Silent Girl

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.

Toronto, Canada

181 pages, including Afterword by the author, and Glossary of Terms

12 thoughts on “Silent Girl

  1. I’ve got that one marked for inclusion on my list. I was born after the feminist movement was over, but I think there is plenty of need for feminism still today. Women need to be reminded sometimes that they are powerful!

  2. Wow – “… fiecely eloquent testimony to women…” this sounds excellent, and what a wonderful description. I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that believed in equality for women, so though I grew up during the “women’s lib movement,” I was not very much stymied by it. I am heading for the library this afternoon, and will definitely put this book on my list. Thanks for the great, succinct, review, Becca.

  3. I have this one to review, and I know I’ll never write one as eloquent and lovely as this! Great job. Now I’m even more excited to read the book.

  4. I love this review and will get this book: I like your thoughts on feminism and my short stories (the ones that I have either hidden in drawers or submitted for my creative writing course) are all about women and their places and situations in different cultures. This sounds like a wonderful book – thank you!

  5. Thanks for such a lovely review, Becca. I’m so glad you liked Silent Girl. And thanks to those of you who have commented. Please let me know if you have any trouble finding the book. I’m interested in your comments about the feminist movement. It’s very much alive today but taking a different form. Younger women who are involved consider themselves part of the Third Wave of feminism (the first was for suffrage, the second for equality, primarily in the workplace, and primarily in western nations). The Third Wave is more global in scope, concerned about the treatment of women around the world. We in the west are quite privileged compared to women in many other countries. The new feminism says none of us has freedom and equality until all of us do. I think that’s a philosophy we can apply to close the increasing gap between the rich and the poor in North America and elsewhere. We all do better when everyone does better.

  6. Tricia, thanks so much for stopping by and for the enlightening comment. The Third Wave in the feminist movement is indeed a worthy cause, and your collection of stories illustrates the need for us all to be concerned about the fate of women in the wider world.

    “We all do better when everyone does better,” is a sound philosophy, and one that can be applied to every race and gender.

  7. We are on the same wavelength today, Becca! I posted on Assia Djebar who is an amazing voice for female liberation in Algeria. This sounds like a wonderful collection of stories! Interesting to read Tricia’s comments about a third wave in feminism. I still think we have a lot to combat here in the Western world with our obsession with women’s appearance. Men are certainly not subjected to the same kind of critique as women, as far as their looks go.

  8. I just read your wonderful post, Litlove. And, yes, there’s still work to do here in the West. We have the freedom to resist the obsession with appearance. We just need the courage to do it!

  9. I have read Silent Girl and went back to it again. I was facilitating a workshop last night in Toronto, with 150 women reflecting on their professional life and its issues. When it starts revolving around work life balance, all women in the room were raving about the difficulty to juggle all those priorities and the predominent role played by working women in their children’s need. What came out is that most women are still putting the family life first and everything else after. So when it comes to manage the professional life, access to power, finance etc, the focus is very different than men, hence the results as well. We had a speaker who had committed herself to her professional life, while having two children along the way and taking the required actions to keep her focus. I heard many women in the room expressing they could not relate to her because they were not ready to be less present to their children to provide the required presence at work to progress. We had a great time and learned a lot from each other.

    Silent Girl is a powerful way to remind ourselves that fundamentally, we still have a long way to go to assume our full share of the human power, but we’re working on it.

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