Monday, 2 March 2015

is there shame in being a storyteller?

I read an empassioned post about feminism and what it means by the fab Laura from Keeping it Eclectic the other day entitled 'The Shame Of The Storyteller'  and it really got me thinking.  Thinking about why some individuals (of all genders) seem to seek to interpret the definition of 'feminist' to exclude those they feel don't deserve the designation.  A power thing do you think?  I'm not certain, but Laura's comments regarding the importance of sharing our stories really resonated with me.  I'm sure many would class me as an online oversharer, and therefore according to the Guardian article Laura referenced I should not consider myself a feminist, because I am drawn to be open about aspects of my life.  Although she repeatedly used selfies as an example of oversharing and I don't do selfies (I have issues!), Suzanne Moore had got me pondering the intention behind my choices.

Way back when my father was found guilty of violent sexual assaults against me I went to both freely distributed newspapers in my locality, waived my anonymity and shared my story.  Part of my motivation was to let other young people out there know that sometimes the abusers don't get away with it - to provide an example of that.  But it wasn't all altruistic, I was aware of that even then.  There was little that could have been printed without identifying me, so his conviction would only have warranted an inch or so of newsprint.  But I wanted people to say "Isn't that Brian, you know, the guy who does the car boot sales?" and "I saw Margaret's husband in the paper".  I wanted her to be embarrassed - not him so much, I figured being in custody for sexual offences against a child was probably pretty tough - but her.  I wanted her friends, her work colleagues, her neighbours and the postman to know.  I wanted her to look into the eyes of the people around her and know what they were thinking about, what they thought of her.  They had spent years branding me as a problem child, a troubled teenager - I wanted people I had grown up with to go "ah, that's why she was a bit weird" and "god, I wondered why she went into care, it makes sense now".  So I signed the release forms giving permission to use my name, I was interviewed by both papers and ended up with his picture on both front pages.  Of course what I hadn't realised was that one of the papers back in Crawley was part of the same group as the Bristol Evening Post, so he (along with me) also graced their front page that weekend.  I wouldn't have done it had the verdict come back differently, I openly admit that.  But I know what I would have felt, had I read a story about a successful prosecution a few years earlier - that although the stats are devastating, sometimes there are convictions.  And that it can never be your fault, no matter what anybody tells you.  And I know it's egotistical, but I hope that someone who read one of those newspaper stories felt better because of it, that it brought them some comfort or maybe a little strength.

According to Ms Moore and her article, however (and I do encourage you to go and have a read), this 'confessional' is a type of "self reinforcing victimhood", and that sharing our stories of struggles with low self esteem, our regrets, our "issues", we are simply "reinvent[ing] the wheels that continue to flatten [us]".

I don't agree.  I believe that sharing our stories - all of them, any of them - provides a means to connect with others.  It gives us context, fills in the colours and details and characters of the works around us.  Recognising something of yourself in the experience of another is hugely unifying, and a realisation that the thoughts you have are not simply your overtired mind going of on a tangent but instead a reaction to what we see and hear and touch and live on a daily basis can be immensely powerful.

I think it is the message behind Ms Moore's article that I find slightly disturbing - her interpretation of women sharing their stories is that they are explaining themselves because they feel they need to, and therefore putting themselves in a submissive position.  I can't help but feel she's missing the point.   If storytelling provides me with a sense of (albeit online) community, and that helps me feel more positive and connected and able, why should I be ashamed?  Because of what happened to me?  No, she thinks I should be ashamed because I'm sharing it, and that this demonstrates my lack of feminist principles.  I disagree and, as in fact I commented to Laura, I think the way in which we display our public selves and what we choose to keep private is a very individual thing, and that knocking the choices that other women make - publicly - says more about the person doing the knocking than anyone else.  Rather than looking down at our feet, embarrassed and feeling guilt that we don't meet someone else's definition of a feminist and keeping quiet in future, it's more important to ponder where the idea of this hypothetical 'proper' feminist came from, and why.

If reading my story makes someone uncomfortable, I consider that to be their 'issue', not mine.  Obviously I don't mean someone who has a personal emotional reaction - I include trigger warnings because I want my readers to be aware that they might find that particular post difficult - I mean someone who reads a post and feels that I am reinventing my own wheel to flatten myself with.  I don't feel shame as a storyteller - purely because I don't consider sharing my story to be a shameful thing.  Perhaps those individuals who think otherwise should examine why a woman who speaks out makes them feel so uncomfortable.  After all, if it's being spoken about - whether it's domestic abuse or homophobia or rascism - then it is going on (often behind closed doors), so perhaps if we stop talking about it then it is easier to pretend it isn't real, and I imagine most of us would wish this to be the case.

What do you think?  Does taking selfies every day or sharing your story make you a bad feminist?  Do you think sharing online in fact opens individuals to re-victimise themselves?  Have you shared and regretted it?

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Thank you Laura, for giving me permission to reference your fab post.

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Post Comment Love

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  1. That Suzanne Moore article was quite confusing. This bit seemed to go against all the rest of the article " It’s simple stuff. If you’re late for work, you explain why the bus was stuck in traffic; your boss doesn’t explain to you."

  2. I thought so too - the article as a whole seemed a bit like a dig at people she doesn't agree with. Making disparaging remarks about selfies and story sharing under the guise of feminism - critiquing women for their choices has (in my mind) very little to do with empowering people!
    Thank you Fiona, for taking the time to share your thoughts.


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