December 04, 2008

Voices in my head

By Niveditha Menon

A few weeks ago, UV was agog with discussions about the lack of clarity around a very important issue. Frankly, I found the suggestions for greater clarity of position unproblematic. It is definitely useful to be able to name things. And yet, I thought, the point of the post was the very inability to articulate a response to what felt like an invasion of space. Whether it was a physical space, or an emotional one, seems to be missing the point. The point was that the author wanted to articulate this invasion which, by her experience, seemed to be beyond words.

As feminists, we have historically been putting to words the silences that we experience. Yet, I think it would be a mistake to assume that these words can always capture the entirety of silence. So, what is to be done? In my opinion, this was (and still might be) a good question for all of us to ponder. This was also why I thought the call to clarify, to piece apart, to explain, useful and therefore, unproblematic.

While there are multiple meanings to our silences, the point of a feminist endeavor (in my world) is to be able to articulate those meanings. Often times, I have been able to understand the big picture only when I have been able to actually name my experience. Naming it tends to make it more real (for me) and therefore, more concrete. That’s why ethnographies and women’s stories have been such a great tool for social change. To that extent, I did understand the frustration that feminists tend to have with lack of clarity. Yet, isn’t ambiguity a lived reality for many feminists? Also, isn’t naming or articulation a process?

I think this might be true especially in the case of stalking. I think we’ll be hard pressed to find any feminist in this space who has not developed her/his healthy share of rhino skin. So, I think, if feminists are using this space to talk about stalking, we can assume that there was a personal violation of some kind. Anyone who has experienced stalking knows that the problem is not what happens to you, but it is the threat of what could. The rules of engagement, so to speak, are unknown. It is a fear that many women live with. While most feminists are good at fighting back, much of it constitutes shadow boxing and it can be exhausting. Most women, in my opinion, when confronted by these tactics, convince themselves that they have to be like ducks in water -– they just need to let the persistent control tactics just slip off their backs. But I think, most often than not, in some form or another, these control mechanisms do trickle in and my question is -– why would it not, or rather, how could it not? Why should women deny reality in order to live in it?

To me, the conversation among the many commentators was thought-provoking because we seem to be asking a question about our voice, especially since we tend to have a strong one. My thoughts were not centered around the idea of being stalked (although a highly important one), but this: how do we know who is in our heads when we write? Who are we writing for? Who are we writing against? Under what social pressures do feminist writers (whether male or female) articulate their experience? How do we know our “authentic” voice, given all this input from friendly and unfriendly sources?

I am not surprised any of us are a little confused or overwhelmed. While we probably prioritize the battles we choose to fight every day, we are also likely to switch these priorities every day.  I am usually mucking up my day trying to reflect and analyze the different influences of social, cultural and feminist structures on me, while I eke out a social, cultural, feminist life for myself — and I don’t always do a dignified job of it. I know there are times when I am not fighting some arbitrary patriarchal structure that imposes itself on me. Instead, I am fighting its insidious influence on me. This often feels like I am fighting me.

These battles tire me out occasionally. But I also know they are the most critical. So, when I read the stimulating discussion a few weeks ago, that’s what I was reading –- a woman’s struggle to articulate this complexity of voices. In all likelihood, this may have nothing to do with the original post, but I learned something about my feminist self by reading the discussion and I think that’s what this space is for, isn’t it?


Niveditha Menon is a feminist writer and consultant with an educational institution. She is interested in the use of agency by women who respond to acts of violence in intimate relationships. Her recently completed doctoral dissertation focused on the types of control women experience in families and the coping mechanisms that women use in the context of domestic violence. She has also written for the Sage Handbook of Feminist Family Studies. In her spare time, she writes bad poetry, and/or covets other peoples’ adorable dogs.

2 comments to Voices in my head

  • kbw

    great post and threads….as part of day 10 on take back the tech, i discuss these threads and also the challenges/possibilities/problems of using social networking sites esp in regard to relationships, VAW, control over posting-images, adda on social networking sites and internet, how we respond to others who use our images-information, and so forth.

    looking forward to more of your thought provoking posts!

    take care,

    (pagol nari)

  • But we are so many voices, are we not ? Not that we think of ourselves that way…we suppose ourselves integrated and unified.
    Blogging is a particularly difficult medium as opposed to carrying on a conversation, because we must try to make things self-sufficient. I am reminded of a wry quip by a psychiatrist that became popular many years ago : people want to control many things they cannot.
    I do not post personal thoughts on my site much as I run it like a news resource and am not engaged in discussion. Blogging is more like talking down a well to listen to the echo !
    So the uncertainty remains.
    Words are not just notes but rather tools of thought. As to that, we ‘understand’ words to mean one thing in our own way ; but there is always the flaw of imprecision.
    I read the Reader’s Digest Condensed Book on the Charge of the Light Brigade many years ago. It was caused by lack of proper punctuation causing reversed meaning on a telegraph message!

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