Julie Buckner Armstrong



Silencing Voices

6:30 a.m. Monday morning. Out of bed, drinking juice, checking "things to do" list: wash clothes, buy groceries, literacy volunteers meeting Tuesday, tutor Thursday, grade fifty papers, finish review for Southern Quarterly, consider what to say in guest lecture on Wednesday. Can you speak to issues of women and voice, women and silence?

Finish juice and go upstairs to shower. Consider literacy as a topic. One-third of all adults in this county are functionally illiterate. How many are women? Picture Paula, one of the 33%, saying, I need to know more words. I want to find words for my feelings.

Walk into the bathroom and step on the scales. 140. Damn. Picture gynecologist. 120 is about right for someone of your height. You really should lose at least 15 pounds. Carrying around all that extra weight isn't good for you. It can have long-term health consequences. Cut to aunt, overheard when you were 15: She's got such a pretty face. If she could just get some of that weight off of her. Cut to aunt's mother-in-law, asking you at 10, What do you do for exercise? Look at Susie. She's a cheerleader, she does gymnastics, works out every day. Look how slim and pretty she is, and popular too. Blink hard to erase the tape that runs in your head every Monday morning after standing on the scales.

While showering, make conscious effort to steer thoughts back to lecture. Consider as a subject women's presence in required texts for core courses. Only three out of 42 authors in the Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, Volume One are women. Only nine out of 61 in Volume Two. What messages do students receive when they read women writers on handouts and not in the "official" texts?

Wash hair and forget the textbook when you remember that your sister-in-law arrives on Thursday. Is the bathroom ready for company? When to clean? When to shop? Teach tonight. Meeting tomorrow night. Teach Wednesday. Cut out of office hours early Thursday? Shop and clean before tutoring? What about laundry? All the sheets are dirty. No time. Do laundry instead of run tomorrow morning? Cut to aunt's mother-in-law. What do you do for exercise? Look at Susie. Cut to sister-in-law, imagine her smiling weakly, Oh--don't worry. Just a blanket will be fine. Do you have any Coke? Juice? How about water?

Plan a menu. Cereal for breakfast. Fruit. Muffins would be nice. Use those bananas before they go bad. Go out for dinner? What about snacks? Pretzels? Buy some vegetables to cut up? Chips and salsa? Mmmm. Cut to gynecologist. Your cholesterol is right at 200. If you'd get some of that weight off, you could bring it down to 180 at least. Cut back to menu. Cereal. Juice. Pretzels don't have much fat in them. But when to shop? Cut to husband. Why are you worrying about this? She's my sister. It isn't your responsibility. Cut to mother, saying about cousin, Her house is a wreck. They live like a bunch of animals. She won't cook. She won't clean. If I was her husband, I'd just take the kids and leave. Feel guilty. If you spent as much time thinking about your writing as you do thinking about chores, you'd have your book finished by now. Blink eyes hard again. Think about work. Think . . . about . . . work. Literacy. Required textbooks. Women's voices. Women's silences.

Step out of shower and dry off. Cut to mother. You really do need some nicer towels. What will you do when guests come over? Cut to mother again, talking about cousin, You know, she didn't even have a clean washrag to give me. Cut to mother yet again. Why don't you like that candy dish? She went to a lot of trouble to pick that out. You don't appreciate anything. You'll want nice things like that when you get older. What will you do when guests come over and you need to put out some candy? Hand them an old bag of peppermints?

Stand in closet looking for something to wear. Think of ex-roommate saying, Time to go shopping. The old bag needs some rags. Can't be a hag. Cut to mother. I wish you'd wear some colors. Why do you want to dress in black all the time? You'd look so pretty in pink. Cut to mother-in-law. You need to be wearing petites. They'll hang off you better. Pick out blue A-line dress. Remember wearing dress in grocery store and running into old friend. I didn't hear you were pregnant. When are you due? Oh. You're not. Sorry. Pick out slenderizing black skirt, oversized black sweater. Cut to mother. Can't you at least wear a bright scarf with that? Pick out leopard print scarf. Remember male student in 1:00 class who leers and comments on your clothes. Put back the scarf. Cut to mother. I wish you'd wear some pink. Just once. Yell, Shut up! into the closet. Make yourself think about work while dressing. Which women's voices are silenced in the classroom? Remember English 2130 students giggling when asked to read a poem by Sappho of Lesbos. Remember the English 1102 student who wants to study the stars but says she can't be an astronomer because she's a "dumb blond."

While primping in front of mirror, remember saleswoman in Ann Taylor boutique. You'll definitely want to wear a little make-up with that. You need some color in your face to offset that beige. Apply blush. Cut to R.N. at university health services. Do you eat meat? I've never seen someone as pale as you. Have you been tested for anemia? I don't care if everyone in your family is this color. Everyone in your family could be anemic. Apply more blush, then mascara. Cut to woman in optician's office. Now these would look so much better on you. They'll make your face look smaller. Won't draw so much attention to those puffy eyes. Cut back to R.N. Your eyes have too much fluid around them. Have you had your blood pressure checked? You should have your thyroid checked too. I don't care if everyone in your family looks like that. Everyone in your family could have thyroid problems. Cut to aunt. You're just like me, all baggy around the eyes. Cut to mother. You're just like me. You don't have any eyebrows. Apply eyebrow pencil. Cut to best friend, holding up picture from camping trip. Look at you. That's why you should wear make-up. Cut to aunt. I don't even walk out to get the newspaper without wearing make-up. Cut to cousin, telling you at 16, You don't get any dates because you don't fix yourself up. At least wear some lipstick. Apply lipstick. Cut to saleswoman at Clinique counter. Here, try this color. It will tone down the darkness of your teeth. Rub gel into hair. Cut to aunt. Oh, your little haircut is so cute. That style makes you look so much younger. And it makes your face look thin too. Feel guilty again and tell yourself, You'll never get tenure if the only thing you ever do is think about your appearance. Blink hard and stop the tape. Women's voices. Women's silences. What to say?

Walk downstairs for breakfast. Pause to look at wedding pictures and cut to mother. I'm so glad you finally found somebody. You look so radiant. Cut to cousin, telling you at 25, Of course guys don't like you. You act too smart around them. Cut to aunt. You look so radiant. Guess we can't call you an old maid schoolteacher anymore. Cut to woman at reception. You look so radiant. Are you going to keep working now that you're married? Cut to friend of husband's family. You're just keeping your name professionally, right? Socially, you'll want to have the same name, right? Cut to husband's aunt. They may not let you in that picture since you won't take their name. Cut to friend's grandmother. Being a teacher is a good job to have for raising children. You can be at home for them when they're out of school. Blink hard again. Shudder.

Think about work, dammit. Think about work. Women's voices. Women's silences. How are women silenced? When? By whom? Access denied to their own voices. To their own experiences. Access denied to other women's voices. To education. To money. To power. How to change this? Literacy training. Assigning more women writers. Giving students the courage to be who they are. How to make a difference? What to say?

Pour raisin bran in bowl and read label. Cereal with ½ cup skim milk. Calories: 210. Calories from fat: 15. Total fat: one gram. Two% daily value. Cut to article in Glamour. Fat intake should be no more than 30% of your daily caloric intake. To figure your daily caloric intake, multiply your weight by 20 if you are active, 15 if moderately active, 10 if sedentary. Cut to aunt's mother-in-law. What do you do for exercise? Cut to mother. You just have that Buckner stomach. There's nothing you can do about it. Cut to gynecologist. You really should lose 15 pounds. Chew raisin bran harder than necessary. Look at wedding gifts surrounding you: new cereal bowl, new flatware, new gingham placemats, new glass fruit bowl, new pewter creamer and sugar--all from Macy's Bridal Registry. Cut to husband's best female friend. All women want nice things. They're lying if they say they don't. Right, Julie? Cut to mother. Aren't you glad you finally have some nice things? I know you don't care about them now, but you'll appreciate these when you're older. And you should hang on to that candy dish. You'll want it for when you have company.

Remember sister-in-law's visit. Bite inside of jaw hard in conscious effort not to think about cleaning, laundry, shopping, cooking. Blink hard and bit lip. THINK ABOUT WORK, DAMMIT. THINK ABOUT WORK! Women's voices. Women's silences.

Wonder how to stop the voices in your head. Think, Some women's voices ought to be silenced. Cut to mother. Cut to aunt. Cut to aunt's mother-in-law. Cousin. Best friend. Saleswomen. Wedding guests. Gynecologist. How to keep their voices from silencing your own? How many women hear the same tape in their heads, every minute, every day? Weight. Makeup. Clothes. Cleaninglaundry-cookingshopping. Things to own. Towels. Candy dishes. Accessories. Matching this. Matching that. What to do. Who to be. How many women play this tape in their heads every day without realizing it? Without realizing it isn't the only tape to hear? How many women become this tape from too many years spent listening to it? How many let it distract us from more important work? How do we let its banalities sabotage our lives? How do we use its banalities to sabotage other women? Fill your head with the superficial and there's no time to think about the real. Think about what matters. Think about your feelings. Think about what's wrong. To just plain think about thinking. To ask questions. To say NO!

Look down at empty cereal bowl. Feel full, but not with raisin bran. Feel full of words. Time to go to work. There's a guest lecture to prepare. Know what to say now.


In the year 2000, patriarchy no
longer has a gender.
Julie Buckner Armstrong
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Valdosta State University
Valdosta, GA 31698

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