Sharing Our Stories Was Supposed to Dispel Our Shame

A young Asian woman is writing on her leather-bound personal organizer on the wooden table indoors

In the past 13 years, Emily Gould has become an accomplished author — of a memoir and two novels — and feminist book publisher. As she prepares for the April launch of her latest novel, Perfect Tunes, she worries that to many people, she will only ever be what she was for less than a year, in 2007: an editor at now defunct media gossip site Gawker, who suffered a traumatizing moment on national television that still haunts her.

More than that, she has lost faith in women’s true storytelling as a force for bringing about positive change in the world.

I once believed that the truth would set us free — specifically, that women’s first-person writing would “create more truth” around itself. This is what I believed when I published my first book, a memoir. And I must have still believed it when I began publishing other women’s books, too. I believed that I would become free from shame by normalizing what happened to me, by naming it and encouraging others to name it too. How, then, to explain why, at the exact same moment when first-person art by women is more culturally ascendant and embraced than it has ever been in my lifetime, the most rapacious, damaging forms of structural sexism are also on the rise? I have tried to come up with various explanations for this paradox, but none of them are satisfying. If this is the patriarchy’s last gasp, it’s a long one that shows no sign of ending.

I have lost hope that hearing women’s stories will ever make even one man realize that what seemed like an ordinary night of his life was a life-changing horror story from the perspective of the woman involved. And I no longer think there’s value in the mere fact of getting people to pay attention to what I have to say, especially when the attention is temporary, incredulous, or overwhelmingly negative.

I still do this kind of writing, I am doing it now, but I no longer hope for any outcome other than my own relief. This is because I have lost faith in the idea that there might be anything any individual can say or write that will change the minds of people who, consciously or subconsciously, believe that women matter less than men.

While I still hold out hope that our words can open minds — I see it as a long (long, long) game — I also share Gould’s frustration with the glacial pace of change, and the frequent backlash against women who dare to tell their stories.

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