The Invisible Woman speaks…will you listen?
Hey, you there?
I know you can hear me, but you know what? I’m standing right in front of you and you are barely aware of me. My voice might well be the sound of the wind in the trees, always there and yet never truly listened to.
I should really say, OUR voice, because I am not one but many. Many. Countless and timeless, we’ve been invisible for a very long time.
You protest perhaps, declaring that women are not really invisible. They’re everywhere. Half the planet’s population even. I would simply ask you why then do we have a tiny, tiny fraction of the world’s wealth? You might wave a newspaper in front of me, pointing to grainy photos of women, or direct me to the internet news. Women everywhere, you say.
Well, yes. But do you SEE them? Or do you merely look at them, taking in curves and synthetic smiles and enhanced features, polished and tanned and oiled for your pleasure? Young, slender women, barely even out of girlhood and constantly harking back to its simpler demands of beauty and silence.
You point out older women, who you say are very good examples of beautiful older women. Or to women who have climbed a corporate ladder or that of government or leadership. But do read also the comments, about their clothes or their figure or their skin or sex appeal. You rarely get comments about anything else. Many of these are the women whose childhood was punctuated by the cries of relatives male and female declaring, “She should have been a boy!”
Feminism? I do not know what feminism is. I only know that at a certain age, we all begin to fade from view. That is what fuels the industry of anti-ageing creams, you know. It’s not fear of death that worries women most, I think; it’s the fear of becoming invisible, and ultimately inaudible too. You can still hear me because I am shouting now. I was brought up to be quiet and polite and not to put myself forward, so it takes a lot for me to be shouting now. I’d grab your arms and shake you, but that would be simply so rude it would throw me into that other darkness of age and madness. Another mad old woman, babbling insanities, to be shut away and ignored. Kinder to kill such folks, that’s the next thought. God forbid that they be heard and listened to.
When do we become invisible? I do not know. I think it varies. Some of us were never terribly visible in the first place. If you are not blessed with something outwardly apparent to catch the interest of the world, you remain a mouse in the wainscotting, there but easy enough to ignore. It takes a lot of mice to wake up a whole house. For those who were blessed with outward beauty, the fading of it is bitter because we cease to be seen, slowly, like a long death. That’s why Snow White’s stepmother went down the route of bitterness, you know. She sensed she was being eclipsed, and soon her image in the mirror would become grey and dim and then gone. Every young mum has a moment where the admiration expressed towards her infants hits a harsh note, like a wisp of sun over the clouds. We dress our daughters up and parade them, repeating what we knew in the unconscious hope that her loveliness will not fade and we will not see her becoming slowly invisible.
So we do other things to try and be a part of the world. We seek roles of kindness and service, often, because we are thwarted at the Front from real combat because the only way of being seen for long enough is by relinquishing our femininity. Or at least the outward trappings of it. We wear business suits, cut for our curves, but in essence the same uniform as the men. Without such armour how can we even enter the Lists?
Those whose academic gifts carried them far into their path bear also a harsh burden. It’s not enough to succeed through your brains alone; enter the public consciousness via the media and you will be judged not for your work or your soul but through your outward appearance.
It’s enough to make a woman weep, but even tears are seen as weakness and not the healing balm they truly are. Cry, and you get labelled with one of the cruellest, most impossible of labels: the hysterical woman. The source of our femininity, the womb, is cursed as the thing that makes us weak. And yet, when that womb starts its journey towards the quiescence of menopause, we are not welcomed either but dismissed as worthless now we can no longer bear children. We become useless and repulsive, as if all our worth was invested in being breeders of another generation, and once we are retired, we become invisible sexually.
I do not offer answers; I only offer questions, and yet more questions. I do not ask to be answered, except with the courtesy of being listened to. I am a warrior but the first lesson of any war is to only choose the battles you have a chance of winning. My battles are by necessity are the small ones, as I learn what my skills are.
You walk away, shaking your head. That’s all right. You listened, even if you did not truly understand yet. One battle at a time, that is what I promised myself. I fight not with a sword or with other weapons that bear an edge but with words that can be sharpened or softened and can shape the listener’s perception so that maybe, for one moment of blinding clarity, they too may see things from the other side.