Women and Honor (Julia posting through Esty's account)
As stated in the title line, this is Julia posting from Esty's account (which she kindly lent to me until my own is restored).
I've probably made clear in one or many classes that I consider Adrienne Rich to be my favorite poet and perhaps even writer of all time. The first poem of hers I ever read was "Diving Into the Wreck." Here is a link to the poem from Poets.org. The poem ends:
We are, I am, you are by cowardice or courage the one who find our way back to this scene carrying a knife, a camera a book of myths in which our names do not appear.
I found myself thinking continuously about this poem when reading "Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying." The phrase that grabs me the most is, "by cowardice or courage." Rich mentions both throughout her piece on honor, but I don't think she discusses either enough.
Our truths are often created for us. They can be conditions that we do not choose but that we often must choose to disclose. I wonder how important the distinction between cowardice and courage are. Is one always lying and the other always honesty? If I find myself in the wreck, does it matter if it is cowardice or courage that caused me to arrive there?
I don't think that I believe that all truths or all lies are created equal even if I believe that they are all created. We all have many truths and many lies, and there are those that form our identities and others that we distance ourselves from. I am unsure how many truths I have to share to be a honorable woman. Does one truth make up for many lies? Does my silence, my absence of truth (or what Rich considers to be a lie), devalue the many truths I may have shared?
We all struggle with what to tell, how much to share, and what silences are natural vs. unnatural (as in Olsen's classification). I don't think the absence of truth is always a lie. The calculation of a woman's honor seems too complex to ever state with any authority. The truths we value are a direct result of discourse about what needs to be spoken and what is assumed through silence. The people who need to tell the truth are often those whose truths are most painful. Yes, that pain may be a result of the shame we create, but that doesn't make it any less real.
I believe Rich's words, "When a woman tells the truth, she is creating the possibility for more truth around her." But I don't think there is any end to truth, and I know, by both the truths I share and those I don't, that my silence about certain truths does not make them any less real or make me a liar. One day I may choose to speak about them, or I might not. Perhaps people will assume some things about me to be true, and they very well may be right. But I don't think I should force any woman to speak a truth that she is not ready to share with herself or with others. Honor is complicated, and once many of us arrive in the wreck about which Rich writes, cowardice and courage are no longer separate entities.