What does it mean to hear a woman speak? What does it sound like to the ears, and do her utterances have any content? Are they just consonants, vowels, words strung together in an attempt to convey a jumbled and incompetent message, or is there more to what she says than the sound her voice makes, often (though not always) a pitch or two high than her male counterparts?
Sound and content; listening and hearing. Ways of distinguishing the actions we undertake – whether consciously or unconsciously – when we hear someone speak. As an outsider looking in, I continue to be offended by the question and answer period at philosophy talks. Before the words leave her mouth, she is cut off; interrupted and interjected; explained to and admonished for being wrong – no, confused – before she can even finish her thought. And yet he can take center stage for minutes at a time, rambling off a pre-amble to a speech that finally ends in one or two questions, without interruption.
Or she can put herself on trial, reveal the abuse she has endured and still be passed over and ignored. The “journalist” asking for proof of her claims, as though her testimony was not enough.
I hear and see you, I read between the lines. When they would rather worry about abstruse and irrelevant things than worry about your survival, I pull in closer to listen to your strength. Know that you can whisper softly or scream in terror. I hear you and hold space for you to speak.
And when I hear what you say I will keep it in confidence, while filtering through the content that I can bring to the world. Because your struggle is mine, and every person who finds themselves at strange intersections and crossroads. Just like you I exist at a site of reality apt to be ignored. They may stare and they may wonder, but hear they often will not. My screams inaudible. My cries like the silence of the lambs. In some cases muted or dumbed down, in others met with confusion. Yet as Aunty Audre once said, so well:
… it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive
This reflection on women’s testimony was inspired by many things. First, a paper I am working on that addresses epistemic silencing of sexual assault victims in the courtroom. Second, by a series of experiences I have had over the years (personally and as witness) of seeing women silenced by men – in the many forms this silencing takes. Third, by the current R. Kelly debacle. The long and short of it is that a woman gave testimony about her experience of abuse and of bearing witness to others being manipulated, and right after giving her statement, a journalist asked the man who brought the case to the media what grounds he had for believing his daughter was being held hostage/abused. This question was asked right after the (black) (woman) said that she contacted the family to tell them their daughter was in a bad situation after witnessing it herself. I can pass no judgment on the debacle because everything is hearsay at this points. But the exchange disturbed me enough that I had to write something in response. So, here it is. Short but sweet. My explanation of the reflection almost as long as the writing itself. Sometimes it be like that.
– T. M. G.