me. Each one of them at some point has expressed their dismay at the state of our country and sometimes specifically called out our present administration. This isn’t what bothers me. What does is that without fail a rash of women will express outrage that this woman has used her blog to express her political views.
Many take the time to write long diatribes to communicate their extreme displeasure. Most of the comments run along the lines of, “I am so disappointed that you would use this space to express your political views. That is not what I come to your blog for. Leave politics out of it and stick to writing about what we come here to read.”
I hear in those words, “Stay in your box. Know your place. Don’t have an opinion, or if you do, keep it to yourself.”
There are those who attempt to show why the writer is way off base on her views and can only be pitied for being so misled. Many rant on and on and then say, “I am unsubscribing from your blog because I do not want to read your political opinions.”
It is always shocking to me to see how quickly women are willing to shut down other women’s voices when they do not agree with them. I have been dismayed to see how women’s voices are being attacked in general, but having other women suppress women’s voices is especially egregious to me.
Maybe this is because I was once one of those whose views were threatened by opposing ideas.
“But having a voice is as important, perhaps more important, than having a vote. When censors attack women writers, they do so in order to intimidate all women and keep them from using their right to free expression.” Meredith Tax
My theory is that women who are in the grip of patriarchal systems, whether it be marriages, religions or political parties, are quick to shut down women with “liberal” ideas because it would upend their lives to consider those ideas as legitimate.
My own experience bears this out. For most of my adult life I was entrenched in the evangelical church and married to a man who believed that women were to be subservient to their husbands.
I was not allowed to have my own beliefs and if I expressed an idea that even hinted at heresy, I was brought to the altar to “pray through” and get right. Survival in this system demanded that I conform.
This translated into holding political views that were not my own, but at some point I lost the ability to discern the difference. I could rant and rave with the best of them about all the issues that are important to conservative evangelicals.
I found opposing views threatening (as did everyone in my church and close circles) precisely because if I considered a different point of view it meant that I had to look at my beliefs honestly. Those beliefs could not bear close scrutiny without falling to pieces.
Besides, if I did change my mind, what would that mean for me? How would I continue to live within the church and family I had married into? It was safer to stay in the box I was being kept in.
Meredith Tax is an American writer and political activist. She is regarded as a pioneer of the US women’s liberation movement. In her position as the president of Women’s World Organisation for Rights, Literature and Development, she wrote these words:
“The subordination of women is basic to all social systems based on dominance; for this reason, conservatives hate and fear the voices of women. That is why so many religions have made rules against women preaching or even speaking in the house of worship. That is why governments keep telling women to keep quiet: ‘You’re in the Constitution,’ they will say, ‘you have the vote, so you have no right to complain.’ But having a voice is as important, perhaps more important, than having a vote. When censors attack women writers, they do so in order to intimidate all women and keep them from using their right to free expression. Gender-based censorship is therefore a problem not only for women writers, but for everyone concerned with the emancipation of women.”
The women who are entangled in these systems of dominance have been taught that women are to “keep quiet, to be humble, to be keepers at home.” They are to defer to their husbands in political concerns. I always voted the way my husband told me to vote.
But the most important point in my story is that it was the voices of other women that finally got through the cracks in my armor and began the transformation process that would, indeed, upend my life. They also emancipated me.
When I embraced my truth — not the truth I had been handed by the patriarchal system I was living under — I had no choice but to set myself free from that system. I recognize that there are a lot of women who will never be able to do what I did.
I also see that the women who are so desperately trying to silence other women are the ones whose very lives depend on them staying within their oppressive systems.
If the women whose voices I began to hear and listen to had been silenced, I would still be under the domination of a husband, a church and a political party that, by their actions, perpetuated the idea that women are second class citizens. Their words opened doors for me that had been nailed shut.
What happened to me is exactly why the white male dominated society we live in hates and fears the voices of women. Because those voices have the power to enact change that will enable women to break free from the repression and control of a patriarchal system.
Meredith Tax goes on to say:
“Women writers are a threat to systems built on gender hierarchy because they open doors for other women. By expressing the painful contradictions between men and women in their society, by exposing the discrepancy between what society requires of women and what they need to be fulfilled, woman writers challenge the status quo…[and] make a breach in the wall of silence. They say things no one has ever said before and say them in print, where anyone can read and repeat them.”
The women whose blogs I mentioned at the start have not apologized or slowed down in their work to point out the outrageous discrepancies that exist within our current system.
The women who have left their blogs felt too threatened to allow them the right to freely express their opinions, but they have not silenced them.
Jan Fortune wrote, “Cynicism is an all too human response to anything that requires a paradigm shift.”
I believe that women who do not have a voice are more likely to attempt to shut down women who do.
As women, we need to recognize how much we stand to lose by silencing the voices of other women. I am so glad that there are women who will not be intimidated into keeping silent. Without their voices, I would not have found the strength to make my own voice heard.
If we are ever going to be able to stand within our own power in a society that supports women equally, we must allow all women to speak, whether we agree with them or not. It is only through the right of free expression that we have the chance to, at last, set all women free.