Storytelling and Healing: A Feminization of Revolution in the Modern World

In the modern world, meaning western world, there is a lot of attention towards polarity among political movements and revolution. Many discussions from both the liberal and conservative frameworks emphasis resistance and disempowering or dismantling certain ideologies that are dominant in society. A good friend re-affirmed questions that I have been pondering and I urge all in social justice and decolonization movements to contemplate: What are the goals of revolution when resistance is no longer needed and/or accomplished? What does success after resistance look like and where do we go from there? What is necessary for successful social justice and decolonial revolution that is lacking currently in these movements? This is where many spaces lack the feminization of the revolution. [Social justice and Decolonization] movements focus on resisting. Many of these movements are depicted to focus on violence; whether it be in language usage, destruction, or exclusion. This ideology plays the defense with a notion that the offense will always exist.

Leaders are put in power of these movements that focus on projecting the same physical, spiritual, and emotional oppression on the oppressing groups that oppressed groups have been subjected to. Any yet, few questions the process in which communities check themselves and how many have healed. Creation-centered revolution versus destruction-centered revolution is not promoted enough. Healing involves courageous conversations about the past, wounds, and a community’s powerful capacity to love. Healing involves understanding how individuals are not only going to learn to tolerate one another but how are they going to get along and love one another unconditionally. Putting individuals who are not healed in places of power and our communities will start hurting one another. The violence doesn’t end with the ending of white supremacy and male supremacy, it ends with healing all cycles of violence and oppression. It is then that communities can start seeing what the world looks like without resistance. Communities can see what revolution looks like when focused on nurturing the community and Mother Earth like a maternal figure nurtures their child. Healing involves multiple, fluid, inclusive and holistic methods and outcomes; not specified the physical health, but societal, spiritual, economic, cultural, inter-generational, sexual, philosophical, historical, psychological and environmental health are a few of the larger aspects of healing work discourses.  There are a lot of spaces and research that do and will continue to establish a healing and nurture-base revolutionary concept. Storytelling, healing, and reconciliation through truth-telling are large movements in which the feminization of revolution is occurring.

Storytelling as Indigenous Traditions – Feminist Performance

“Getting the story right and telling the story well are tasks that indigenous activists and researchers must both perform. There are few people on the ground and one person must perform many roles – plus their day job…. In an ideal world there are some issues that activists and researchers would not ever have to address.” (Smith, 226)1

As said by Smith, stories are vital to revolution and decolonization. Although storytelling involves great articulation to express experiences, it also requires a great amount to listening. Without thorough active listening, the reciprocity of justice cannot adequately be ratified. Not only are stories important to revolutionary action and research but they are especially vital for healing. As Bell Hooks states, raising consciousness among feminists by addressing personal accounts and experiences of being oppressed with patriarchy created therapeutic healing and reveled wounds, helping individuals understand that the issues that arise stem from patriarchy. (Hooks, 7-8)2

Storytelling has and remains to be a form of decolonial education and healing. It has been feminized and therefore, oppressed by patriarchal powers. My personal connection with this directly related me to my parents, specifically my father. Like all Tlingit natives during childhood until the 70’s, my father was taken from his parents at the age of 3, put into a boarding school called Mt. Edgecombe, where legalized and enforced assimilation took place. My father was forced to stop practicing his language, culture, traditions and spirituality by being physically abused, humiliated in front of his peers and sexually molested for 10 years. Many people throughout native communities all over the country share similar accounts.3 Not only did these boarding school students not speak about these atrocities, but much of these events are not discussed nationally nor have they been reconciled in the United States. Therefore, being a native boarding school survivor imposes a notion that all experiences are justified and deserved during this genocidal moment in American history. The continued silence gets cycled into the generations after, recycling accounts of violence (sexual, spiritual, psychological and physical) both inflicted within the community and to self through suicide, addiction and choices in partners.4

To address a question that has been arising in my Anthropology course, I was questioned whether or not I thought that there is a war against women. I can agree in the context that it is not solely a war on women but on all ideologies and existences that are feminized. Transitioning our power of self-healing and communal therapy through storytelling, healing in itself is vital to revolutionary movements. While many value radical, aggressive and direct leadership when decolonizing and seeking social justice, a large factor that is essential to revolution is addressing how history and stories from diverse narratives can heal society.

Healing and the Feminized politics – Trust and Courageous conversations

When did colonization effect Indigenous political and economic structures, if not when feminine roles and responsibilities were dismantled during laws that stated who could own land, who was the head of the household, who could get an education, and who could carry the family lineages/name/clan? This question might not apply to all Indigenous nations, but they are something to think about in regards to how violence continues and why feminized (not specifically females of women) representations are still silenced, underrepresented and stigmatized. Furthermore, questions to contemplate are: What methods are communities encouraging then for decolonization and revolution? Do they have feminized methodologies in resurgence or is it not considered? If it is not discussed, why?

Incorporating some of my own travels to Canada and South Africa, I have come across several political forms of healing through storytelling, presented in the form of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. These commissions have been conducted throughout several countries across the world after very unfortunate and blatant acts of genocide, human rights violations, egregious acts of violence and oppression, or wars.5 Focusing on parallel experiences with the Boarding School trauma of Alaskan Natives, the Residential School trauma addressed in Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has allowed much truth telling and political healing. This would be a great model to encourage the United States to push a Truth and Reconciliation Commission; not just for Indigenous peoples that have been racialized as American Indians and Alaskan Natives, but also Indigenous peoples that have been racialized as Black, forcibly removed from their lands and domesticated through the dehumanizing process of slavery. Although an example of Canada would be a great vehicle towards reconciliation in the United States, much is critiqued in terms of the truth-telling, storytelling process. A very large problem during Canada’s T&R trials was that self-identified survivors and victims of Residential School traumas were voluntarily asked to testify in front of Supreme Court in exchange for monetary reparation compensation. Much of the previous Residential School students spent decades silent and invalidated about their experiences, leaving the oppression justified and unaccountable by the Canadian government until the T&R Commission became involved. Due to the fact that the Residential Schools had been implemented almost three generations ago, many previous students had passed away due to suicide, addiction, psychological health issues and violence due to the lack of healing and addressing the systemic origins of their experiences. This caused many individuals to commit suicide, decline further testimony and experience severe mental health conditions. If the United States were to establish a T&R Commission with an element focused on Boarding School experiences, it would be imperative to require a healing process for storytellers prior to sharing their experiences.

As I have been working on healing my trauma, the healing has also been both individually and inter-generationally. I truly began storytelling when I participated in “The _____ Monologues,” the University of Washington’s rendition of “The Vagina Monologues.”6 Sharing these emotional, personal and honest narratives has allowed healing and trust among many that attend. After sharing my experiences of sexual violence, inter-generational trauma, abuse, patriarchy, colonization and self-discovery, I began sharing my experiences with a counselor, starting conversations and opening memories that have addressed much of my reoccurring grievances throughout my life.

Reverting back to the beginning of this section, I would like to address that much of emotional, spiritual and communal healing is feminized and therefore perceived as inferior when considered in revolutionary action. Without the knowledge of personal accounts and histories, as well as a foundation of healing cycles of oppression, reconciliation of injustices cannot be addressed in revolution. Not only will justice be inconceivable, but injustice will continue.

Contemporary Storytelling: Hybrid Languages and Holistic Education

An organization that has been highly influential and effective in initiating storytelling in revolutionary and decolonial movements has been Universal Zulu Nation; an international organization founded from the elements of Hip Hop (Breakdancing, Turntablism/Deejaying, Graffitti, Emceeing, and Knowledge) during the early 70’s in the Bronx, New York7. Many issues with modern classism and institutional racism have been addressed in the Hip Hop movement through conscious-raising statements and messages, either subliminal or obvious throughout work. Like many other works of conscious-raising, decolonial movements, Hip Hop has been appropriated by patriarchal entities such as businesses and privileged communities. This can be described in comparison to Andrea Smith’s definition of “spiritual appropriation.”8 When the oppressive groups (the wealthy, white communities), begin to mimic and eventual attempt to represent the Hip Hop identity for capital, it is then a form of violence, with a presumption that people of color are not oppressed economically and can no longer predominantly practice their conscious-raising forms of storytelling. In fact, a very direct result of this patriarchy through appropriation is the violence and disrespect of women’s bodies and women’s intellect, something that was not originally accepted in the foundational movement of Hip Hop. Another element of patriarchy is the idea that Hip Hop is strictly music, and more specifically, rap music. Because the elements in which stories are told through the Hip Hop movement embody multiple forms of communication, it is an ableist idea that Hip Hop is only available to those with specific abilities in order to be shared or mastered. As similarly expressed by Anderson and Umberson, Hip Hop’s responses of violence and power struggles, are challenged by the “cultural beliefs about underlying and essential differences that constitutes and are constituted by these beliefs, are reproduced by the accomplishment of gender. In examining the accounts offered by domestically violent men, we focus on identifying ways in which the practice of domestic violence helps men to accomplish gender.” (359-360)9. Before the hypesexualization of women and the misogynist and violent representations of men in Hip Hop10, there were many conscious-raising and sex-positive artists in the musical aspect of Hip Hop; from Queen Latifa11 to Salt-N-Pepa12, even to the sometimes feminist verses of Tupac Shakur.13

Although movements such as Hip Hop are not necessarily new concepts, they are great examples of inclusion and holistic forms of storytelling, available to be globalized with a local ideology. If used to build consciousness and effective education, technology can be incorporated to stimulate multiple elements of sensory to conceptualize experiences and stories. Localizing knowledge and histories that are shared on global fronts should be done with caution. Globalizing issues without imperial implications is key to inclusive storytelling. Audre Lorde states that promoting euro-normative or hegemonic behavior and the lack of diversity when addressing issues prevents from finding effective solutions to problems that pertain to patriarchy.14 Recognizing differences without placing the experiences under inferior/superior binary classifications allows individuals to be seen as human and whole, accepting human complexity.

Summary

Growing up around a community with strong perseverance to protect non-western knowledge and history, much trauma has and is continued to be enforced to silence and re-write the truth of violence and damage made during colonial injustice. Although the native community I am a part of is not as visible on the mainstream of technology, they are using rivers of technology to get stories out and reach out to other oppressed Indigenous groups. Fortunately, this can be an advantage due to a less amount of individuals from the native community being represented in media and fed fantasies of privilege.15

Not only is storytelling beginning to be incorporated within western politics to address healing in the form of reconciliation, but it has healed many individuals such as myself through interrupting inter-generational cycles of violence which allow me to become a healer and storyteller as well. The new methods in which I am acquiring to articulate my stories allow me to share personal and communal histories of patriarchy and oppression without internalizing the trauma upon the audience. In platforms of feminized performance such as “The Vagina Monologues,” I have seen a trust that the audience has with their storyteller, due to theatric, emotional, intimate, consensual and personal vulnerability that can only come from jumping back into the moment of the story.

Time is manipulated as something outside of linear dictation when telling stories, forcing the audience to imagine the experience as it is being relived again in performance. Through the inclusion of multi-sensory, the audience has a larger incentive to recognize cycles and patterns of patriarchy. Conscious-building education is emphasized so that ignorance is not as frequently preferred when privileged individuals are sharing spaces with oppressed individuals. Accountability and reciprocity allows for more feminized methodologies to be supported and produced by all identities in order to establish true social justice and reconciliation.

Bibliography

  1. Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. 2nd ed. London: Zed, 1999. Print.
  2. Hooks, Bell. Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. Cambridge, MA: South End, 2000. Print.
  3. “A Discussion with My Father.” Personal interview. June 2010.
  4. “Breakfast with Chief Frank Nelson.” Personal interview. July 2014.
  5. “Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.” TRC. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2015. <http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=3&gt;.
  6. The Vagina Monolgues. By Eve Ensler. 08 Oct. 2013. Performance.
  7. “ABOUT ZULUNATION | The Universal Zulu Nation.” ABOUT ZULUNATION | The Universal Zulu Nation. Universal Zulu Nation, n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2015. <http://www.zulunation.com/about-zulunation/&gt;.
  8. Smith, Andrea. Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide. Cambridge, MA: South End, 2005. Print.
  9. Anderson, Kristen and Debra Umberson. 2001. “Gendering Violence: Masculinity and Power in Men’s Accounts of Domestic Violence.” Gender and Society. 15(3): 358-380.
  10. Rose, Tricia. The hip hop wars: what we talk about when we talk about hip hop–and why it matters. Basic Civitas Books, 2013.
  11. Latifah, Queen. U.N.I.T.Y. 1993. MP3.
  12. Salt N Pepa, Let’s Talk About Sex. 1991. MP3.
  13. 2Pac. Dear Mama. 1995. MP3.
  14. Lorde, Audre. 1984. “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference.” In Sister Outsider. Freedom, CA; Crossing Press. Pp. 114-123.
  15. Moore, Henrietta. 1994. “Fantasies of Power and Fantasies of Identity.” A Passion For Difference. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.
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2 thoughts on “Storytelling and Healing: A Feminization of Revolution in the Modern World

  1. Wow! I am very impressed by your strong voice. Its so deep touching a genuine topic. You hold diverse opinions and entangle them in one-another. Its so lovely for me to get inspired by this powerful, vibrant expression on healing and deconstructing narratives.

    Have a wonderful happy blissful time!

    Liked by 1 person

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