"No more holding back.
No more pleasing you.
No more making myself small to make you more.
I am here, and I am going to take up space.
I am going to live."
-- Dele Olanubi
Suffering from a nasty case of "perfection paralysis," I had virtually given up writing this blog post until a timely message was delivered in the form of Malala's #StrongerThan campaign this week. A potent reminder to me of what a privilege it is to have the freedom to express our opinions safely. Other than the "Perfectionist Nazi" in my head there is no Taliban where I live, threatening to shoot me for speaking out about violence against women.
So what am I "stronger than"? I am stronger than silence. For the sake of myself, after a terrifying attempted assault encounter in London. For the sake of my sister and friends who have been through the unspeakable hell of persistent sexual harassment and assault at university and subsequent eating disorders. And for the sake of my sisters around the world suffering under horrific oppression.
Just as a pregnant woman is often told she is "eating for two," every woman who lives in a free society should consider herself as speaking for millions of women who are not allowed to speak for themselves. -- Marianne Williamson
There has of late been a tide of disturbing stories issue forth from the front lines of oppression. From the outpouring of the far too ubiquitous cases of sexual harassment and assault on #YesAllWomen (still going strong), to the case of Meriam Ibrahim -- the Sudanese woman sentenced to death for "adultery" and forced to give birth in chains, the schoolgirls abducted in Nigeria and the brutal rape and murder cases in India and Pakistan recently. These appalling crimes against humanity across all ends of the spectrum inherently come from the exact same place -- a place of attempting to keep women small, invisible, powerless, silenced.
Campaigns such as #YesAllWomen, #EverydaySexism and #StrongerThan should be seen as breakthroughs, not "slacktivism." They have unleashed a myriad of issues into the global consciousness where they must now be faced. We can't unlearn all the harrowing statistics. We can't turn our back on all the stories because they might make us uncomfortable. Power lies in the stories as a whole. As the old Indian proverb goes: "A single stick may break easily but a bundle of sticks together is strong."
The story of breakthrough and transformation birthed from darkness and terror is not a new one. It's similar to the birth story of Durga, Hindu Goddess of Strength whose name means "the Invincible." The story has said to go like this: Once there was a power-hungry demon king Mahisha who, after practicing all his austerities, is granted invincible strength by the gods on the proviso that he must pick one weakness, one thing that could vanquish him. "Ha! Easy!" he scoffs. "Make it a woman, for what woman could ever hold power over me?"
So he's granted invincible powers and goes trampling about the kingdoms and the cosmos causing chaos and destruction and driving the gods out of the celestial kingdom. The gods, remembering the disclaimer that only a woman could vanquish the evil Mahisha, convene together and invoke Durga - a dazzlingly beautiful, strong, ten-armed goddess who bursts forth from the flames of their mouths fully grown. Durga charges into Mahisha's kingdom atop her lion and calls him out. Mahisha takes one look at the goddess before him, immediately falls in love with her beauty and pronounces her to be his wife. Funnily enough, she refuses.
Enraged at being spurned, he unleashes his whole army to kill her, confident in his Power of Invincibility granted by the gods. Durga in turn releases Kali on them - the fierce, red-tongued, blue-skinned, skull-toting kick-ass Goddess of Death who unleashes some awesome kung fu, in an epic 'Bride vs the Crazy 88' style battle scene (see Kill Bill) totalling them all.
Mahisha comes skulking out of his castle to fight Durga. Every time Durga gets close he shape-shifts into another creature. This goes on for days, weeks, years, millennia, until eventually Mahisha goes to transmute into his original demon form, a buffalo, and just as he's shape-shifting Durga strikes her trident mid-transition so he can't take form. Mahisha's reign of terror is over.
The world of mythology is a powerful way of putting our human experiences into context. Humans are apt to create and live out the themes of myth perpetually. As Dominique Ashaheed states in her powerful TEDx talk "Words make worlds.... [it] is about the insistence of myself. It is about naming myself and claiming myself and defending myself." We can invoke the mythic power of Durga to galvanise and create new worlds through story.
Misogyny is often hard for men to see because, like Mahisha, it shape-shifts, tending to rear it's ugly head only "when other men aren't around." However, it's vital for men to join the conversation too as this New York Times article argues:
"Only when men learn to recognize misogyny will we be able to rid the world of it. Not all men are part of the problem, but, yes, all men must be part of the solution."
So together how can we be #StrongerThan silence? How can we channel the invincible Durga and weave our stories, our voices together for all our sisters around the world? More and more, louder and louder until the collective power takes on a life of its own and finally transmutes the demon of misogyny.
You are an uprising
A revolution onto yourself
The scarcity is over
The rationing has ended
and there are words enough
for all of us.
- "Unlock it Poet - Our Stories are Where the Revolution Begins" - Jeanette LeBlanc
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.