Theorizing on Suffering

As much as I liked reading Longing to Tell, I felt uncomfortable reading the women’s intimate stories at times. While Tricia Rose gained the trust of the women she interviewed, I did not know these women yet I was privy to the most private aspects of their lives including incest and abuse. While I felt capable of reading the stories sensitively, I struggled to sensitively analyze the stories in class.

Soupi’s story in the Guarded Heart was one of the hardest for me to read. This was the section I was assigned to analyze in class. I felt so sad for Soupi when she talked about her abuse at the hands of her brothers. I was further amazed when she managed to frame the abuse in a positive light saying that God was watching over her because she did not get her period until she was 17. If she had gotten it when she was young, one of her brothers could have gotten her pregnant. While her positivity was admirable, the reality of her experience of incest remained. Soupi also talked about going to the doctor for abortions when she got older, even though she had not taken a pregnancy test. She seemed to believe that her desire for abortions stemmed from growing up with a mother who said she should have aborted her. Though Soupi’s story does end with guarded hope, the pain the pages was palpable. While I was thankful for being able to read the story that Soupi shared, I was uncomfortable with theorizing on it. I am not sure that any analysis I could do of Soupi’s story would be sensitive enough to take into account the pain and vulnerability that comes with sharing a story like Soupi’s.

I understand that theorizing around women’s stories is an important part of this class but at the same time in class on Wednesday I made an effort not to simplify the women’s stories to make them fit together well. Each story was unique and I wanted heir individuality to be preserved.

I hesitate to seek patterns in personal stories for the sake of intellectual conversation. To me this is almost exploitative of the people who share their stories. It is useful to find trends, however, so that we can address advocacy work and policy change that needs to happen in marginalized communities. For example, since a majority of women in “Longing to Tell” saw sexism in the black community as an issue, black men who want to be allies can take note and make an effort to promote the equal treatment of women in their communities. Concrete action stemming from stories is good. Merely theorizing on experience, however, is not enough for me. These are real people and by dissecting and intellectualizing their suffering we both remove ourselves from the suffering of others and waste time we could have spent helping people. While collecting and sharing stories is undeniably important (as Tricia Rose outlines in her introduction), in class I would like to talk about how we can use stories like this to organize around change in addition to theorizing on them.

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