Selected Works

Craft essays, short works
Craft essay in October 2015 Brevity
Memoir
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Musing

Sleeping Beauty: Breaking the Spell of Women's Silences

March 31, 2015

Tags: Spring Journal, Women's Silences

Published in Spring Journal, Fall 2014
Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up: Breaking the Spell of Women's Silences

1.
Light fills the hall of the old Key West Armory, streaming in from the high windows like fairy dust, soft and white and unusually strong for a winter’s day in January. The house buzzes with excitement until Margaret Atwood steps onto the stage and a hushed quiet fills the room. I crane my neck, hoping to get a glance of her from my seat in the very back row, but I’m too short and the woman in front of me too tall. Frustrated, I shove my purse under me to get some height and there she is – her unruly mane of wiry hair, her too-white complexion, her eyes – blue, steely. Steady.
Perched on my roost of leather and lumpy wallet, I’m not steady at all. I feel like a flighty bird unseated by an inexplicable feeling of anticipation mixed with dread. The blank pages of my journal rest in my lap, open and waiting.

Margaret takes her seat on the raised dais, like a Goddess or a Queen, which she has been to me ever since I read The Handmaid’s Tale, a science fiction fantasy that chilled me to the bone every time I held it in my hands. Don’t be silly, I’d tell myself. There was no reason to fear what kept creeping into the back of my mind while turning the pages, which was that this could happen, might happen – that our freedom, our gains as women in America were merely a rickety scaffold holding up a barely built cathedral.

In 1985, when the book came out, I had just left a bruising career as a punk rock singer and was diving into the “Dress for Success” eighties, throwing away my spandex and stilettos for the female version of male suits, complete with the floppy “feminine” bow ties women were encouraged to wear as they entered into the corporate class. We were post-liberation women, well past the messy fight for access to contraception and abortion fought by our older sisters, moving on to executive suites outfitted with soft carpeting and glass ceilings. Atwood’s story of fundamentalist Christians stripping women of their rights and dividing the female population into breeders and groomers and “Marthas” was just elaborate futurist fiction, right?

Twenty-seven years later, I have come to hear the woman whose words have haunted me ever since I read them. Among the sea of bodies near the front seats, someone raises her hand and asks Margaret how she came up with the idea for The Handmaid’s Tale. Did she think something like this could ever happen to women? Really? (more…)