For all the female comedians I never got to laugh at, all the women authors I’ve never had the chance to read, who were never taught in school, whose voices were deemed too this or not enough that, for all the art I’ve never had the chance to stand in front of in awe, this is a song of mourning.
For Phillis Wheatley, Sybil Ludington, Rosalind Franklin. For Claudette Colvin, Katherine Johnson and all the women whose accomplishments I never learned in history class, in science class, in English class, whose names have been buried in the footnotes, this is my keen.
For all the women never given a chance. For all the women I never got the chance to know or study or emulate, all the women I’ve never been able to look to for inspiration because their names have been written in invisible ink upon someone else’s pages.
Imagine a world full of women of talent and passion, except you don’t need to imagine it. It already exists. What you need to imagine instead is what the world could have been if all those Judiths* had been allowed to write and paint and sculpt, to invent and choreograph and map, to calculate, to design, to innovate.
How much have I missed because women have been silenced, in classrooms and boardrooms, on stages and art galleries, in small stand up comedy backrooms and in publishing slush piles?
The art held up as imperative, the music and philosophy and books and comedy and film and journalism held up to me as important, all of that has been pushed through a filter of masculine approval.
Even the stories we do have of women are not theirs alone, they are the stories which appealed to the men who allowed them through the sieve. The stories men chose to hang on bare, white walls, to publish or produce, to grant life to.
They are stories which somehow resonated not with other women, but with men.
How many corsets could we have avoided, or slips or girdles, how many extra inches of stiletto if women had been designing the clothes we wear rather than men designing for a figure which almost never exists, and yet we kill ourselves to achieve regardless?
What is it like to walk through life in sensible shoes and comfortable clothing, never doubting that what you dream about can be achieved?
The newsmakers and tastemakers and dressmakers.
How many women have been told they’re just not funny….or they just don’t get the joke?
How many women have been told what they write is not interesting to men, or not up to par, not serious enough, good but not Infinite Jest good?
How many women have been told their art is not what the buyer is looking for, not good enough for museums, too hostile, too angry, too pretty, not important enough? How much of it is never even looked at in the first place?
How many female directors never got the chance to see their vision on celluloid or artists on canvas, or inventors granted a patent?
How many, how many, how many?
And how many times have women believed them?
This is for all the women who have climbed the mountain, backward and in heels, only to pushed off the precipice. This is for all the women who have lain, unknown and unnamed, under the avalanche of deeds and firsts, of accomplishments unnoticed, of boulders of could have but never have beens.
We have been there all along, scratching our way to the surface, clawing our ragged way back up the sides.
It is time to rise out of the footnotes, to take your place on the page, on the stage, in the spotlight where you’ve belonged all along.
*Judith was the fictitious sister of Shakespeare in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Woolf used the character to illustrate that a woman with the talents of Shakespeare would have been denied the same opportunities as her brother, her talent left to wither and die.