Here I’m responding to questions and comments from people who’ve read the RIOT page. I hope this will become an ongoing dialogue.
Cathy asked me: Why do you refer to your ‘shameful’ stories? Isn’t this a symptom of internalised oppression? Yes. The stories continue to be shameful until we can find a language, a medium, a form of expression, which helps us to see and show that we were “… simply working within the constraints of available discourses” to constitute ourselves as “… comprehensible, knowable, worthwhile” (Bronwyn Davies).
I remember seeing Akram Kahn dance his autobiography in this way. Choosing a poetic structure, with a touch of parody, for my poem Free School Camp, helped me to locate an experience within the discourses available to me in the late 1960s. This no longer feels like a ‘shameful story’ because I was able to evoke the ways of thinking, speaking, behaving, dressing and interacting through which I might “… constitute my younger self as “comprehensible, knowable, worthwhile”.
Another way to cast off the shame is to draw on theories of power, identity and subjectivity to frame and analyse our stories. Bronwyn Davies draws on feminist poststructuralism to identify the discourses that formed and constrained her actions and desires tells how she and her three children became “…battered prisoners in the “domestic haven” that I had learned to want”. This is an academic paper, in which Bronwyn includes a story that demonstrates the value of using this theoretical framework to cast aside the shame. Seeing “… how I was being discursively constituted” enabled her to see her younger self as “… no longer alien and strange, nor even foolish…”. Click here for Bronwyn's story.
Writing about your experience in 200 words
I was telling Alison about a process of writing about a shameful experience in 200 words. Alison asked me if any of these stories were on this web site, but the 200 word limit is part of a process I was introduced to by Jo Tait. Jo works with a couple in Cambridge who help people to reflect on difficult experiences through the construction of digital stories. This is how I worked with Jo. First we had a free ranging conversation and we each related our stories at some length, with explanations and background detail. From this conversation, I picked out a few incidents and images to include in a 200 word script. Having just talked it all through, it was fairly easy to write the script without getting bogged down by the need to explain. I then recorded myself reading this 200 word script and went on to add music and images. I’ve repeated this process with a few other women but, as ‘work in progress’, none of our stories are ready for publication. As well as dealing with technical problems, I think what's missing is the kind of theoretical framing that takes the shame out of these stories. And for that I want to go back to the question of internalised oppression!