Saturated with literature about women’s voices and a call of the return to wildish natures, I am questioning everything I believe about freedom of speech. Does my belief in women’s voices being heard have limits?
On Wednesday night I was invited to a local literary event about hearing the “feminine voice.” It was a collection of twenty local female poets, wine, cheese and soda water. Some of the poets were moving and breathtaking, some were hilarious and freeing. All spoke about varying women’s issues. Toward the end, however, the talent took a turn. I happened to be at the event with my mom and her friend, who were blindsided by the closing act. The last story was a fringe piece about “fisting” or “brachiovaginal insertion”. I recommend you google it, dear reader, for I am not proceeding further on the definition. Besides the risk of lacerations or perforations, I was truly disturbed by the content of the story and not only did I have trouble sleeping that night, but I woke up thinking about it. Was I disturbed by the mere idea of this sexual act? No. I was disturbed by the delivery. Whether autobiographical or not, I was disturbed by the fact that the character was in pain, I was disturbed by the fact that this act was committed by a strange man (a mechanic) who did this in a room full of onlookers while her “boyfriend” held her hand, and I was especially disturbed by the message being that women are capable of pushing through pain to reach pleasure. I’ll be honest, I certainly have my own personal issues surrounding that often slippery definition of consent, therefore, it may have coloured by experience and my opinions. However, when is a piece like that appropriate and does it count as art? When do audience and atmosphere play a factor into when and where a person reads something and when is it best for it to never see the light of day?
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We are in very liberal times; the sexual revolution started fifty years ago. I am all for women’s freedom to express themselves sexually without judgement. Or am I? That piece was something that put a whole damper on my evening and well into the sleeping darkness of my psyche. Does this mean that I am all for women’s freedom? Do I believe in censorship? Could I have left and chosen not to listen? Absolutely. I would have had to be very disruptive because the chairs were so close together that I would have had to sit on someone’s lap and awkwardly step on people’s toes, hitting them in the head with my purse on the way out. Not to mention, a small group like that would have noticed my abrupt exit and I wasn’t looking for that kind of attention. So I listened. Without consent.
The women I was with were equally disturbed, but chose to believe that the content of her piece was fiction. I’ve talked to quite a few of my writer-friends about this issue and they all agree that it comes down to time and place. There is a place to read work that may be deemed as inappropriate. It is not at a seniors home, it is not at the Baptist church down the street, and perhaps it may not even be in a quiet, classy book store in downtown Calgary. My advice: survey the room before you read something questionable.
Photo via stopabortioncensorship.wordpress.com
Ultimately, this was a piece about rape culture. This was a piece about how patriarchy is still so prevalent that we insert things into our vaginas by the mere calming voice of a man telling us to breathe through the pain. None of these things were addressed in the piece. What does this say about women? Where were the women’s voices that night? The ones that thought this was inappropriate? Perhaps, drowned out by the polite clapping which ensued afterwards? I believe censorship causes blindness. However, in this case there were no political undertones or feminist commentary that whispered between the lines. Alice Osborn, an American poet who has published three books of poetry, has tips before reading at a poetry reading. Number one is about thinking hard about your audience and what they will appreciate. Do I think a everything a woman (or anyone else, for that matter) writes should be heard? My conclusion is simply, no.