Written by Victoria Shropshire (PhD candidate in English Literature).
For two Saturdays in September 2018, along with fellow doctoral candidate, Sarah Tytler, and writer-poet-performer, Elaine Gallagher, I had the pleasure of facilitating With Our Own Voices, a pair of multimodal creative writing workshops hosted by the Glasgow Women’s Library.
With Our Own Voices was open to all women and non binary people, from all backgrounds, especially those with voices that have been marginalised or silenced in society. We aimed to help victims and survivors of oppression and trauma reclaim their voices through creative practice: drawing, writing, poetry and more. All of which we hope will help them to negotiate, understand, and possibly share their voices, ideas and narratives.
Each participant enjoyed an afternoon of creative expression along with a fabulous, vegetarian/vegan lunch and an afternoon coffee/tea break. We laughed, we wrote, we created and we shared. As a cancer survivor and someone who lives with PTSD, I was particularly keen to help support those struggling with narratives of trauma, which often begin as social constructs, and can become a calcified set of rules dictating to victims and survivors how they must experience their own survival.
Encouraging the participants in the workshop to explore what their own narratives meant to them – in a judgment-free zone – allowed them to voice thoughts and reactions many had never spoken aloud before, for fear that this wasn’t the ‘right’ way to think or feel. There were s tears, but not only tears of pain, but, tears of laughter and relief as participants forged emotional and supportive connections with each other. And all the while surrounded by glitter and Play-Doh!
With Our Own Voices participants discussed issues of identity (re)construction that we face every day. How do we reclaim our voice if we’ve been (re)defined by illness or disability, or by experiences of trauma or abuse? What happens when we don’t fit the mould of the ‘good patient’ or ‘good survivor’? How do we negotiate the expectations of identity and the reality of daily existence within a society with heteronormative rules and categories into which we may not ‘fit’? How can we address issues of women who do not fit into binary designations of gender and sexual orientation, or are given values based on their relationships to men? For example, by a culture that defines them primarily as daughters, sister, mothers or wives?
The participants used crafts, music, and writing to explore new ways of empowering their own voice, and regaining what others (family, partners, employers, friends, communities) had altered, taken or misrepresented, so they have the confidence moving forward to make positive changes in their lives.
Through empathy and openly sharing the process of rethinking, reclaiming and rewriting their own narratives, the group engaged in wonderful discussion and talked about the power of narrative to heal.
With Our Own Voices would like to thank the Glasgow Women’s Library and the University of Glasgow’s Research Support Award, which without these workshops could not have happened. Social and cultural changes cannot happen without supporting bodies that work to nurture community projects such as these. We are proud to live in a community where events like this one work to provide a safer space for sharing, discussing and writing about the power of our voices and how to reclaim them as our own; to help us lead stronger, more autonomous and purpose-driven lives.