Shutting Women Up

Kayta Curzie Gajdos, Ph.D.

(An Excerpt from Quiet Wisdom in Loud Times: The Rise of the Wounded Feminine)

To bring home to you that our collective unconscious has some serious work to do to become more of a compassionate conscience, allow me to tell you a story that happened recently across the street from my home. Every year my town of Chadds Ford has a community fair to commemorate the Battle of the Brandywine which occurred on September 11, 1777.

However, in 2010, something occurred that I found not only perplexing, but downright disturbing. A volunteer male re-enactor appeared dressed as a woman being punished for “gossip.” He, as a colonial woman, wore a metal head covering that disabled speech. Called a brank, or “gossip’s bridle,” it is described as a “shocking instrument, a sort of iron cage, … great weight … with a spiked tongue of iron … if the offender spoke, she was cruelly hurt.”

A man dressed as a woman in colonial being punished for being a "gossip"
A man dressed as a woman in colonial garb being punished for being a “gossip”. Photo taken by the author.

Mind you, this punishment was meant for women who “scolded” or “gossiped”—that is, spoke out in any way in a society in which they had no say. Historians remind us that colonial women had no legal rights as individuals. Judge and jury were all men. What may be one man’s being scolded, may be a woman’s speaking her truth.

Would that I could now say that the re-enactment of the so-called town gossip stood to remind us of how far we have come from such degrading, humiliating, and cruel treatment of another human being. Unfortunately, the re-enactor’s silent stance appears to have become a symbol for some men to long for the “good old days.” I was appalled to overhear (ooh, am I gossiping?) one man (who looked, for all intents and purposes, like a regular family man) wax on with some men behind a food counter, “Hey, did you see the guy dressed as a woman gossip?” His words were something to the effect of that’s appropriate punishment for a woman.

The group didn’t disagree. I later asked one of the men who had taken part in the conversation, “What was that woman gossip stuff all about?” His response was, “Well, it doesn’t hurt anybody”—implying that shame and humiliation is a fair and just punishment. His parting comment to me was, “Just don’t gossip.” (Hmm…)

Later I noticed the “gossip” was in the vicinity again standing silently under a tree. As I was asking the re-enactor if I could take a photo (he nodded assent, not being able to speak), another man walked by, commenting and laughing at how funny the gossip was. Another “Great way to shut a woman up,” so to “speak!”

What is so horrifying to me is some men’s response to the “village gossip.”

Perhaps, these same men watching another man be pilloried or flogged would think that humorous as well as well-deserved. That too would indicate a lack of the feminine principle of compassion. I don’t know if this recent experience has more to do with men denigrating women or with the fact that we are all far more primal and less civilized than we’d like to believe. We pride ourselves on liberty and justice for ALL, yet we continue to believe that shame and humiliation and cruel punishment of other human beings will “learn’em.”

So the patriarchy is still alive, if (one would hope) not well  (Richo, Mary Within, p. 41):

The dominator [patriarchy] model in relating to women leads to and is based on misogyny. In our society there is a philosophical reverence toward motherhood but often a hatred of actual women. There are people who love the Madonna but are not kind to the women in their lives. It is up to each of us to examine our conscience and confront these contradictions. They usually have roots in our original relationship to our own mothers and require therapy to resolve.

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Shutting Women Up Copyright © 2014 by Kayta Curzie Gajdos, Ph.D.. All Rights Reserved.

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