What struck me while watching Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony was how she was expected to relay a linear narrative. She was expected to remember everything in order, precisely, as if her experience, and the ensuing trauma, had not affected her. What her testimony and the hearings of Brett Kavanaugh ’87 LAW ’90 in general have uncovered for me — among many things — is the realization that women disproportionately carry the expectation of linearity, of composure and, often, of silence.
“I have lived with that anger, ignoring it, feeding upon it … Once I did it in silence, afraid of the weight. My fear of anger taught me nothing. Your fear of that anger will teach you nothing also,” Audre Lorde says in her “The Uses of Anger.” The ways different people are expected to express anger and rage manifest in our voices and how we calibrate them — as women, as people of color, as immigrants. We have internalized who can be angry and who can take up space with their voice. These expectations are motivated in part by a psychology of scarcity.
Professor Inderpal Grewal, chair of the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at Yale, spoke to me about how spaces like Yale often feel “very jealously guarded and maintained by particular forms of power,” two of which are racial and gendered power. To guard a space, one must believe that there is not enough, that the value of a place depends on its exclusivity and on the exclusion of those who do not fit its “mold.” This impulse to guard what is ours, what we believe belongs to us, is both a human and a dangerous desire.
In conversations with peers and classmates, and in our national dialogue, I notice a language of possession, of stealing. In other words, individuals express resentment at the fact that spaces are being taken from them, as if those spaces belonged to them. A white writer recently expressed discontentment because it seemed as though writers who are women of color are now being sought after more than they had in the past. On the streets of my largely white suburb of Portland, Lake Oswego, I hear adults groan over how Asian-American individuals are taking their jobs. This all originates from a mindset that if one person gets something, if one person occupies a space, another person must be pushed out.
Yale students are not exempt from this way of thinking. We too section out our time neatly; we schedule time to be around our friends, time to go to parties, time to advocate for human rights, time to do our problem sets and write our essays. We often do not want these neat sections of time to spill over into one another. And yet, they do.
Advocating for human rights must spill over into our conversations with our friends, with our peers, with the people we encounter as we move through the day. Protesting is continual; resistance does not begin or end with the protest. It should spill over into our papers, into our empathy for others, into what we see when we read Audre Lorde, or Aristotle or Elizabeth Bishop.
When we get rejected from seminars, from extracurricular groups, from jobs, we can refrain from thinking of those rejections as reiterating the idea that there is not enough space. We can move away from thinking that a byproduct of our excellence is someone else’s exclusion, someone else’s failure. We should shape Yale with our voices and let it shape us in return. But it does not belong to us, as poetry or the law or art or anger does not belong to any one particular individual or group of individuals. Just as it is beautiful when someone who believed they could never write poetry discovers that they can, it is beautiful when we act and move together collectively.
The collective action of our campus in the past weeks has generated important conversations and movement. Three days ago, after the Senate confirmed Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the Women’s Table was surrounded in light, dotted with petals.
I hope we can carry that power into our daily interactions. I hope we think more about what coherence means, how linearity does not always exact the truth — how Kavanaugh’s validation should not mean that Ford’s voice is pushed out, that her story is silenced. When we talk about women’s voices, let us question the expectations we hold for one another when we convey our narratives, especially our narratives of trauma. Let us pay attention not only to how we speak but also to how we listen to one another. Let us pay attention to voices calibrated to composure. Let us listen to the trauma within silence. It is not our job to fill in the spaces of someone else’s narrative. There can be spaces. And no one has to claim them as their own.
Meghana Mysore is a junior in Davenport College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .