Owning My VoicePosted: April 30, 2014
For years, I was terrified to show the world any of my own writing. I found ways to avoid professional work that would require a byline with my name attached to it. I was stymied by a number of fears: What if my writing isn’t good enough or what if it’s “too much?” Worse yet what if what I say offends, turns off, or upsets anyone, possibly everyone—rendering me undateable, unhireable, or, even, unfit to be part of society?
Stories from the Belly has been up and running for eight months. This post marks my 17th one. While the blog is fairly new, for me working as a blogger is not. I’ve been ghost blogging for eight years and written thousands of posts—only you would never know that any of them were written by me.
I’d even started other personal blogs in the past—four, to be exact (one of them I’d forgotten ever existed until I stumbled upon the URL in my bookmark folder the other day). I never made any of these sites available to the public.
Author Virginia Woolf wrote in A Room of One’s Own, “I would venture to guess that Anonymous, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” For a long time, I might as well have been this “Anonymous.”
I’d love to think these fears are just a product of my own personal history—my Catholic upbringing, being born into a culture (Filipino) where sometimes the greater offense is to tell the truth rather than to keep up the facade that everything is fine. But from talking to other women in my life I’ve found that this is bigger than me.
I’m not the only one who has worried about the consequences that might arise from expressing a personal truth or opinion in a female voice. At a young age, many girls are trained in how to be seen more, heard less. We are taught to make our voices sexier or dilute them of any real authority. We learn how to infuse the word “like” into nearly every sentence, end our statements with question marks, or wait for someone else to tell us when we can talk and what we are allowed to say.
For some women, especially in certain countries, speaking the truth can lead to jail time or a death sentence. And even in Western countries, there are female writers who have received rape and murder threats for expressing their opinions in a blog post or some other publication.
When I started Stories from the Belly last year, it wasn’t that I had gotten over my fears or stopped caring about any possible fallout, both real and imagined. It was that I finally understood that my fears were keeping me boxed in, shut up, and disempowered. I was allowing cultural conditioning and the constraints placed on me because I happen to be a woman to win out.
The only way to take my voice back was to start writing as me even if not everyone liked what I had to say. This included writing about the female body with as much naked candor as I had the courage to muster. (Society will objectify and sexualize the female body, but God forbid an honest depiction of what it’s really like to live in one—many consider that subject taboo.)
Writer and feminist Audre Lorde said: “Our speaking out will irritate some people, get us called bitchy or hypersensitive and disrupt some dinner parties. And then our speaking out will permit other women to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever… and at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.”
I doubt that anything I’ve published here has disrupted any dinner parties yet— although sometimes I can feel my parents squirming 400 miles away as they read my latest blog post. And I’m pretty sure that a lot of my older relatives are wondering what the hell is wrong with me. Then again, one of my uncles just signed up as a subscriber.
When I published my first blog post early last September, I sent it out only to a designated “safe” list of friends I knew would be supportive. My second post, about working out with Jane Fonda, I published to a slightly bigger list on Facebook. When I published my third post, about my period, I secretly hoped no one would see it. Instead, not only did readers find me, but many of them seemed to resonate with what I wrote. They left comments. The blog and its readership have been growing ever since.
When one of my blog posts, “Growing Up Like Skipper: On Breasts and Objectification,” got Freshly Pressed on WordPress and then syndicated on BlogHer, I was deluged with comments, mostly from other women, eager to share their personal breast stories. Apparently many of us had similar experiences and feelings about our breasts—only none of us knew this because no one talks about it. (As for me, to discover that sharing my truth could cause strangers to open up and tell their stories, rather than turn away, was a healing of its own and an honor.)
And while I did receive one comment from one reader about the “Skipper” post: “This post is like a rich white male proclaiming all the downsides of being so privileged. Cry me a river, please.”—You know what? I survived. And I became even more committed to continuing to write as me and tell my stories, including what its like to inhabit my female body.
That doesn’t mean I am devoid of the old fears. Often, before publishing a blog post, I pause, hold my breath, and second-guess myself: Did I reveal too much, get too personal? What if the writing isn’t good enough? Why the hell don’t I write about lighter, more positive topics, like ‘how to meditate’ or ’10 tips for growing a rose garden’? Or, what will my dad/former landlord/ex-boss/neighbor/best friend from kindergarten who I haven’t seen in over 30 years but is now my Facebook friend think of me now?
Then, I remind myself of what is really important: That I keep telling my truth no matter what. Then I press “publish,” and get on with the rest of my day.