May I ask you a question, imagined reader?
Who do you think of – who pops into your mind first – when you imagine a woman in your life who has ‘named the unnamed’? Who has stood up in the face of being told to stay quiet only to say simply, I won’t?
When asking myself the same, I feel lucky to find not just one but many such women fill the space—at least, these days I do. Like a breath of fresh air, it’s recently become easier to reach out and find that desperately needed connection with these others—these women who manifest in my mind’s eye as a clasping of many hands (of my hands) outside of space, and time, and memory.
Maybe you’ve felt it too: the strength of a connection that transcends whatever barriers we keep inflicting on ourselves, linking countless like-minds together in a support system that spurs our greatest motivations, most often found when we pursue with passion the honesty and truth and transparency we try desperately to salvage in our day-to-day.
The thing is, if you’ve felt this strength, you’ve also felt it’s opposite. That other thing—when even togetherness and conviction seem to evaporate. When even the best of yourself bows under the weight of hypocrisy and anger and resistance and defence.
You know what I’m talking about. It comes from all sides, gendered or not, racial or not, biased or not, educated or not, the same tropes repeated in every circle:
“You know I only hired you because of your legs, right?”
“She thinks I’m a racist but she doesn’t know I’m from Saskatoon.”
“I don’t understand why you don’t find the [rape] joke funny.”
“Sometimes, Jessica, you just have to learn when to keep quiet.”
And even then, should I decide to wield the power of silence, or choose the path of silently not partaking, it’s the same response anyway: exclusion. Avoidance. “Oh, don’t say that around her, she gets so offended.”
I’ll admit, it’s been enough this past while to cast me adrift—to wrench me from the strong comforting grip of those women who I know continue to find the strength to name the unnamed. And I also now know that I have been wandering alone and afraid instead, making the mistake of following that bold advice and forgetting to access the strength found in my link to those who don’t just speak of their desire for a right to be, but who fight for it with everything they are.
Yes, as realizations usually come, I found this one dawning on me in the middle of my favourite café, just a few Tuesdays ago. Clicking about on a shared event page for a stage-show in Surrey, I became engrossed with the it’s title, repeating it over and over in my mind (you’ll recognize now, where my thoughts are coming to):
Flush with curiosity, I barely got through the Wikipedia bios of four of the stage-show’s fifteen female inspirations – all of proud Pakistani heritage – before I began to feel them: echoes of their strength and struggle. Coming to me through (but not bound by) our differing nations…our cultures…our experiences:
(excerpts taken from aforementioned Wikipedia bios)
As I sat there, eyes glazed, their stories warming the hardness that had filled the placed where frustration had run out, I could feel how alienated I’d made myself (much as I would like to blame those I’ve quoted above) from the stories of those women who – like Sabeen, like Fahmida, or Asma, or Madeeha – have fearlessly named the unnamed. So much so that reading even the pre-formatted text of their digital bios had been able to catch me by surprise, helping me to realize where I actually stood: apart.
And then, here they were: these fifteen replenishing women, gazing at me through a computer screen I no longer felt was there, showing me through their stories how to come back, to reconnect, and find again my own voice among the shouts.
And so I have – without even seeing the stage-show that continues to run through my mind:
For them, then, let this be my start; my promise to stand in the path and be exactly who I am, even in the midst of mine and others fears of difference, continuing to make change using the tools that I (as a white woman) have been privileged to receive.
Hope to meet you along the way.
Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes
Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Buy your ticket online at this link:
Box Office : 604-501-5566