I am a woman, and a parent, and I write a blog about my life in London with my family.
It started as a way to connect with family and friends who were in New Zealand – a distance a little too far for people to come and spend time with us and to see where we live and work. Too far to meet me for coffee and compare pregnancies and toddler notes, first days at school and the millions of triumphs and tragedies that season an inconsequential life.
Initially writing about this stuff was a way of remembering and being remembered by people back home. What it has grown into is a confessional, a catharsis, an outlet for me to rage and laugh and despair. I wonder how much of this writing as therapy comes from my central starting point – that of my gender.
Women have always shared with each other; certainly, the women in my family have been able to talk about many things in unabashed, frank ways. I remember Southern Hemisphere summers spent on the coast in a caravan, and my mother and her sisters playing Scrabble together late into the night. And talking. Talking about everything and everyone.
Silences when the vowels got too few and the dictionary was hastily riffled through to find a made-up word that, with luck, might exist, but this silence was temporary. We fell asleep on camp-stretch beds in the awning lulled by the quiet hum of their long, single, wavering conversation together.
Women, I think, are encouraged to talk, to use words before fists, to confide and console and share with one another. Little girls have confidantes and these stay with you – best friends get told secrets and things are written down in a diary, and this early introduction to communication means women have outlets to express themselves in a way that I think boys and eventually men do not.
Openness and vulnerability are thought dismissively of as soft feminine traits – the opposite of the kind of front most men have been taught to project into the world. And it makes me sad, because the freedom I have to write frankly, to share explicitly, to receive intimacy back from anonymous readers and long-held friends is sometimes the only way to bear the load of being a grownup.
My ability to write honestly about a painful marriage impasse, the exhausting and unrelenting toughness of parenting, the jolts and joys of family life in a city that pulses with noise and distraction like a faulty neon sign: writing about these things has made me a better thinker, a better friend, a better partner.
Making these truths public, sometimes even the regrettable, shameful ones, has connected me to many other people who wish to communicate freely and frankly too. My years of writing has given me a strong and distinct voice and an audience who reciprocates by sharing their stories with me.
Recently I wrote about losing a baby. Writing about the experience served a dual purpose – practically and pragmatically I could head off the well-meaning but painful enquiries into the size of my bump and due dates and indigestion, but more importantly I could write about my heartbreak honestly and tell my story in my words. I needed to.
I wrote about the shock and the sadness and the physical and emotional emptiness after. I wrote about what is so often secreted away and, in the process, made it real and tangible. Other women wrote back to me and shared their stories too and thanked me for telling the truth about what happened and how it had felt. So this was good, a good thing to do, and I was thankful that I had a place to say what I needed to say.
But how do you grieve and heal when you have no place to share? My husband lost a baby too when my pregnancy suddenly had to end.
What do you do when you cannot write about rage and sadness? Who do you say these things to? Who knows how to listen? He is an articulate, caring, kind man and he is grieving, but he has never been given the tools or an outlet to express intimate,
difficult, internal things.
I am so glad that from a girl, I was taught to talk and write and state and share. The women in my family empowered me to use my voice and now words both help and heal me.
For my sons, I can only do my best to teach them that they can and should have their own voices; voices that must be heard because there is freedom and strength in that, regardless of gender.
Jodi Bartle is a New Zealander in London who writes The Harridan, a blog about her family of five young boys, one tired husband and a dog. She likes Tom Ford and his lipsticking ways, large doses of wine, and overpriced clothes that she won’t ever wear from sample sales. She cooks, runs, yells at kids, reads, and chronically overshares. Find out more about Jodi and her work at www.theharridan.wordpress.com, on twitter at @JodiBartle and on instagram @harridan1.