By Dominique Davison

I recently read a compelling and influential book by Mary Beard called Women and Power. It examines how women have had their voices removed from spheres of power for thousands of years in Western Society. This silencing of a woman’s voice was/is sometimes incredibly literal and gruesome through violent acts, and sometimes the attempts are more subtle, through undermining, sabotage, criticism, or trolling and harassment. Beard reveals instances of suppression in common myths through perhaps the world’s most famous literary work, Homer’s The Odyssey, in which women are punished for simply speaking up. I reflected while reading how we’ve all been raised on these stories, been taught them in school, and how that pollutes our perception of gender. 

Contemporary examples abound as well – Beard points out many instances, culminating in the violent words and visuals used in the attempt to silence and humiliate Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, illustrating her face on the head of Medusa and Trump holding her severed head as Perseus. No matter your political affiliation, this monstrous imagery is a step too far. Yet, it was deemed permissible and printed on T-shirts, in contrast to how comedian Kathy Griffin lost her job for reenacting this scene in reverse. The hypocrisy is blatant. Even now, I commonly hear refrains about women’s “shrill” voices or suspicions about a woman’s ability to lead. None of us are immune to this insidiously pervasive bias.

Given that this is Black History Month, I wanted to focus more on the courageous work of the black woman leaders the book highlighted, such as Sojourner Truth and the founding three women of the Black Lives Matter movement: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. 

Sojourner Truth, a poetic and powerful name she gave herself later in life, was an abolitionist, activist, and civil and women’s rights leader in the 1800’s. Born into slavery in the State of New York, she spoke Dutch as her first language. She was the first formerly enslaved person to sue for her family’s freedom and win. She overcame unbelievable odds and abuse to become a public speaker and source of inspiration for her generation and beyond. Her work earned her a meeting with Abraham Lincoln, with whom a portrait was taken to commemorate the moment. 

A present-day example is the Black Lives Matter movement, started in 2013 by three women: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. In my estimation, they have been severely under-celebrated, with many folks unable to recall their names. And so, I wanted to share a little more about the three powerful black women who are behind such an impactful shift in the civil rights conversation. These three political organizers founded the movement in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. Their website states, “Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ humanity, our contributions to this society, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”

Alicia Garza’s book, The Purpose of Power, is next on my list.

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