Do You Know An "Invisible Woman"? Because We Want to Meet Her.

Last week on a trip to the west coast, I was lucky enough to meet with newly minted She Writes member (welcome her!) JENNIFER SIEBEL NEWSOM, creator of the documentary film Miss Representation, which created a stir at Sundance and will be having its New York premier this Saturday at the Athena Film Festival.  (Organized and curated by SW member Melissa Silverstein, in partnership with Barnard, Athena's catalog is the ideal guide for populating a Netflix queue.)  Jennifer is a passionate, driven woman on a mission that aligns perfectly with the mission of She Writes: empowering women to tell their stories, their way


The stakes are high.  What happens when women don't tell their own stories?  Their stories are told for them -- or more often, about them -- and the narratives that result are partial at best, and demeaning, damaging or downright dangerous at worst.  Something else happens as well: real women, the three-dimensional women we know, disappear.  I can name a lot of invisible women.  Women I know in life who don't appear in the media.  Female characters (fictional or non-fictional) about whom I don't get to read.


The tagline for Miss Representation is "You Can't Be What You Can't See."  So my question is: do you know an invisible woman, or do you have one in mind when you write?  Is there a character in your work, or in your life (or even in yourself), who is, in most literature and media, invisible?


When I taught memoir writing, I came up with this exercise for my students when we were discussing character:  Imagine you are a theater director, and you are auditioning actors to play the character you have in mind.  What lines of direction would you give him/her to convey a quick, thumbnail sketch of who he/she is? 

In this case, let it be a she -- and tell us how to play her. 

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Comment by Rose E. Grier on February 13, 2011 at 6:06am
I write for all the invisible survivors of interpersonal violence. For those of us that survive molestation and rape it is our silence that kills us. I speak loud and I speak clear for the volumes of us out here who are afraid to talk about their violations and put a face to sexual abuse and crimes of the like.We are a mass growing momentum. So many of us sit inside ourselves looking out of the shell of our body not healing, not know just how spectacular we are and how much we have to offer. Our silence cloaks us in such pain we become invisible as we navigate our lives. It is a crime within a crime that steals innocence and silences a soul into a mere phantom of their former selves. I have created a voice for my survivors. It is a brave soul who bears his grief and become visible and productive through the ravages of interpersonal violence. Let my people go...oh yes.
Comment by Robin Lelani on February 12, 2011 at 9:36pm

I write for those of us who have given our lives away, and don't know where or how to find and rediscover ourselves. We, who are immersed in, yet live on the fringe of other folks lives. Us, the perpetual sideline cheerleaders; eager and excited to see others savor the taste of their victories, quietly thirsting for the appetite to sip from the crystal goblet filled with our own sweet, perfectly aged wine.  

Robminx the Rhythm Rhymer

Facebook: Robin Lelani

Comment by Acacia Oak on February 12, 2011 at 6:23pm

My first published novel, now in the proof-reading stage, is about a middle aged academic woman remaking her life. After a long marriage and a painful divorce, she struggles to rediscover herself.  She is representative of the many women who pursued a career in education, women dedicated to children/young people, who believed in the power of knowledge, the beauty of learning.  Many of them find themselves side-line and under-respected, their abilities squashed or undervalued. The novel is my effort to open the 'ivory tower' to readers, to describe the challenges, to highlight the challenges, and to describe those heroic people (men and women) who labor to educate the young.

              Acacia Oak 

Comment by Sarah Wilson on February 12, 2011 at 12:17am

This is a shout out to all of the "invisible women" in the Middle East tonight - #Tunisia, #Egypt, #cairo. #tonameafew.


Please share your support across social media communities during this historic time ladies of #SheWrites!

Comment by Jennifer Noble on February 11, 2011 at 9:17pm

Growing up, I could see the sacrifices my own mother had to make to raise five kids singlehandedly.  I could also see that she was unhappy.  The one thing she wanted in life was to go to college and just immerse herself in education.  She graduated college when she was 50 and I just remember it was the proudest day of my life.  She taught me that I deserve to realize my passions.  


And now that I'm in my mid-20s, I'm meeting a lot of women who still feel like they have to choose between marriage and kids, and self-happiness.  50 years later, we're still struggling with this and it makes me angry, sad, and confused. 


Anyway, these are the women I write for.  My writing often contains a high concentration of females, and tends to feature women who demonstrate that it is OKAY to find yourself and do your own thing while raising a family. 

Comment by Valerie Nieman on February 11, 2011 at 10:08am
I think of the farm women, the rural women, who remain invisible even as urban/suburban women gain presence in the media. I grew up in the farm country and western New York, and homesteaded a small farm in West Virginia. Today I live in the city and grow little more than a few greens and tomatoes, but I remember the strength and dignity of women who can raise a garden, put it up for winter, hold a family together with stories and hemstitches, and work side by side with men whether building fence or baling hay.
Comment by Barbara Ehrentreu on February 10, 2011 at 10:23pm

Stacey,I think the reason the other gender is being reviewed more is genres. Men tend to write more non-fiction, historical fiction, adventure novels, mysteries, and biographies. These are genres that are reviewed more than the majority of genres women write in. 

Your sister's story is so sad. I remember those early days and the fear of HIV and AIDS. It was very brave of you to have written that article. I hope your sister was able to live a valuable life for the years she had. She was lucky to have a sister like you.

Comment by Stacey Donovan on February 10, 2011 at 6:25pm
My eldest sister is invisible now because she is dead. When she contracted HIV it was so long ago the hospital quarantined her. My family tried to make her invisible by telling others she had cancer. I wrote an article that a national magazine published, my intention being to make public the fact that a middle class white girl in her 20's could get AIDS.

This is such a timely and important topic, Kamy, thank you. I'm sure you've seen the recent articles regarding those new studies that expose the lopsidedness of not only which gender publishes more, but is also being reviewed - 2 to 1, at the very least.

Women are not winning. Is it because they are invisible, or because they are more passive than men in the marketplace?
Comment by N. Angail on February 10, 2011 at 9:52am
"What happens when women don't tell their own stories?  Their stories are told for them -- or more often, about them -- and the narratives that result are partial at best, and demeaning, damaging or downright dangerous at worst." COMPLETE TRUTH. This fact is why I wrote my novel.
Comment by Cindy La Ferle on February 10, 2011 at 7:49am
I love this too. I put my published essays into a book because I wanted my family, friends, and column readers to remember what life was like for "invisible" women in suburbia, working from home, raising kids, and leading "ordinary lives" that didn't get noticed. I wanted to illuminate the beauty in the ordinary.


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