• Zosia Jo

My voice is not especially important, but it is the only one available to me

My voice is not especially important, but it is the only one available to me. So please excuse me if I use it to express my outrage on behalf of myself, and those around me. There are women whose experiences have touched me, and whose stories deserve to be told. Where possible I advocate for people to speak their own mind, their own hearts, their own pain, and their own triumphs. But if I exclude them from my own creative narrative, I do us all a disservice by perpetuating the divide between us. I believe we are all in the same shabby old boat, rocking in the rough waters of inherited discomfort. We swim on, surrounded by the sewage dumped in days gone by. Sure, it was mostly my ancestors who dumped it, but I refuse to stay ashore. I refuse to make that the reason I watch safely from behind some tragically crumbling colonial wall. I prefer to swim in the murk with my friends and share whatever tools I have to help build a bridge. Just as long as it’s a bridge we build together.

Many have told me I don’t need to justify myself, that I should just make my work with no concession, explanation or apology. I disagree. I do have to justify my actions, and take responsibility for imagery I put out into the world. That is a small price to pay for my privilege. I can even apologise for any offence it caused. But I do not apologise for making this work, I say sorry simply for any pain or misunderstanding of my intentions that it caused.

Fear of criticism can be stifling. A short while ago I was nearly creatively crippled by such criticism because I despaired at the idea that I had come across as racist in the course of making a work intended to bring women of all cultures and faiths together in solidarity and protest. Someone I saw as a like-minded friend was filled with anger at the idea I had assumed to speak for her. Suddenly it didn’t matter the scores of other’s from her culture with whom I’d researched, or the time I’d spent investing in connecting to her country. Though others told me to forget about her, that it was just one opinion, I knew it would be unwise to dismiss her. Because the reason she got to me so much- she was telling me I had fallen into exactly the trap I feared the most. And I knew she wouldn’t be the only one. She nearly silenced me altogether. It takes a great deal of emotional energy to make a solo performance at the best of times, without members of your prospective audience willing you to fail. I do not pretend that in order to make this work I need to dismiss the concept of cultural appropriation. Quite the opposite, I need to hold it close, examine it, and put in the hard work to ensure that I am representing and amplifying the voices of the women who have contributed to this work. But it is also important to say that I am not attempting to use these voices for my own gain, I simply want to acknowledge the ways in which we are the same.

I decided it was too important to keep building that bridge and to keep reminding the world how far away we still are from gender equality. I also feel that this piece is so deeply connected to my own story- my own pain and experience that I resented the assumption I had no right to tell this story. I would wound myself too deeply by accepting the notion I have no right to comment.

For those who might not want to see this work because it appears to culturally appropriate this is what it is really about:

Me, aged 11 being sexualised under the gaze of men my father’s age. Me, aged 13 trying on every item in my wardrobe before school and throwing them angrily to the floor because none made me look how society told me I should. Me age 18 beginning to hate my body, and the non-specific eating disorder that would later be the result. Me, age 27 being outraged at my own culture’s ignorance towards veiled women. Me, now, aged 30, finally in an equal partnership and in charge of my own emotions, wanting to advocate for women’s right to wear whatever they like- whether it is a niqab, a tracksuit or a mini skirt. Wanting to share the voices of my many incredible, brave and intelligent friends who’ve chosen to wear a hijab, take off a hijab, wear a hijab in their own way, or simply share whatever it is they want to say on the matter. Each of their choices is individual and that choice is valid, it is their right. Wanting to scream from the rooftops so all the racists on buses, inappropriate bosses, harassing teenagers, French police on beaches, controlling parents/husbands/governments can hear us. It’s about the history of our clothes, the violence, the triumphs, the freedom, the oppression and all the space in between. Most importantly it’s about how we are the same even within how we are different, how we all deserve the choice.

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