The other night over a shared bottle of wine, my husband and I gazed out at an evening heavy with humidity, the sky and air the color of silver and gray. It was completely silent. No birds sang, no creatures rustled in the trees. Utter silence. It was so unusual and eerie that my husband mused it felt like we were the last two survivors. Despite the dark humor of that I thought of the number of times we gazed out of our window into the garden over the past two years. We’ve watched seasons change, plants grow and die and grow again. Yet we felt like we were in stasis, waiting for it all to pass so we could pick up where we left off two years ago. We still haven’t grasped that it has all morphed into something completely different.
Life has become a series of befores and afters. Where before life seemed a merging of colors and beliefs, it has most definitely moved into the realm of stark black and white. We have just experienced a massive social, political, public and mental health earthquake and the shaking will not stop. This crazy, mad, scifi fever dream has catapulted us into an alternate reality. Like we have time traveled backwards. I barely recognize the landscape.
I had started to write this days ago before a recent blow to the rights of women in America was dealt by the highest court in the land. Then I didn’t trust myself. The rage, anger and fear I felt would not have been checked in this blog post. So I waited a few days, took my rage and fear out on my journal, and thought a lot about having a voice. The past few months I have been busy submitting my finished debut novel to agents. I’ve read a lot about what they are looking for, a unique voice being a major component to their search. So that and the court’s decision got me thinking about having a voice and not having one.
In this country we talk a lot about free speech. Free speech is the first amendment right of the Constitution and one we banter around quite frequently (don’t get me started on the second amendment!). But speech isn’t free for everyone. And it’s clear that there are many who believe their free speech overrides their neighbor’s free speech. Because everyone wants to believe their voice is the right one.
As far as silence, that has never been me. I argue with the best of them as my husband will attest. As a young girl and later, as a woman, it did not go well if I was told, while I was expressing my free speech, to be quiet, to calm down, to stop being hysterical. Be seen but not heard. All of the ways to shut down a woman mid-speech. I often sounded hysterical in my frustration and effort to try to stop people from shutting me down. It’s a nasty cycle. It just served to prove the point of those who felt justified in silencing me.
Several years ago I wrote another blog post called Speechless so this issue has been on my mind for a long time. I don’t have the energy to carry a sign out on the street anymore but I do express my views on social media. I also want to be right. But my view shouldn’t be everyone’s view. Which brings me back to voice. What is my voice? What do I want to say? What do I have to say? How should I say it? Is silence an option? Should it ever be?
I can’t say my heart has settled with the recent upheaval. It is clear that even after fifty years, one hundred years, forever, women cannot stop fighting for the right to control their own bodies and minds. For an equal voice in policies and to govern side by side. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s favorite quote, one she spoke many times, was actually a statement from Sarah Grimke, a 19th century abolitionist which stated “I ask no favor for my sex; all I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”
It’s a familiar image for us all, one of a black man held down by a police officer kneeling on his neck until he died. How have we reached the 21st century only to have the same issues over and over?
When I look around I see survivors everywhere. We are all trying to navigate a global pandemic, economic upheaval, social injustice. There is much fear and pain and unrest as once again we are staring at each other from across the aisle. Will we ever shake hands? Do any of us have the power to stop the train wreck? Are there a sufficient number of voices and are they loud enough? I am fortunate. I have resources and options but that does not stop my responsibility to use my voice if it is one that has any power at all.
The other day, I got another rejection email from an agent but it was so respectful and encouraging that I felt empowered to query two more. There is one agent out there who is going to connect with my voice. There is no need to stay silent. No one should stay silent. We all have a voice even if at times it sounds strangled because of the pressure on our necks. But we are standing on the very tall shoulders of those who forged before us. And their fight deserves my support. So speak up. Teach your children to speak up. Voices matter.