“When a woman gets on stage and makes a ton of noise, she’s breaking the rules about how to be a woman. And that idea of freedom and that idea that the rules don’t hold you, it spreads to everybody in the room. Everybody feels that sense of possibility breaking open.” Sara Marcus, author of Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution
I’ve gone through periods of my life where I am just so damn angry. One such period pushed me to start my first blog, which I centered specifically around having a disability. I wanted to explore how that felt in an open space, not just behind closed doors, in therapy, with my closest friends and family. I wanted to have conversations about how people perceive those with disabilities, what perspectives lay outside my own. Certainly, I wanted to have cordial discussions, but if I’m being honest, I also really wanted to rant. I wanted to advocate for myself and talk about injustice and leave it all bare. I wanted to make noise.
I think way more about making noise than actually doing it. You might call me mousy, and it wouldn’t be an ungenerous term. Twice in as many weeks, two different people have told me I have a “strong personality” and both times I had to remind myself they were talking about me. Maybe I am noisier than I perceive. Maybe there’s a sea change happening that I haven’t even noticed yet.
Last week, I attended a talk on feminism by Andi Zeisler, one of the co-founders of Bitch magazine. During the q and a, an older gentleman got up and started raving about how he couldn’t believe we were all here celebrating a magazine called Bitch, how could we as women use that word, and also, we all really do just hate men, don’t we? I felt like I was in the campiest trope of a movie, where the script just says, “Ok, brain dump all the anti-feminist bullshit you’ve heard people spouting since the 1950’s right here. Make sure you really mansplain it too. Go!” As he ranted, as my jaw dragged on the floor, I could feel the room stir, shock giving way to restless mumbling, the tension escalating with my every heartbeat, until I was sure we were gonna start a riot. I felt the riot in my body. We all felt it.
“Why are you fucking here?” someone demanded behind me and we all collectively agreed. It was one thing to hold these opinions after years and years of women fighting for themselves and men who get it fighting with us. It was another thing to hear those opinions in a space that should have, by its very nature, deterred them. I know how privileged I am to have barely scratched the surface of the worst of it. But I was seeing a little of that surface, and seeing the response, and knowing that, if Andi Zeisler hadn’t deftly handled the situation as she did, we would have all made a hell of a lot of noise and I would have welcomed it.
I often feel that visceral need to make noise, to say things loudly, let people stare, they’re staring anyway. I’d like to give them something to really see. I can’t count how many times I’ve been shushed in public for saying even the slightest “off-color” things. Sometimes I just want to scream: “People! We all poop, we all have sex, we all cry, we all die eventually, get over it!”
Mostly my want for screaming threatens when I feel like I’m being pigeon-holed into a box that’s labeled “blind” or “woman” or “queer”, a box whose label means that people don’t have to listen as much. When I’m walking down the street, and someone stops me to try to pet my dog, or when someone drunk tells me I’m pretty at the bus stop for the umpteenth time, I just want to scream, “Fuck you!!! Fuck you!!!” More than that, I just want to scream no words, just sound.
Somewhere in this noise, too, there is kindness, there is joy, there is passion, there is the overwhelming want to grab hands and hug and scream with others, just because we are so here and right now and alive. There is rage in noise, but there is also ecstasy and peace.
In her poem “Eve’s Mouth”, Alix Olson repeats one phrase several times: “She screams at the top of her lungs, “I’m whole! I’m body, I’m heart, I’m mind, I’m soul!” I think this gets to the heart of what we want. We want to be seen as everything human we are, not just “woman”, “queer”, “trans”, “black”, “blind.” When we’re seen for all we are, the beautiful and the flawed bits, we are given so many possibilities. We are open to receiving them, and offering possibilities in return. When women make noise, when social norms are challenged, we are thrown for a loop, thrust into a world where what we’ve thought and perceived is no more, and what we might build could be infinite. I’d argue that sometimes, most times, this is the best possible place to be. Body, heart, mind, soul, whole.