What if I’d been born a woman in a time and place where women weren’t allowed to read and write–illiterate. It wasn’t that long ago, especially in the context of the whole of human literacy, that women were “granted the right” to get an education. If you are interested, you can google the timeline of women’s education across the globe. That it be debatable whether or not a woman should be allowed to get an education is mind-boggling for those of us who, in many ways, take education for women for granted.
I wonder if parts of myself would be permanently closed off, untapped because I couldn’t make this scratching on paper with a pen? When I look back and recall how, at 27-years old, I started to write to save my life, I honestly couldn’t have had a better means to express what was going on inside of me and outside of me. Or so it seemed. Self-expression takes many forms. I know that I’d have found another way. However, writing has been so accessible, cathartic and freeing. It has worked well for me in addition to other creative ventures.
Here’s another way to look at women and the advent of the alphabet. According to author, Leonard Shlain in his book, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, the alphabet has usurped women’s innate powers. It has thrust women from an intuitive universe of imagery and symbolism into the masculine logic thereby making these feminine attributes less accessible, diminished and even superstitious. Within myself, I can feel a deep desire and an inner-directed course towards reclaiming and re-valuing these women’s ways of knowing. I make art and write poetry to foster the intuitive side of me.
In China, women developed their own secret language, NuShu, to communicate with one another across the miles. Daughters sold off into marriage were taken distances away from their mothers and sisters. They were strangers in their new village and sometimes not welcomed. Many of them would never see their families of origin again. They wrote their secret language on the folds of fans that were delivered to and from their families.
“The script [NuShu] was often used in embroidery, calligraphy and handicrafts created by women. It is found written on paper (including letters, written poetry and on objects such as fans) and embroidered on fabric (including on quilts, aprons, scarves, handkerchiefs). Objects were often buried with women or were burned.”
by Jone Johnson Lewis
from NuShu, a Woman-Only Language of China
Stamping out women’s illiteracy across the globe isn’t complete. Belinda Jack’s well-researched essay, The Right to Read: Belinda Jack on the History of Women’s Literacy, concludes:
“For many women readers today it’s easy to think that the history of women’s reading as a distinct story has come to an end. But in some parts of the world women continue to risk their lives reading material which those in authority have forbidden.”
I’m grateful that I can read and write. That said, the re-valuing of a woman’s deeper intuitive ways of being, seeing and knowing is likely the antidote to a world that is steeped in a masculine logic gone awry.
What do you think?