What made us keep silent for so long? That question has been on my mind lately. The exhibition Maria Magdalena in the museum ‘Catherijne Convent’ in Utrecht (Netherlands) strongly resonated with me and reinforced this thought. I already knew quite a bit about the oppression of women and the systematic concealment and reduction of the role of women in our history (HISstory), but despite that I was shocked by the magnitude and impact of this. At the exit of the exhibition a sign read: ‘We shall no longer remain silent’. The collective silence goes beyond the suffering inflicted on women. We have come to consider it ‘normal’ that there is so much injustice and inequality in the world.
This includes all the suffering that results from an unjust and made-up story to the dysfunctional communal facilities and the behavior that results directly and indirectly from this. These provisions should serve and not oppress people. The fabricated story about women gives men permission to exercise power over women. Finally we’ve stopped tolerating this. From #metoo to the allowance affair, the collective silence has been broken and is unstoppable.
The source of collective silence is usually found in a sense of powerlessness; “There’s nothing we can do about it anyway.” This has been around since time immemorial, yet it seems to be becoming more and more manifest at this time throughout society. In particular, it affects the less fortunate, the dependents, the less assertive and the ‘minorities’ in various aspects. How come we’ve let it get to the point where the systems that are supposed to serve us now mostly work against us? Where does that come from and, above all, what can we do about it?
Powerlessness is about a lack of freedom to make choices about one’s own life and property. It arises when people in power (the system) do not take any or insufficient responsibility for the fair and correct implementation of a devised policy and system. Breaking this dynamic starts with treating people as people with a story that is truly listened to. A rare phenomenon in our society. People in power foremost perform procedures, diagnose and prescribe guidelines, in many cases without really listening to the person concerned or even having face-to-face contact. The system decides and the executives can safely hide behind it. We have seen this in the benefits affair (‘Toeslagenaffaire’) and various other government services that have lost the human connection and are therefore no longer trusted.
The impact on lives is enormous. We see that all around us. The cases are also piling up in my own life and direct environment. This makes me angry and sad. Here’s the story of a woman who gets an incorrect diagnosis, which ends up in her patient’s file for ever, even after doctors admitted that mistakes have been made and the diagnosis is invalid. As a result, other practitioners no longer listen to this woman either, after all, she is ‘sick’ and must first be treated for that. Because she has been suffering unbearably for so many years, she no longer wants to live. The invalid diagnosis makes it impossible for her to get help with ending her life. How on earth is this possible? This example also stirs up bad experiences in health care for myself. Of the countless times that I had to go through all the procedures with my critically ill mother, as if she was there for the first time, before she was really listened to and helped. The pain and impotence that she had to endure again and again and all those hours that we were waiting there. We felt lost, not taken seriously and not seen as human beings. As if no one really cares.
For over a year I have been involved in a process with the municipality to build a house next to my father, so that he can live there longer and we can keep this special place in the family. Due to various errors at the municipality and contradictory communication with us, it suddenly appears that this is not possible. We get bogged down in opaque municipal procedures and our story is actually irrelevant. In fact, bizarre complaints from neighbors seem to get even more attention than our story. How on earth? A dear friend who wants a divorce is afraid that she will not make it financially by herself and the resulting panic attacks make it very difficult to go through with the divorce. How many women then count their losses and remain in an unhappy marriage? And what about those who have the courage to divorce? Now that I’m an expert by experience I speak to a so many women in both situations. It is a good thing that more and more women dare to stand up for themselves and make their own choices. At the same time, women often pull the short straw and experience greater impact on their lives than man. What can be done?
There is also powerlessness among women who have to be on guard, who are never really safe from abuse by men of any kind. Every woman knows this feeling. Fortunately, more and more women dare to speak up and share their story, encouraged by others who do. It is about time that women are really listened to. We all experienced situations in which we as a woman are not taken seriously because our tears are explained as hypersensitive, unstable or even psychologically out of order. De we actually realize how absurd this is and what the impact is on many women’s lives?
It seems that public administrators and executives are seized by a fear of making mistakes and therefore no longer take responsibility for the decisions they make. It takes courage to break through this system. To really listen and to discuss and weigh interests honestly. The systems we are talking about are made by (‘7 ticks’) men in a predominantly male culture and often lack the human values and principles that make them human and liveable. Women are needed for that. Women standing up. Women who speak out. Women who are empowered. It is about wholeness of the masculine and feminine principle in this world, not a struggle of one against the other. This also requires men who recognize and support this. The so-called ‘helping heroes’, as Monika Bankert calls them in her book ‘For Our Daughters’. She examines in depth the cause of the oppression of women. It goes back to our evolution and development over time and makes fascinating discoveries. When we view well-known research data through the lens of women’s oppression and you will see with new eyes. I highly recommend that you read this book!
It’s time for me to stand up for women again. How I am going to do that now begins to unfold. Together with Monika Bankert, Leuny van der Werff and Gemma van Steekelenburg, we investigate how women can find, connect and strengthen each other on what they need in their lives and work. In every story that is revealed, women mention that it would have helped to know that they are not alone in this. In my work as a facilitator of change processes, I have always focused on strengthening female values. Connection and understanding ensure that relationships deepen and that creates room for both more individuality and communality. In such a culture, women do want to work and are a crucial factor for a healthy working climate and sustainable cooperation. Of course, we also need men who recognize the strength and value of women and who want to give them more space, the helping heroes. In the end, this is about all of us, men and women, daring to live from our hearts. In order to contribute to a more human and peaceful world in which the feminine and the masculine are in balance. At last, let’s be the species that brings harmony and balance to this earth. Then we also have a future here. Please don’t remain silent if you want that too!