It was quiet in my growing up house. We closed the front door with silent deliberation and spoke to one another in soft tones. My parents didn’t raise their voices, either in anger or delight. We kept our feelings of fear, grief, sadness, even joy, corseted close, as if their release would tip the earth from her axis. Tears happened in muffled sobs in the corner of a bedroom. There was no room for anger. When that emotion thundered through my body, I clenched my teeth and held the fire tight between my shoulder blades, turned it in on myself and assumed that I was the one at fault.
Sometimes I beat my fists against a pillow.
I learned to master nice, reliable and an accommodating smile, as a protective camouflage for the deeper feelings. It won me teacher’s pet for several years running. I learned to master how to fit in and smooth things over, how to be agreeable and nod my head while holding my contrary opinions tight inside my closed lips.
I learned to move with caution so as not to ruffle or disturb, to modulate my voice and tip my head to one side to put off the scent of aggression. This, more than arithmetic and geography, is what my childhood education taught me.
I learned what I needed to do, how I needed to behave in order to fit in and be liked. I learned who I needed to be to survive as a woman in a man’s world.
It is only now that I am beginning to notice the many ways that I contain my body, soften my voice, and play to those who hold the power. My stomach is in a knot, my chest is tight and there’s a fire welling up inside of me with no place to go.
I am tired of being careful. I’m tired of being quiet. Nice. Accommodating. But I’m scared. I see what is in store. I’ve always intuited the cost of standing in my power. My body holds ancestral memory, my body remembers what has been done to women. How we’ve been hung, drowned, and burned for the crime of being women. The memory is locked in my genes. This has been enough to keep me silent, to keep me demure, to dampen my fierceness. The memory has been enough to make me play by the rules. The other day I heard a woman say, ‘men are afraid that women will laugh at them and women are afraid that men will kill them.’ Yes and yes. The price is high.
But the price of silence is even higher.