Saturday, August 21, 2010
In many ways this novel, Possessing The Secret of Joy, is true. It is indeed incredible and memorable and necessary. For all of my years I did not know about the circumcision of women. It is an African tradition much like the Chinese tradition of foot binding. The woman's body is manipulated to pleasure a man or men. Possessing The Secret of Joy by Alice Walker , a novel, took me on an unknown and long journey. On this trek I had no desire to stop for chores like cooking, mailing a thank you note, making a phone call or going to get groceries. I was mesmerized. I was hypnotized. I felt at one in some way with Tashi-Evelyn. At the same time I could never say truthfully her pain became real for me. Tashi-Evelyn is two names for one girl-woman. There is her African name and her American name.
Usually, I am a little apprehensive about writing a review. This time I'm almost afraid of a ghost I can not see. Perhaps, it is the ghost that wishes all the physical and emotional pain of women to be hushed, snuffed out like a murdered body. "Even today there are villages where an uncircumcised woman is not permitted to live...circumcision is a taboo that is never discussed." When a woman is cut, she becomes more gentle, humble, obedient in spirit. The spirit becomes stifled. A voice is unable to speak out against rough sexual treatment, a voice is strangled that would speak out against domestic abuse or child abuse. The woman becomes a man's slave without asking any questions, no pulling away, no running away. She is emptied of the desire or need for herself. She feels unworthy to ask for better treatment, a more fulfilled life. "A proper woman must be cut and sewn to fit only her husband, whose pleasure depends on an opening it might take months, even years, to enlarge." After the ritualistic surgery, the girl-woman does not walk, she slides to wherever she must go. Not only does her voice become a whisper. Her feet whisper too as she pours porridge, carries water or weaves a belt with her hands.
Often, on auto pilot I, myself, would say traditions are good. We must have traditions to uphold the living family and friends and the dead family and friends. Now I know my ears must perk up and listen and learn what type of tradition is being upheld by a tribe like the Olinkans or any traditions applauded in America or Europe because rituals can become thorny and unpleasurable. Traditional tasks quickly habitual. The questions are: Why am I doing this? Will the activity improve a life or will a person become wrapped in the ropes of bondage?
I am grateful to Alice Walker for writing this novel. At the end of the novel the author writes facts about this age old, painful, tradition. Although, the mutilation of a woman's clitoris is withering to the heart and mind, The author left me with a truth I've seen in my family. Women are made strong of heart. We cry tears not only for ourselves but for other women. We breast feed our children and the children of other women. Women are filled with the strength to keep on going in the midst of suffering because each woman possesses "the secret of joy."