Women have long since poured their suffering and struggle into creativity.
For a large part of our history, we were denied a right be open about our daily living, of what the truth of that living really looked like. We were not permitted to speak of the ways in which we were marginalized and exploited. We certainly did not have space held for us to share our experiences of sexual trauma or domestic violence.
Our stories were rarely supported, even in conversation amongst ourselves. The challenges that we faced as women were something we lived with, not something we spoke about.
But regardless of the societal constructs that have come to be accepted as norms, women have an innate need for self expression.
Instead of speaking directly of our experiences, we painted them, we sang them, we planted them in knowing soil, we danced them, we turned them into poetry and molded them into clay.
Creativity has historically been a container for the truths we were not allowed to tell.
I do not necessarily believe that this has always been because we wanted to channel our hurt and grievances this way, more so because the world wouldn’t pay attention any other way. Women are nothing if not resourceful, and of course, necessity is the mother of invention.
When I first recognized that I could use creativity as a tool to tell segments of my story, it created the most incredible and illuminating shift in my world. For the first time in my life, I felt as though I had an outlet. A way of expressing myself.
This form of expression didn’t change my circumstances. It didn’t magically make all of my hurts disappear. But I felt as though the next breath was slightly less jagged. I finally had a coping mechanism. A hand held out. A friend.
Photography and creative writing have been lifelines for me. A way of giving a voice to some of my experiences, without the pressure of having to explain them. Because explanation often requires justification, and then something is lost, further crushed inside.
There are so many ways in which women are censored. We edit our existence because the World is still not ready to accept our multitudes. Creativity helps to soften that editing process; it gives us a cloak of protection whilst also allowing us to be bare.
But it is not always possible for our art to offer anonymity to our trauma.
Artemisia Gentileschi was a fifteenth century Italian Baroque painter. As a teenager, she was raped by a painter working with her father. Afterwards she participated in the prosecution of her rapist and was subjected to interrogation during a trial which lasted seven months.
Her art was informed by her ordeal, and she was also critiqued because of it.
Cultural analyst and scholar, Griselda Pollock said that the assault, and subsequent sensationalism surrounding the trial, had become the “axis of interpretation of the artist’s work.”
This is the creative challenge that we continue to have. The lens through which our art is seen and studied can have a definite bias if, for example, our #MeToo stories are in the public forum. Suddenly there is speculation about why we paint this way, or why we write that way, or what the photograph really means.
We are allowed to want to create art that does not define us solely as survivors. We are much more than the words that were said to us or the hands that were put on us. We are not required to make our art a testimony to every unwelcome experience we have ever had.
I think this is the part that we get to choose. The part where we get to reclaim our rights and stand in our power. Maybe we want to make artistically bold statements that speak of our struggle. And maybe we don’t.
If we are tailoring our self expression simply to fit in with a movement, then we are still creating in captivity. We are calling it freedom, even as we build walls around it.
Gifting ourselves with true creativity means choosing how we bear witness with our art. #MeToo is a movement of millions, but our individual response will always be personal.
I am a writer who helps women find their courage through creativity. I am driven by a deep desire to see women claim and keep spaces which support and sustain their entire body and their whole being. Please visit my Patreon page to become a part of my community there.
Art: Susanna and the Elders by Artemisia Gentileschi