As a strong female personality, an aspiring writer, and a future teacher, the works of Helene Cixous and Gloria Anzaldúa illuminate a beautiful power that writing has, and personally resonate with me. The transformative power of female writing has been explored in our readings a lot from Cixous’s arguments we read last week about women’s writing empowering women and healing women on a personal as well as institutional level, to Gloria Anzaldúa’s self-professed intimate and immediate call to women to write, to even the coming of age victory of Precious Jones coming from writing. I happen to have faith like these women that writing is cathartic, empowering, and is an exceptional way for women to transcend societal limitations and lay claim to the power to their individuality and minds. All of these writers seem to agree with me, so I believed that this was a widely accepted belief.
However… I discovered that this is really not the case for all women.
I happen to teach a creative writing class to visually impaired students, and this weekend, I encountered particular resistance from one of my students. As female, from a traditional Chinese family, with a visual impairment, she could use the power of writing. She is the type of young woman Gloria Anzaldúa speaks to. Since October I have been trying to get this 16 year old girl to express herself, I have been giving her choices, and making it optional to share. I have basically been operating under the assumption that I am giving her the gift of empowerment. She does not agree. She groaned when she realized she was coming to my class and when I addressed her concerns openly she said the class was too much like school, that she usually felt stuck, and that maybe we could just talk or I could find some other hobby to share with the class.
My initial reaction was confusion, that turned to being a little pissed off. I thought I was helping her to claim her part of the world as a young woman of color with a disability. I have been working my butt off to help her overcome the boundaries of society, just like Sapphire and Helene Cixous and Gloria Anzaldúa would do, so why wasn’t she grateful and inspired?
“Speaking in Tongues” helped me to sort through this idea some more. If this young woman has the opportunity to write, why wouldn’t she take it? I looked at Anzaldúa’s commentary on the power of writing,
Writing is dangerous because we are afraid of what the writing reveals: the fears, the angers, the strengths of a woman under a triple or quadruple oppression. Yet in that very act lies our survival because a woman who writes has power. And a woman with power is feared, (Anzaldúa, 171)
This is potentially indicative of a bigger problem. Many women are resistant to reinventing ideas and taking claim through writing because they are afraid of being feared. Also, many women may have learned to be helpless and are comfortable in their role where they are without power. This is a worthwhile risk to give women the option to take charge and make their own world, however, what happens when the system itself has created women who do not like the feeling of being feared? What happens when we have women who have learned to feel the safety and accept the negative consequences of being submissive?
In many ways, I think I cope with this power and the resulting fear of being a female writer by becoming one of the “male-women” (167) that Anzaldúa refers to. I create an alter ego, a different self, that performs a more aggressive and male role. I enjoy the liberation and power of this when writing, but I would be wrong to think that this risk never scares me and that every female would respond to this type of gender performance and raw aggression and autonomy that writing gives. When it comes down to it, many women simply do not want this power. To be fair, many men do not want power and to be feared either, so does this mean that not all women can be empowered? Is writing/ feminism not for everyone?
I hope to empower this young women, transform her like Precious was transformed though the world of writing, but I am unsure how to tell her it’s ok to be scary, it’s ok to act a little like a guy, and it’s ok to be in control– even if you are afraid the whole time. Forcing her to write defeats the purpose of empowering her, and maybe writing is not the way for her, or many women to empower themselves because it is so inherently risky.