Tonight, as I was thinking through this blog, my three-year-old offered to help.
“It’s not easy,” I warned her. “You see, there was a man who hurt a woman. He hurt her lots, and told her that if she didn’t keep quiet, that he’d hurt her again. But she didn’t keep quiet, and she told people her story.”
“She was brave, wasn’t she?”
“Yes. But the problem is, if I tell other people her story, then the man might hurt her again. And he might hurt her more. So I don’t know whether to tell people, but then she can’t tell her story.”
“You should tell her story, Mummy.”
And my daughter is right. The story of the woman who stood up to the man who was hurting her is a story that needs to be told, because it is so difficult for women who are being hurt, who are suffering violence, to speak out and tell their stories, our stories. There are not many spaces, more so in some societies than others, to tell these stories.
But in the world outside my daughter’s bedroom, there are repercussions to telling these stories, repercussions that can fall on the story-teller, on the space, and on others – family members, friends, society. And once the story is told, as all stories do, it takes on its own life. It may not function the way we want stories to function. The hurt, the sore places where the story came from may not just be examined and respected, they could become the butt of a joke, they could be denied, they could be blown into something bigger, something scary.
In the world outside my daughter’s bedroom, when we name names, or even if we provide a space for naming names, those repercussions magnify. There are legal effects, and unless we know that the story is true, in a traditional sense, that this particular man caused this particular hurt, then the space for telling stories becomes vulnerable. Defamation is a costly business. And we need to maintain the integrity of the spaces we make for women’s story-telling, because once one story is called into question, it can cause all the stories to be questioned. And when they’re stories of VAW, the space then becomes precisely the opposite of what was intended – it undermines the basis on which we’re fighting for legislative and policy action.
But as soon as we stop letting women tell their stories, we are assuming we have a right to do that, that for some reason, we know best. And we’re telling the woman who was hurt that her story isn’t important, her story doesn’t matter. That other things outweigh her right to a voice.
Unfortunately, it means that some decisions have to be made. What we try to do with stories shared on Take Back The Tech! is work with the woman, or women, telling their stories to make sure we have all thought thoroughly about what happens next. What happens if a story becomes viral. What happens if the perpetrator decides to increase harassment, or targets members of the woman’s family, or takes the violence to a new level. It means that if names are used, we need to be able to independently verify the basis of the story. We don’t silence women. We aren’t gate-keeping the stories. We don’t have all the answers, and we can’t foresee the consequences, good or bad, of telling a story. But we have a responsibility to work with the brave, brave women who share their stories with us to try to make sure that the outcomes are as positive as possible – by discussing the consequences, by checking with them that they are safe, and, sometimes, seeking independent verification.
Hopefully, this means that we meet the standards set by my daughter, and we tell all the stories that the brave women share with us.