Speak Up / Speaking Out

Why is it important for women to share their stories?

. 6 min read . Written by Roopal Kewalya
Why is it important for women to share their stories?

A female foetus is born with all the eggs that she will have in her lifetime. This means, that I was living inside my maternal grandmother’s body when she carried my mother in her womb.

I may have been a microscopic egg with a 50-50 chance of making it in this world at that time or perhaps the probability was lesser. But the fact that my mother and I shared the same house once, inside my grandmother’s womb, makes me wonder what else did we share then?

Our bodies carry stories of pain, of trauma, of joy, happiness, ecstasy, grief and even numbness. When my maternal grandmother carried her postpartum depression after one of her six deliveries, did my mother carry it in her ovaries and hence in some minute way, pass it on to me?

Was my endometriosis – the cyst in my ovaries, a collective grieving of all the women in my family that came before me? The fact that I got cured of it, did I then cure all the women who came before me? Did I release them of the trappings of the past and claimed my right to freedom to a pain free life?

What else do women carry? Stories. Written. Unwritten. Spoken. Unspoken.

There are some stories that are passed on to us – through bodies, through memories and through beliefs and practices and rituals of practiced religion. And then there are other stories that we create for ourselves.

Why are stories important?

  • It is these stories that build the foundation of who we are – individually, in this world and who we are as a collective. When we associate ourselves with a certain family, we also relate to the stories that we have heard.

My great grandfather was a maverick. He used to cook sweetmeats in Rangoon and run a theatre at night. He used to play the role of Sita in the Ramayana that they enacted. Once, on his way back home, he bought a camel and asked his elder son to pay for it because he didn’t have the money to buy it. He wanted to keep it as a pet at home. We still laugh about it. And then my mind wanders off to my great grandmother. Who was she? How did she live with the eccentricities of this man? We don’t even have a picture of her at home. I don’t even know her name.

  • Stories help us make sense of this world. They help us make sense of our situation.

My grandmother tells us that when the maverick great grandfather above passed away, she felt a kick inside her womb and my father was born. Also known as a maverick in the family, there is a sense of pride in him of being associated with an ancestor that helps him validate his existence and his habits. I wonder then who my mother associates with. Did she ever see her own anger as that belonging to her own grandmother? Did she see her healing touch as a genetic memory passed on to her by the women in her family? But she didn’t. Because the women before her did not tell her the stories she needed to listen. And perhaps that is the reason she never made sense of her world but accepted it at face value and even as fate.

  • Stories are also about cultural sharing. Sitting around a fire telling each other what happened in the day, month or year or even ages before us? And it became important then, of who was telling the story and what it was about?

English Author Virginia Woolf writes in her essay, A Room of One’s Own, that “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” For the longest time, women did not share their stories because they did not have access to education or platforms to speak, write and share.

So, generations of women listened to ‘his-story’ and believed in a singular point of view – that of the men around them. They were never able to find themselves in the pain of the heroes at war because they had never been to war. They could never find the pain of miscarriage in a story because there were no stories about it. Even today, women are embarrassed to discuss intimate issues about their bodies or about their experiences and even desires, the challenges they faced at their workplace because it was deemed ‘socially inappropriate’ to talk about these issues.

But today we have come a long way. And yet, there are still newer paths to navigate. Especially for women. In an office discussion with my team over comments on a particular blog, what emerged was that women younger and older are still making similar choices that their mothers or grandmothers did. Most of these choices were out of habit or out of patterns of behaviour that they had seen around them and emulated them subconsciously. So strongly entrenched are these patterns that many women do not even look at alternative possibilities or do not offer space to other women who wish to pursue these alternative paths.

We realised within the next ten years, a 15 year old girl will make the same choice as a 25 year old woman today because she is looking at a 35 year old who has followed all the patterns that her mother and grandmother did. So even if she is unhappy, by sheer example she would set out the path for rest of the women to follow. In a space like this, it takes one woman to step out of the herd and lead the way to a newer path.

There was a first woman doctor, a first female CEO, a first woman athlete and simply the first woman who fought for the right to her education or her right to step out of her home. But every generation need not go through these fights.

If each generation has to fight the same battles, women will never be able to move forward.

And that is why stories are important. Women who have moved ahead in life need to share their stories with more women around them. This cloak of silence around what happens in women’s minds and bodies and in their subsequent personal and professional journeys has to come out; the stories have to be heard by other women.

Why is it important for women to tell their stories?

  • Sharing your story gives you the power to own it. If women do not say what they want or desire, the world would forever be filling the gaps and creating stories about what they think women want. Just like our memories, stories are also a construct. They depend on the storyteller. They thrive on repetition.
  • Sharing your story means showing possibilities to other women and paving the path that you have already walked on. It does not mean you have to do great big things. It could be something as small as sharing a recipe online with another woman to telling her how your day went. And how you could have made it better. It could be about how you got your promotion or how you stood up for yourself in front of your family. Or how you fought for rainwater harvesting in your society. Your story could be about little things and big things because each step creates a path that another woman hasn’t walked on, before. When you share your story of failure or triumph, you show someone else that they are not alone. You build a sense of community and your stories survive and thrive as they are told and re-told.
  • When you share your story with another woman, the words would be wrapped in the vulnerability that you have successfully channelled into strength; the fears that held you back and the courage you found within that fear to surmount a challenge that seemed impossible at the time. Stories make you pause and reflect on your own journey even as you inspire others to tell their own stories.

Stories can be looked at in two ways – those that end and those that last forever. And the best thing about stories is that if you are the storyteller, you can change them as you go along.

There is a power in sharing your story with another. It is what makes stories last forever.

Your story can be the legacy you leave behind on your path. Share your story. Raise your power.