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Women in history have been studied through every subject imaginable. Women have had their histories laid bare in literature, in sciences, in the political arena and on the world stage. Through out most of history we hear many different voices about women that are supposed to speak for women; usually a very patriarchal voice and tone that twists and masks what a woman is thinking or feeling on any given subject from household operation to the clothes she should or should not wear, the education she is allowed to have and what opinion she is allowed to garner for herself. Women through out history have had these, what appeared to be micro bursts, of standing up for their own rights and giving their own voices to their lives. Women have been oppressed through out their individual histories and lives, as a gender and as a group within societies.
Women; the object of desire for artists, a poet's muse, a housewife, a maid, a nanny, a mother, an artist, a tribe leader, a queen, a victim of both societal hetero normative rhetoric and a victim at the hands of violence. Women have led countries into battles, kept the remaining few people in villages alive, become doctor's, scientists, astronauts and artists with their own muses. Speaking up and speaking out for their rights, for
equality, to have their and our voices heard; often has been accompanied with a price of their freedom, their dignity, and sometimes their lives.
Words have often been used as weapons of degradation against women. Sexist, misogynistic slurs spoken and screamed at women, even from other women, who stand in judgment of a woman's choice to choose how to live her life and feel the need to project hate speech in order to further victimize a woman. With in many women's movements there is school of thought on using what were once a weapon; words and slang terms, and turning them into words of empowerment. The re-appropriation of sexist terminology can be and has been empowering for many women. Words slung like arrows: bitch, slut, and cunt are often favorites to disarm a woman emotionally, forcing her into being victimized verbally.
Language is powerful. It can unite or completely untie individuals. Naming is very important within language. "I believe in the act of naming things. Language has the capacity to transform our cells, rearrange our learned patterns of behavior, and redirect our thinking. I believe in naming what's right in front of us because that is often what is most visible."1 Every woman who has been a victim has a story that is valid. Each story can offer critique of the patriarchal system under which sexism functions.
Ensler, Eve. Insecure at Last: Losing it in Our Security Obsessed World. (Villard Books :NY 2006) p.72
Women's voices, sexuality and image reside in our bodies. The stand alone fact that we, as women, inhabit a female body creates a space for resistance if we are brave enough to speak out for ourselves. Many women who have been victims of abuse in many forms have used involvement in movements, such as Take Back the Night in order to help them heal and move forward while reaching out to other women who have been through similar events in their own lives. Like wise women for centuries have been taught that we do not talk about our bodies or refer to our body parts in any intimate way in mixed company, or dress in a provocative manner, or take charge of our own sex lives and approach our own sexual being as something positive and empowering. Sometimes telling the story of what happened and giving it a language through spoken or written words is the only thing, for many women and victims, that can help to begin a healing process. "â€¦revolution enlarges with every telling of women's truths, and trauma can be a tool for transformation."2 Speaking words like "vagina" and the more pejorative "cunt" out loud, transgresses what is often looked on as appropriate behavior for women. We are socialized to not talk about our bodies, or to use crude speech even though words that are considered as crude speech are used against women. Women do not, as often as men; speak openly about their bodies, sexuality or either when they have been the catalyst for victimization.
Freuh, J. Vaginal aesthetics. Hypatia. (2003) p.142
Eve Ensler, on why she wrote the Vagina Monologues, said her fascination with these narratives began because of "growing up in a violent society. "Women's empowerment is
deeply connected to their sexuality."3 She also stated, "I'm obsessed with women being violated and raped, and with incest and what happens to their perceived ideas of sexuality
and womanhood after these things occur. All of these things are deeply connected to our vaginas."4 The purpose of work like this is to raise awareness and have a recurring theme as a tool of female empowerment and to be able to reclaim individuality through a shared experience. "The public utterance of a banished word, which represented a buried, neglected, dishonored part of the body, was a door opening, an energy exploding, a story unraveling. And yes, it began with the word, saying the word, because the word holds the memory, the suffering, the shame and the possibility."5 This work, among others, has been adapted globally, with addressing issues that affect women and their unheard voices within a different society or culture.
Having been a victim at one point in my life, which included having my gender and sexuality used against me, and going through the process of reclaiming weapons of verbal destruction to be able to heal has allowed a look into an area of research, while controversial, shows the power of language being recaptured for a positive outcome.
Ensler, Eve. Q&A Random House. http://www.randomhouse.com/features/ensler/vm/qna.html
Ensler, Eve. Q&A Random House. http://www.randomhouse.com/features/ensler/vm/qna.html
Ensler, Eve. Insecure at Last: Losing it in our Security Obsessed World.( Villard Books: NY 2006) p.73
The empowered voice for women is a field of research within women's history and present day feminist studies that has relevance in our American society, as well as in other societies through out the world.
Deavere Smith writes, "The body has a memory just as the mind does. The heart has a memory, just as the mind does. The act of speech is a physical act. It is powerful."6
After the women's suffrage movement, that gave women the right to vote, the next or second wave of feminism empowered women to ask for equal rights in education, in employment, and over their own bodies. Since the late nineteen sixties women have openly sought out a resounding voice that could speak for them individually or as collective gendered group. "The fact that we inhabit a female body creates a space for resistance if we are brave enough to utilize it. The very act of speaking and not merely being spoken for changes perspective."7 The social construct of sexuality to the visible and perceived physical differences have often been turned and used against women as a sexual terrorism; which includes the threat of physical harm but also personal verbal attacks. Many women have stood in unison and support of other women as they triumphed personally, professionally and publicly; fighting for a voice that exceeds what is considered to be acceptable based on someone else's moral judgment or hyper religious based value system.
Smith, Deavere. The Words become You: An interview by Carol Martin.
de Gay, J &Goodman, L. (Eds.) Languages shaped by Women (Intellect Books 2003)
Language for and about women is important in relation to empowerment and freedom of choices, including sexual freedom whether that sexual freedom is hetero normative, homosexual, asexual or transgender.
" To me, a bitch is assertive, unapologetic, demanding, intimidating, intelligent, fiercely protective, in control-all very positive attributesâ€¦I strive to be a bitch, because not being one sucks. Not being one means not having your voice heard."8Within or outside of the binary of sexuality, words have been used against women. In this present day wave of feminism that supports women across all age, ethnic, and class spectrums, finding a way of reclaiming and re appropriating words and terms in order to empower themselves; offers a use of language that can be used to uplift, support and strengthen something that was once negative and turn it around into a positive language tool for women of generations yet to be born. We, as women, are strong when we speak with our own voices, even if that voice rises up against societal expectations to stand in solidarity as women resist the traditional status quo and make a conscious choice to use words and language as shield against hate and violence.
Cho, Margaret.Bitchfest. Jervis and Zeisler (eds)( Ferrar, Straus, Giroux, 2006) p.xv