In the 1980’s Carol Gilligan, a professor at Harvard University, wrote a book titled: In a Different Voice. The book made a lasting impression on me and inspired the poem that follows. The book title points to the differences between how men and women encounter the world. She noted that virtually all information “has implicitly adopted a male perspective as the norm”. She calls for the inclusion of 'a different voice'. Since that time efforts are made by some to include female references, but the mere inclusion of ‘she’ and ‘her’ misses the point. The point is that throughout history, up until the 20th century, even in developed countries, women were excluded. They had no say in government or business; often no rights of ownership or inheritance; were excluded from higher education thus skilled occupations; and surely, all meaningful involvement in religious ritual was forbidden to women—save as passive recipient.
More than just a ‘place at the table’, Gilligan’s thesis is that women had no influence in shaping decisions that ruled their lives—their collective voice was silenced. Nations were formed, laws were enacted, customs adopted, history written while for the most part women were invisible—even in the Bible only fathers were mentioned in lineage. She makes a strong case for the fact that our development has been handicapped by silencing the voice of half of humanity.
Throughout the ages it has always been 'common sense’ that males and females see and explain life and the world differently—and too often women’s differentness has been judged as inferior and wrong. Research in psychology affirms measurable differences between the sexes. Studies of the play among young children show that boys are drawn to competition while girls more readily choose activities of cooperation. Among adults given the task of solving a dilemma, the male approach is more legalistic and directed to finding an efficient solution. A female approach is more global, taking into consideration surrounding circumstance and concern for the people who will be affected by the choice made. Men mainly show concern for the ‘outside’ (the specific outcome) while women show equal concern for the ‘within’ (the relationships and feelings).
Each perspective emphasizes different values (what is thought to be of greater or lesser worth). Value choices are not easily altered, there is resistance and denial. In a one-dimensional world there are only two choices: yes or no, good or bad, right or wrong. We no longer live in a flat world, we live in a multi-dimensional reality full of complexities—but old prejudices are hard to overcome. Some voices urge us to hold on to them, but the day of white-male-supremacy is past. Our world is in crisis; we must listen to all reasonable voices.
* * *
I am Woman, hear me oh Man!
You have intercourse with life from the outside,
I from within.
You know only half of the reality that is
--as do I.
Rigid and absolute, your aim is to impose and control;
Yielding and accommodating, mine is to accept and adapt.
You fear that I will limit your fecundity
your self-serving pleasure pursuits
And so it is, for I seek compassion and understanding
and protection for my vulnerability.
What you fail to know--for you know only half of reality--
is that there is pleasure of a different kind as well as wisdom
in my experience of life and living.
What you have demonstrated to me--for you have been in charge--
is that your outside knowing, adventurous to be sure,
is empty and meaningless without my insights!
You’ve insisted upon leading--your power and logic made it seem right--
but narcissistically you fell in love with your own reflection
and forgot to keep my voice alive with your love...
instead, you asked of me only that I serve and service you
--forgetting you know only half of reality.
Learn from me, not in a subservient way, but as an equal
and we will both be enriched.
- - -
Your vital virile outside knowing has changed the face of the earth
you’ve built and discovered and re-created...
But without the within, it is all empty, hollow, meaningless
--and above all infinitely dangerous!
You disdainfully dismiss what I have to contribute
My accomplishments seem mundanely simple and unimportant.
I cannot do what you have done
Your achievements are in fact glorious!
You infuse, you initiate, you achieve
--but you also rape and plunder,
immediate gratification and conquest is your goal.
Your arrogance is your curse
because you won’t admit what you don’t know
or can’t do alone.
You don’t nurture and sustain the developing potential
you don’t watch and wait and hope for the promise to come
--that is my task.
You know only half of the reality that is!
Would that you look at me...
but you only glance at my form
Would that you listen to me...
but you only scoff at my awarenesses
Would that you learn from me...
but you only yawn at my wisdom.
Look at me and see me,
Listen to me and hear me,
Understand me and learn from me,
I am Woman, hear me oh Man