Stories are so important. True, I'm a fiction writer and a teacher, but I've been enamored of stories since I can remember, even before I could write myself. I've looked to stories, both written and verbal, to reveal the world and explore my place in it. I've also looked to stories to come to know myself, and others.
Lately, I have spent a great deal of time not just thinking about stories and their importance to me personally, but also how stories can work to enact change and create understanding, especially regarding huge problems that sometimes feel unsolvable, and often make us feel utterly powerless.
I view stories as gifts, even the hard ones. I’ll never forget the first young woman who told me the story of her brutal rape in my tiny cubicle, more than a decade ago. I had no words to offer as comfort, and so instead I gathered her hands in mine, no longer in my professional capacity, just a human being sitting still with her, weeping with her, listening without interruption.
My response to most problems is to try to fix them. To launch into action, devise a strategy, and to check off a logical to do list. And I would try this in the days to follow—a list of local resources offered up with phone numbers and contact names and a description of services. I did not do as much as I could have, and looking back, I think mostly of the ways I failed her. But months later, this young woman stopped by my cubicle again. She thanked me for hearing her. For letting her tell her story out loud.
Eve Ensler, the playwrite and founder of V-Day, is all about telling stories out loud. The V-Day mission statement proclaims, “V-Day is a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls. V-Day is a catalyst that promotes creative events to increase awareness, raise money, and revitalize the spirit of existing anti-violence organizations. V-Day generates broader attention for the fight to stop violence against women and girls, including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation (FGM), and sex slavery.”
This year the WIU Women’s Center and Feminist Action Alliance are sponsoring Ensler’s “A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant, and A Prayer.” This all volunteer production is directed by theatre graduate student Laura Hoske, coordinated by Alondra Olvera, a graduate student in Western's college student personnel program, and advised by Women's Center Director, Janine Cavicchia. The cast, although from different areas of study and geographical locations, all came together to embody these true stories.
Money raised by the performance will be donated to local organizations and causes that provide violence prevention education and survivor support services, including the Women's Center and the Western Illinois Regional Council-Community Action Agency's Victim Services program. We need these local resources desperately.
And honestly, we need you, all of you. It’s easy to say, “I’m not part of the problem.” It’s so much harder to be part of the solution. Especially when the problem feels so huge. Begin with one simple step. Buy a V-Day ticket, available for $7 to the public and $5 for students, and attend a performance. You can hear the stories, the true stories, and you can be changed by them while you directly support local resources doing incredibly important work, serving real women and their families.
I wish I could tell you that the young woman who came to me so long ago was the last person I would sit and listen to, or even that I could count on one hand the thriving survivors I hold dear. But I can’t. I can however carry these women with me. Here’s the thing with stories—once you hear them or read them, you can’t ignore them. You can’t look away. You can’t close your eyes to them, or your heart. You understand that the numbers on the page, the huge, numbing rape and abuse statistics, are comprised of unique individuals and a wider, collective humanity. You can’t unknow the truth in these stories, no matter how hard you try. You can’t unknow that your sisters, mothers, friends, nieces, daughters, aunts and grandmothers carry variations of these stories, have lived them and lived through them. That our young will continue to be subjected to such violence and will enact such violence if we continue to look away or box it up, simplifying such complexity by categorizing such violence as “a women’s issue” although those who victimize are predominately male.
Come out to the Multicultural Center on February 11th and12th at 7:00 p.m. and the 14th at 2:00 p.m.to hear these stories. These stories shouldn’t be feared. You will come to know the world more fully. We all must make room for these stories, in the larger world and inside us, and then use them as a catalyst to raise our own voices.
V-Day shines a light on stories that are often silenced, swallowed by shame. “Rise Up” is part of this year’s theme. Rise up with us, the cast and crew. Rise up and honor these stories and the women and men brave enough to tell them, brave enough to commit them to the page, brave enough to allow them to be performed and read all over the world. Rise up and honor the women in your own lives, all of them, by being part of the change right where we are.
Barbara Harroun is an Assistant Professor of English at Western Illinois University.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.