How Do You Say the Thing You Are Not Allowed to Say?

by Nov 15, 2017Writing Tips

“What is the source of our first suffering? It lies in the fact that we hesitated to speak….it was born in the moments when we accumulated silent things within us.”
– Gaston Bachelard

There are things we are allowed to say and things we are not allowed to say. We learn the distinction early on.

When I stopped working as a counsellor for abused women over twenty years ago, I hoped never to have to coach a woman on what to say and what not to say in court ever again. I never wanted to warn another survivor that she would be blowtorched in cross-examination about every previous sexual encounter she’d ever had. Or to dress ‘modestly’ How do you say the thing you are not allowed to say? | Joanne Fedlerso a judge would form the right opinion about her, which is to say, he would stereotype her as a credible, not-asking-for-it-kinda-gal. In court, you are supposed to tell the truth, the whole of it and nothing but it, but one truth will invariably butt up against someone’s rebuttal of it. As in, ‘I never did what she says I did.’

When I started teaching writing six years ago, I did not foresee that the majority of people who would want to write would be women, and that nine out of ten would want to write memoir. Nor could I have predicted how many would have #metoo stories. Incest. Rape. Molestation. Harassment. Abuse. Violence – the whole spectrum of legal issues I swore off two decades ago because it was too painful to invoke these narratives in a legal forum and expect something resembling ‘justice.’

Back then, I naively believed truth would outmuscle bullshit. I trusted judges would understand that to claim ‘I was raped’ in a court of law is a catastrophically self-annihilating attention-seeking or avenging device and that sane people seldom resort to it. And that if indeed the defence proves a complainant is ‘insane,’ ‘hysterical,’ ‘unhinged’ or on anti-depressants, thereby destroying her credibility, perhaps suppressing a truth for decades may have something to do with doing her head in. In my activist days I didn’t understand a simple marketing principle: know your audience and speak into their listening.

The 7 Day Writing Challenge

WINGS: Words Inspire, Nourish and Grow the Spirit

In teaching women to write their stories, I’ve found an outcome perhaps more enduring and wholesome than justice. It is self-recovery. Witnessing. Revisiting the scene of the crime and saying ‘He did this to me.’ Without self-pity or self-blame. Without fear of being judged for having invited these traumas.

Joanne Fedler MediaI have now coached dozens of women to write their brave stories. And against my better judgement, have set up a small niche publishing house, Joanne Fedler Media to publish these stories so that writers don’t have to prove to a big publishing house that there is a mass market out there who will buy their books. I don’t know what people will buy. I just know women want and need their truths out in the world.

Now, as a publisher, I face this dilemma: can one of my authors tell the truth in writing? Can she say ‘my uncle sexually abused me,’ ‘my father beat my mother,’ ‘my ex husband raped me’? By doing this, will we expose her and my publishing house to legal action? Truth is a defence to defamation, but generally the onus lies on the person alleging the act to prove the truth. All it will take is for the person named to deny it and the burden of proof will land on my author to prove otherwise. We all know that the reason these crimes have gone unnamed and unpunished in the first place is precisely because they are difficult to prove when she says he did and he says he didn’t and who’s to say otherwise? Unwitnessed – that’s what makes these crimes so abuser-friendly.

So I find myself in yet another ‘what are we allowed to say?’ bind.

I feel sickened that I even need to have a conversation with my writers about how to publish their work without invoking the wrath of those they’ve named. I thought I was done with my blood-boiling days, but knowing that a woman not only endured these violations, but must now be careful about how she speaks about them in naming her abuser, stirs an old cauldron. I’m taking my writers through a rigorous due diligence process – to seek permission where possible and to forgive those who hurt them.

But I’m standing by them and we’re going to tell these stories. Not to shame or blame anyone, but simply to honour the soul that has carried these wounds alone all this time. When we break our personal silence, it speaks into the collective silence and we give a voice to those who are still too afraid to speak up.

My Triumvirate: Meditation, Mantra and Memoir

I’m in the early stages of writing my memoir. At this point, I’m hunting, gathering, pulling things out and looking to see if and how they fit. I’m reliving scenes, moments, memories. Some are painful. Some are lighthearted. I smile as I write about the...

Why Talent is Overrated in Writing

What stops many people from writing is the belief that they have no talent. This is what I think about talent: Talent isn’t enough: talent guarantees zilch. It's not a ticket to a publishing deal let alone a bestseller. It’s not even a boarding pass. It may get you...

A Harvest of Hindsight: My top 10 insights about publishing for aspiring authors

My being here is actually not about me. It’s about you. My new book is about you – and your story. So I thought what would be the most helpful input I could give you, as an unpublished author at this point in your writing journey. Here are my top 10 insights or lessons that I’ve learned over the past 12 years as a published author. Things I wish I’d known. A harvest of hindsight in the hope that it will help you to get more quickly where you want to go.

Writing about Ourselves So That Others Will Read It

  When we write about ourselves, it’s not dissimilar to writing about a fictional or imaginary character. In Hemingway’s iceberg, we see that what we need to know about a character is vast compared to what we show. This depth of knowledge helps us to...

You Could Make This Place Beautiful

I wanted to share a story that always gives me strength and faith to keep working for a better world, even when it seems pointless and hopeless.

‘I Want to Write… Bbbut Where Should I Start?’

Ah, of course, where should you start? Not knowing where to begin is another reason many of us don't start writing, combined with ‘it’s too overwhelming’ and 'I don't have the time.' So say you want to write your lifestory. A memoir. Something about who you...

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *