The Power of Women Telling their Stories

By Christine O'Connor

Categories: General, Women's Voices,

I serve on the Hedgebrook board. And it all started with a book.

The book, in this case, was a slim volume of essays called “After Patriarchy.” The editors, one woman and two men, organized a volume of eight essays written by women from different religious backgrounds. Each writer made the case for the idea that their tradition was robbed of its full potential by how it treated women. Misogyny was equated with self-sabotage: if humanity’s spiritual traditions could overcome their own misogyny, their expression would be true to their own teachings.

If books are the ignition, stories are the fuel. The headliner of the New York Times online edition on Saturday, March 26, was an example of what Hedgebrook means to me: a place that makes sure that women get to tell their stories.

The photograph was stunning: a woman, disheveled and clearly upset, had broken into a hotel meeting room where Libyan government officials were debriefing a group of international journalists. She refused to leave: she had a story to tell. She had been raped and abused by fifteen Libyan soldiers for hours; she had escaped and, instead of seeking safety, sought a forum for her story.

She showed the assembled journalists the bruises and cuts on her thighs, face and hands. She begged for help for her friends who were still in custody and still being abused. She resisted being removed for almost an hour against hotel staff threatening her with cutlery and security forces with arms trying to maintain calm and order in front of the press. The journalists, some of them women, joined the melee in hand-to-hand scuffles with hotel staff and the security men. A Reuters reporter wrote down the details of her story; a Financial Times reporter tried to block the security forces arresting her and was himself captured and driven to the border.

One man tried to cover her mouth with his hand.

She told a journalist “I am not scared of anything. I will be locked up immediately after this.” It was as if the chance to tell her story was more important to her than her own life.

At Hedgebrook, we talk about “Women Authoring Change.” It isn’t only about political change: whether a woman is writing about her cat or her country, in the context of misogyny, simply being a woman means being an activist. Women are invited from all over the world for free residencies and taken care of in a spirit of radical hospitality. We do this because humanity needs all our stories so that we can be true to ourselves.

1 Comment

  • Lesley McClurg
    6:30 PM - 30 May, 2011

    Thank you for sharing and emphasizing the “why” of Hedgebrook.

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