#MeToo and the Importance of Finding the Words

There’s something at once depressing and profoundly uplifting about how fast the hashtag #MeToo started trending across the world. Women from all walks of life and all ages shared their stories of sexual harassment, some perhaps for the first time. It may feel like nothing – a few more words sent off to the ether, jumbled with all the other endless words on the internet. In fact, it’s a revolutionary act, rejecting that this is either the fault of the victim, or just the way things are. The more women speak up, the more varied the circumstances and outcomes, the easier it becomes to see that there should be no shame attached to women and something has to change.

I have my own stories in the #MeToo vein, I think all women do. I have almost shared and hesitated several times, demonstrating how deep the problem goes. Perhaps my stories aren’t dramatic enough, perhaps I should have been more careful, perhaps I can’t explain that cold, sweating shame inside me without being stained by it, without somehow taking the blame. This is why women stay silent, and why it’s so uplifting that so many women are speaking up. Articulating these issues as a problem is the first step to changing them, and that’s the hard part. Finding the words for something like this, something that is so deeply, socially and institutionally ingrained in all of us, takes more than courage, it takes poetry.

I have some wise words by Audre Lorde stuck above my desk to remind me why I write and why I need to keep going as I head further down the rabbit hole of my PhD studies. 

For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams towards survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.

One of the reasons that I chose Audre Lorde as one of the poets to study was because of this quote. It made me think of the witches in Macbeth who talk about “a deed without a name,” and I wonder how much living in today’s society as a woman is still a deed without a name. We lack the language and the audience to be able to express our experience, at times. Poetry has a role in helping us reach that expression, and it’s why I chose both to study female poets for my PhD and why I’m using the history and mythology of witches as a lens to channel that expression in my own creative work. I may not yet have the words to succinctly add my own #MeToo to the beautiful angry chorus arising online, but I am working towards it.

If you’re interested in learning more about Audre Lorde (and you should be, she was a phenomenal woman, activist and poet) there’s a launch event at Waterstone’s Tottenham Court Road for her collected essays and poetry, Your Silence Will Not Protect You next month. It feels like this collection is incredibly timely and much needed and I’m looking forward to more inspiration and writerly fire at the event.