What just happened, lady?

[All quotes taken from Diving Deep and Surfacing by Carol P. Christ]

Walking through a store, three beautiful ladies shopping. My friends and I stop to admire some boots. One friend says:

“I have fat calves. Boots never fit me right.”

“Me too!” I say.

The third woman says quietly, “Boots never fit me right either. But…why do we all assume that we are fat? Why don’t we just say they make the boots too small?”

We stare at her, amazed at her wisdom.

Instead of recognizeing their own experiences, giving names to their feelings, and celebrating their perceptions of the world, women have often suppressed and denied them. When the stories a women reads or hears do not validate what she feels or thinks, she is confused. She may wonder if her feelings are wrong. She may even deny to herself that she feels what she feels.

I spend a huge amount of time between the pages of a book. This has been true as long as I could read.

When I was a teenager, I began to write poetry. It occurred to me that nearly all the writers I loved to read were male. The obvious conclusion was that men had greater talent at writing, that females simply were unable to produce strings of beautiful words.

Men were, categorically, better writers than women.

This did not seem in keeping with my assesment of the young men I know. According to the evidence, these boys must be capable of producing poetry and metaphor to an even greater extent than myself.

I watched them, waiting for jewels to drop out of their mouths. But the only thing I heard was re-telling of last night’s movie rental, or TV show.

Hmm. No precious nuggets there. Perhaps their poetic talents were private. I approached them straight out, taking a survey of my aquaintances:

“Do you ever write poetry?”

To my surprise, almost all of them said they did. Of course, I didn’t ask and they did not offer to share their efforts with me. But I was sure that their poetry must be far superior to my feeble efforts.

Women have lived in the interstices between their own vaguely understood experience and the shaping given to experience by the stories of men. The dialectic between experience and shaping experience through storytelling has not been in women’s hands.

A grieving and battered woman sits with her parents. She is on the cusp of a tragic choice. Weary and toneless, she speaks to her mother and father:

“I have told you how it’s been. You know the story. I have tried all I can try. He won’t listen. He won’t change. I cannot stay with the way things are. I will have to divorce him.”

Her father answers, “You are too emotional right now to make that decision.”

She lifts her heavy head to stare at him. After a moment, she turns to her mother. “Do I sound emotional to you?”

Hesitantly, the mother replies: “No. But what your father means is…”

In a very real sense, there is no experience without stories… Stories give shape to experience, experience gives rise to stories. At least this is how it is for those who have had the freedom to tell their own stories, to shape their lives in accord with their experience. But this has not usually been the case for women. Indeed, there is a very real sense in which the seeming paradoxical statement “Women have not experienced their own experience” is true.