The penis - mightier than the sword
... why I'm tired of women being silenced.
I’m working with three amazing women on their book proposals at the moment. I wish I could tell you about each of them individually, but it’s top secret — for now. I will share as soon as I have news. It’s unusual for me to be working on three proposals at once, but each of their stories is so strong, so interesting, so important, that I couldn’t resist the chance to work with them. How I will juggle the work if all three get the go ahead, I do not know. But I will find a way.
Those of you who are familiar with my ghosting work, will know that my ‘specialist area’ if you like, is that of raising the voices of women, particularly those who might not ordinarily be heard. But there is another category too, those of women whose stories have been hijacked by others and have been retold and misshapen into something that is unfamiliar to them. This is a common theme for us women, whether we are in the public eye or not, whether our stories are told in books or films, in newspapers, offices, relationships (the ‘crazy ex’, anyone?) or courts, and it has been happening for centuries.
In a novel I wrote recently, I weaved in the story of Artemisia II, a Carian warrior queen who achieved so much in her lifetime, yet is best remembered for drinking the ashes of her husband/brother thanks to a portrait of her painted by Rembrandt in the 17th century. Artemisia II actually lived 19 centuries before Rembrandt, yet that didn’t deter him from reshaping her story into something more attractive to his own creative output, and so she remains to this day trapped inside his oil paints, grieving.
But this is 2021, surely we live in different times? And yet the stories of these three women I’m working with at the moment are, in some ways, on a similar theme – stories of women shaped by men.
We can all perhaps conjure up a time when we have experienced something similar. Most of those occasions we can shrug off, but sometimes these stories that are whispered about us have grave consequences — as one of the women whose proposal I’m writing can testify, she ended up in prison. But when the worst happens, and when these stories get referred up and up through institutions that we women believe are there to protect us equally, do we then get a chance to reshape our own stories, to get our justice? Surely then, these stories are not told by men, surely in a court of law for example our voice has equal weight, equal volume? But, even in 2021, it appears not.
I had a similar experience recently when I represented myself in the family court against my ex-husband’s barrister. I am not allowed to tell you anything that occured there, the family court has an absolute ban on reporting anything that goes on behind those closed doors. It is apparently to protect the child or children involved, but can you imagine how well this works for the man who has mistreated you? Sadly, for this reason, injustices in the family court occur every single day. There was an excellent (heartbreaking) Channel Four Dispatches programme that aired recently ‘Torn Apart – Family Courts Uncovered’ which exposed how certain men will use the family court to continue the abuse of their ex-partner, and not only does the court collude in this, but they then silence the women who are the victims of this system so they may never speak of it. The women who spoke on the Dispatches programme are very brave indeed, they also hoped their stories would finally be heard in the courts, but instead found them twisted and misshapen by the system that claims to treat them equally.
Injustices against women happen on a larger scale too – take the new laws in Texas that prohibit a woman from aborting a foetus. Another woman’s story rewritten by men with devastating consequences to both mother and child. That’s why, in my line of work as a ghostwriter, it is important to support the underdog, and I have to say, it is more often than not, a woman.
I’ve had a rotten virus this week (not the virus) and have comforted myself on my sick bed reading Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. I’m not too far in yet, but her thesis from the outset is to figure out at what point, when we are born equals, does the penis reign supreme. She quotes a little known feminist from the seventeeth century, Poulain de la Barre, who said back then: ‘Being men, those who have made and compiled the laws have favoured their own sex, and jurists have elevated these laws into principles.’ Five hundred years later, hearing the stories of these three women I’m working with, sitting in court myself, reading about new laws which stop women taking control of their own bodies, I ask how much has really changed?
To expose a predator like the actor/director Noel Clarke, or indeed Harvey Weinstein, you still need the testimonies of several women – one just won’t cut it. We accept as a society that his voice is louder, that it carries more weight. But why? Why still? We are complicit in this continued injustice.
Back in the sixteen hundreds, Poulain de la Barre had this to say: ‘All that has been written about women by men should be suspect, for the men are at once judge and party to the lawsuit.’ I thought again of Artemisia II’s portrait when I read this.
For now, I will push ahead with these book proposals of three brilliant women because the way I see it, the higher the platform we give women, the further their voices will carry and you never know, one day in the future, one woman’s word might be equal to a man’s.
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