A few of us were talking about books, what we’ve been reading and, in Jo’s case, what she’s been writing. It’s clear that the last few years have seen an explosion of books by female writers that catalogue the brutality of men. Women’s voices amplifying, a reckoning of the history of society, the suffering that has been inflicted, endured or more unfortunately not able to be endured. We talked about our need to hear what women had to say and that we had noticed an unconscious decision to turn down the volume on what men had to say. Not because they don’t have anything useful to say but because at this stage of our lives, all of us over fifty, we had mostly heard and seen the world through the lens of men.
In More Than A Woman, Caitlin Moran writes about the silence of women’s lives believing that it’s because most of that life takes place inside the home and is unseen by the world. I agree and would add that mothers also have to consider the privacy of the stories of their children and partners who are struggling through life. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that women are staggering under the weight of supporting as many people as possible in their lives - emotionally, physically, virtually, financially and spiritually. This passage from Caitlin resonated deeply:
“Women are society, it’s us. We are registered as disproportionally in the excess here as we are disproportionally missing from every other arena - politics, business, banking, land ownership, the military. Society is the one realm where women dominate. Middle-aged women, informally and without any official support, providing the resource and care that one would more usually expect from an economically successful first world state.
And there is a problem with this informal provision of care for those who are ill or troubled: it only works if you are someone who is loved. If you have family and friends around you who love you and can step in to help you, and additionally have the resources, space and time that the problems need.
If you have fallen out with your family, if your family is abusive, or troubled; if there are already so many troubled or ill people in your social circle that there is simply no time or resources left for your bad fortune, then what are your options? What is your fate?
Under this current informal system, the working classes are disproportionately screwed. As you go down the socio-economic scale the instances of mental and physical ill-health rise. In these circumstances, those who are fit enough to be carers often find themselves caring for multiple people - by way of a life raft being swamped by those around them who are struggling.
This fatal blindness of our current system is that: we can’t see these carers. We can’t see the women who support others - for there is no metric yet invented by which we can see care. Love. The comfort, ease and relief given by those who help others is registered nowhere.
Love, we believe, is the most powerful force on Earth - we are told it is what every human being craves, above everything else. It is to the massive benefit of our economies that it exists - for unpaid domestic work and care allows paid workers to work. It’s the unseen third element of our economy.
And it is never talked about with the seriousness it deserves. ‘Care’, ‘love’ and ‘help’ are the only words we have - tiny, basic, childlike words that go nowhere near describing the reality of spending a decade with a parent with dementia; guiding a schizophrenic through a paranoid episode, or recurrent depression. Raising children. These are genuine skills; these are things that take immense strength, ingenuity and patience to deal with day after day.
But the problem with living in a meritocracy comes if your merits don’t register on the spectrum. So many of the key merits we think of as female don’t register on the spectrum. You cannot see what we are doing, because it happens in the home, and the home is a place that is silent. No stories come out of it.
…And the continuing, big question - how can women be in the room and make up half the people suggesting a different way to do things, when the structure of our lives still, notoriously, makes it so difficult to take part in traditional politics? How can women - millions of women - be heard?”
When women gather be it in pairs or larger groups we create a well of compassion, a confidential pact where we can share our family stories, learning from each other, consoling each other, offering advice, laughing (gallows humour), listening, being compassionate and loving.
I was telling my daughter one of these stories and she asked me why I told her such depressing tales, but I find them instructive, in them I hear the commonality of suffering which awakens compassion. Valuable information is exchanged, we feel connected, validated, respected, supported and heard by each other, but not by society at large.
In privacy in the past year I have heard about; the suicide plan of a partner; the sexual assault of a girl by her cousin; the rape of a girl at schoolies; the theft of jewellery from a 96 year old mother; the emergency call to police when a son becomes menacing; the sexual abuse of a daughter by her father; the bullying of women by their partners; the heartbreak of trauma; the alcoholism of a family member; the infidelity of a partner; the financial hardship of single parenting; the controlling behaviour of an ex with shared custody; the strain of caring for parents and teenagers; the dysfunction of family; the breakup of marriages; family estrangement; and the terminal cancer prognosis of weeks left to live.
This is the stuff of life, the heartache, but also the heart opening - the joy that can be found in holding each other’s stories - crying and laughing. Joy in offering and receiving the full attention of each other, the full, bright, illuminating spotlight of love.
To answer Caitlin’s question of how we can be heard I think we can listen to each other’s stories without judgement and in the listening find the inspiration to start telling our own stories more widely. The theme for Queensland Women’s Week 2022 ‘Keep Making Noise’ encourages us to celebrate the achievements and contributions of women and girls. Stories help to build communal momentum as we strive for change.
Want to tell your story? WomxnConnect is a safe place to start, we welcome contributions!
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for some women’s voices,
here’s a selection from different cultures:
Alice Bolin Dead Girls
Alice Pung One Hundred Days
Amanda Lohrey Labyrinth
Amani Haydar The Mother Wound
Anita Heiss Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray
Caitlin Moran More Than A Woman
Catherine Cole Sleep
Charlotte McConaghy Once Were Wolves
Christina McDonald Behind Every Lie
Eve Ensler The Apology
Fran Bushe My Broken Vagina
Hannah Bent When Things Are Alive They Hum
Holly Ringland The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart
Jacqueline Maley The Truth About Her
Johanna Glen All My Mothers
Kathryn Heyman Fury
Maaza Mengiste The Shadow King
Maggie O’Farrell Hamnet
Maureen Murdock The Heroine’s Journey
Melissa Lucashenko Mullumbimby
Melissa Lucashenko Too Much Lip
Pema Chodron When Things Fall Apart
Penny Wincer Tender
Rachael Herron Splinters of Light
Renni Eddo-Lodge Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race
Sofie Laguna The Choke
Tabitha Bird The Emporium Of Imagination
Tara June Winch The Yield
Yaa Gyasi Homegoing
Yaa Gyasi Transcedent Kingdom