Friday, June 09, 2006

Women and honor

The essay by Rich has stuck with me for twenty something years, not so much because of the grasp she has on the currents between women, I know those currents can drown us. It's because she places the relationship between women as the bedrock of relationship. It's more than epitome. Honesty between women moves at all frequencies, it applies to every interaction from superfluous comment to casual greeting to professional discourse to the intimate opening between women.
When we discover that someone we trusted can be trusted no longer, it forces us to reexamine the universe, to question the whole instinct and concept of trust. For awhile, we are thrust back onto some bleak, jutting ledge, in a dark pierced by sheets of fire, swept by sheets of rain, in a world before kinship, or naming, or tenderness exist, we are brought close to formlessness.
in a world before kinship This woman lies to me. She does it with her silence, her subterfuge and her false trails. Her deceit is revealed. Now, every strip of the known between us evaporates. Now, each smile, every conversation, all her actions have become suspect. All the motions and words and assurances that built our relationship are ruined. The past becomes like some ephemera, maya, illusion. Deceit is pervasive. It colors the whole glass. It doesn't settle at the bottom and wait to be shaken. Deceit swims through and penetrates all. The whole fabric is dyed with deceit.

How can I assume relationship now? How can I bear to accept a kinship unless I become her?

When I assume her identity, that of the liar or when I accept the reciprocal role, that of the one who accepts the lies, only then does a kinship come into being.

This isn't naivete on my part, though a callous woman would claim that or a woman who needs to defend her lying.
Truthfulness, honor is not something which springs ablaze of itself; it has to be created between people.

This is true in political situations. The quality and depth of the politics evolving from a group depends in very large part on their understanding of honor.
I've been told that academia is a "political" world. I've been told that this type of politics is sneaky, underhanded, backstabbing.

I've been told this by a woman in academia, a woman I trusted.

I've been told this by way of explanation.
Truthfulness anywhere is a heightened complexity. But it is a movement into evolution. Women are only beginning to uncover our own truths, many of us would be grateful for some rest in that struggle, would be glad just to lie down with the sherds we have painfully unearthed, and be satisfied with those. Often I feel this like an exhaustion in my own body.

The politics worth having, the relationships worth having, demand that we delve still deeper.
What Rich explores in Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying, is a reality that exists for some women. Not every woman. But it exists for me. The reality is a slab of concrete, it's more fragile than glass. It's an equation. It's emotion. I accept the fact that this reality isn't universal, that not all women are kin.

How to translate the experience of this violation of honor among women? Words are counterproductive. Adrienne Rich understood and wrote under the penumbra of the "personal is political." This is how she translates the experience for us:
The possibilities that exist between two people, or among a group of people, are a kind of alchemy. They are the most interesting thing in life. The liar is someone who keeps losing sight of these possibilities.

When relationships are determined by manipulation, by the need for control, they may possess a dreary, bickering kind of drama, but they cease to be interesting. They are repetitious; the shock of human possibilities has ceased to reverberate through them.

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