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Gendered silence Paper Proposal

Joie Rose's picture

Adrienne Rich’s “On Lies, Secrets, and Silence” posits an ideal of honesty in the global community of women. She asserts that a woman lying, under any circumstance, is a direct product of our inability to break free of the patriarchal shackles that hold all women, and that truth, pure unadulterated uncensored truth, is the necessary tool that women must wield for freedom. By truth telling we (read women) create a web of relationship politics that actively resists the default of relationships built upon lies, relationships that perpetuate the patriarchal norms under which we have always existed. Truth telling and honesty not only allow women to build meaningful relationships that resist normative structures but complexify and deepen relationships to be truly meaningful connections. This, Rich asserts, is the key to building any meaningful relationship with another woman, but I posit that this assertion does not take into account the reality of the diversity of women’s’ truths that exist. Rich does not acknowledge that in building complex relationships we each assign a different value to the different truths that we hold. The higher the value, the closer we hold each truth to ourselves and because each truth that we hold carries a value specific to the individual, to attempt to be completely honest with any other person would take a deep understanding not only of the truth being shared but the value each individual assigns to that truth. By excluding the deep complexities of the truths that each individual hold, Rich also does not acknowledge the many myriad causes of these complexities; multiple and intersecting identities in relations to gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, age and generation, disability and ability identities, as well as the way a person was raised and who they have spent their lives surrounded by. However, I don’t want to claim that Rich is obsolete, in fact, I think there is incredible merit in what she is attempting to impart. The issue I believe is that Rich writes about an ideal, an ideal that is worth striving for but that must be tempered by the acknowledgment of the reality and complexity that we exist in.

I would like to examine Rich more closely through the lens of assessing the merits of idealism and which realities must be acknowledged in order to strive towards this ideal. I also want to unpack the ways that individual truths are conplexified by the different identifies each individual can hold and which identities affect which truths. The inspiration for the argument comes from an interaction that I had with my Rabbi’s wife. Both of them are lesbians who lived in New York City through the years of stonewall and the strife and terror and violence that being open about this identity, this truth so often attract. When I ‘came out’ and spoke to Rabbi and her wife, Judy, about the apprehensions and fears that I had about understanding myself as a gay woman, Judy imparted to me a piece of advice that lifted such weight from my shoulders, that has allowed me to walk with my head held much higher and feel confident not only in my identity, but the fact that it is not easy to define or accept my identities. And it is okay that it is difficult for me as an individual. She said “Don’t ever let any older queer person, make you feel like your struggles are less than theirs.”

This paper will examine the reality that Judy spoke to and the ideal of complete honesty that Rich purports is the only answer.


Anne Dalke's picture

I’m liking the directions you lay out here, the notion of working with-and-against Rich to highlight the diversity of women’s different identities and truths, as well as the different values we ascribe to different truths, in order to temper the ideal she offers with an acknowledgment of complex realities. 

I’m wondering if you can do this by using Rich as a lens to read one other  text closely: Rigoberta Menchu? Brothers and Keepers? Another text you’ve read with Jody or Joel? The text you yourself created as a record of our town hall meeting, or one of those you’ve written about our work in prison? The field you’ve been trained in, poli sci, tends to abstract claims, and I’d like to nudge you to apply those interesting large ideas to a close reading of something more concrete.