Having grown up in the thick of the women’s liberation movement (as we called it back in the early 70’s) there is a refined strain of feminist idealism running through my bones. I was never rabidly outspoken about my beliefs in women’s equality -I was much too introverted and insecure to jump onto a soapbox. But my firm conviction that women deserved equality in every aspect was honed and strenghthened during that time.
Tricia Dower’s collection of short stories, Silent Girl, is a fiecely eloquent testimony to women who are not only powerless, but victimized by their parents, their partners, and the society in which they live. Lest we have become complacent in our sense that women have overcome the burdens placed on them by patriarchal traditions, a careful reading of these stories will prove otherwise. The girls and women Dower writes of are all modern day heroines, battling evils like spousal abuse, sexual slavery, and kidnapping. They are contemporary characters who face timeless troubles – troubled family relationships, social isolation, and racism, and they hail from all four corners of the globe – from a north American farming community, to the wilds of Kyrgyzstan and the tropics of Thailand.
In an interesting twist, each story was inspired by a Shakespeare play. “A University of Toronto production of Othello sparked Silent Girl,” Dower writes. “I had studied the play years before without having seen it performed. Reflecting on how willingly Desdemona allowed her life to end, I thought of domestic abuse victims and the seeming collusion of some in their own misfortune. Many, like Desdemona, are socially isolated. The story that resulted from that evening – “Nobody; I Myself” – ended up being as much about idealism and racism as it was about social isolation…”
While the theme of these stories is serious, Dower’s writing is never didactic or preachy. Dower counts fellow Canadian Alice Munroe as inspiration, citing Munroe’s talent for making “the most ordinary character’s life extraordinary.” Dower’s stories are strongly character driven, and every woman portrayed comes alive in her own way -the message is powerful, but not overstated. Silent Girl gives a clear and striking voice to women who have been made “silent” by oppression from their mates, their parents, their captors, their world. It’s fascinating, frightenting, and enlightening – a collection that bears careful reading.
Silent Girl, by Tricia Dower
published 2008, by Inanna Publications and Education, Inc.
181 pages, including Afterword by the author, and Glossary of Terms