“Let Women Keep Silence”
Originally printed in Luna Station Quarterly
We sit. Encased in white in a white room. All white. White veils cover our faces. Rows of us. Facing toward the center. We sit and wait. We will be married today. All at one time. All to men who are not our choices, but those of the Defenders. If a man has been sufficiently subservient to the Defenders, he will have been granted the privilege of saying which of us is to be his. We were placed before the privileged and they saw us in our nakedness. Some of us make small fluttering movements. This is the day we have waited for, been trained to long for. Our place in the world taken, as wives of men. The flutterers believe they will be married to one of the chosen. Or fear they will not. Some of us have tears, not seen because of the white veils that hide us.
We do not speak. There is no need for our voices. If we were to speak we would be beaten. Made to kneel in the middle of the group and beaten by the others for not having learned the lesson. The lesson of silence and not-feeling. It is wrong for females to feel.
When we are married our husband will do whatever he desires with us. The mothers told us, told us, told us that what happens is our lot. If we are treated kindly, it is because we have been favored. If we are beaten, or made to pleasure the brothers and cousins and friends of the husband, it is because we are of the wicked. If we die at the will of the husband it is our destiny.
We are not to think. Thinking is of Man. If women were to think it would come from evil. We are beaten if we think.
Mari thought. Mari spoke. She spoke that she did not want to marry. They buried her in sand to her waist. They beat her with rods. They left her to die of thirst and insects biting her raw, dripping flesh. We could not go to her. But Mari spoke. We heard her voice. We heard Mari’s voice say what she thought/felt.
Some of us remember when we were girls in the sunny courtyards of our homes. We remember laughing. We remember playing. Jumping from rock to rock in streams behind our homes. Throwing and catching balls of many colors. Blue as the sky, red as blood. Green like the little snakes in the cracks of the wall. Yellow like the sun. We remember sitting next to our mothers on benches under the lime trees. Hearing stories of princesses and fearsome beasts that carried them away. A prince would come and rescue the princess. Together they would sing and dance and laugh. And marry. They would have many children, and they would be happy. We remember when we were girls. Before we started the training to be married to one of the privileged, or to a lesser man if we are not worthy. Oh, how we were to work to be worthy of one of the privileged. We do not know who we will marry. Will we be yoked to a worthy man, or one of the waiting-to-be worthy? We do not know. It is not our concern.
It is not possible not-think. We must think. Can our minds be dead? How can we not think, sitting here, in this room, in this whiteness, waiting for a life that is death? The flutterers think and feel. Do their bodies speak of joy? Are the little movements to keep evil away? What do the ones with tears feel and think? What of the completely silent? Have we died in our layers of white?
Mari died in agony. She spoke. Then she screamed. She had her voice. Then she was free.
White veiled heads turn. I repeat, “I have a voice. ”