Two years ago when Segullah made its debut I fielded lots of questions. The most frequent was this: Why a new journal?
My answer: Because Mormon women need an independent forum that maintains a faithful perspective.
“Independent forum” rarely caused any hang-ups. “Faithful perspective” was a speed bump for some (and that’s a topic for another post). But others moved right along to the “women” part. Aren’t male perspectives just as valuable? some of them asked.
Of course, of course. I had radical feminist leanings in college, but I’ve far outgrown the deluded belief that men are, basically, chumps. I believe that the greatest heights of humanity come from the union of male and female, in intimate pairs and in larger communities. And I’d love to see a faith-promoting journal of personal writings by LDS men and women. For that matter, I’d love to see one for men only. But those are someone else’s projects. Mine, as editor of Segullah, is fostering the female voice.
So, what is the female voice? I figured you’d ask. To answer I’ll need a little help from Ursula K. LeGuin and her 1986 Bryn Mawr commencement speech about gender-based dialects. She describes them as the father tongue and the mother tongue. One is the voice of authority, objectivity, division. The other is the voice of relationship, subjectivity, connection. You can guess which one is which. And no, she doesn’t assert that only men speak the father tongue and only women speak the mother tongue. She says both can speak both. And her purpose is to encourage women to speak a third dialect, one she calls art.
Go read the article. I just did, for the first time in fourteen years. I don’t agree with everything LeGuin says–and today I agree with even less than I used to. But I agree with this:
When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.
When we question what the female voice might be, here is a starting point: the collective sound of women offering their experience as truth. This concept embraces not only the simple instance of a woman saying something, but also what she says, and how she says it. And Segullah attends to all three. With few exceptions, we invite women only to speak in our forum, because to share the forum would limit opportunities to speak. With few exceptions, we invite women to share personal writings only–essays and poetry capturing pieces of their lives, their selves–because herein lies their truth. Womanly truth. Human truth.
This truth is nothing short of transformative–for the writer, and the reader. It is a woman’s being, spoken as art. It is spoken in that third dialect LeGuin calls for, the “wedding and the welding” of the father tongue and the mother tongue. And the world has far too little of it.
One thing [women] incontestably do is have babies . . . But we are not to talk about having babies, because that is not part of the experience of men and so nothing to do with reality, with civilization, and no concern of art: A rending scream in another room. And Prince Audrey comes in and sees his poor little wife dead bearing his son; Or Levin goes out into his fields and thanks his God for the birth of his son. And we know how Prince Audrey feels and how Levin feels and even how God feels, but we don’t know what happened. Something happened, something was done, which we know nothing about. But what was it?
Noelle Carter, winner of Segullah’s first annual poetry contest, has an answer.
I swell as mountains break free from their burning
liquid state. As the center grows hotter, the edges
cool, and lapping energy turns to mud, then stone. I
move slowly, for my crust has formed and is brittle.
Does each cell grunt and yell in effort as it becomes
a house divided, the tiny, wordless cries for release
unheard by me, their universe?
Alone in a room full of people; I am lifted, cut free,
and given to myself.
And there’s plenty more truth where that came from. Take a peek at Segullahâ€™s hot-off-the-press summer issue. Here are personal essays about breastfeeding, quilting, womanly power, womanly guilt, the value of domestic life. An interview with a jive-talking convert. Poems about Mary and Martha, Abish, Eve. Each page reveals the inner workings of womanhood–territory that, if left unexplored, leaves the world bereft of half of humanity’s experience. And leaves half of humanity bereft of the power and transformation that come from knowing themselves.
Sure, some of these topics can be found in mixed-gender forums, here and there. But I daresay many of these contributors would have written differently if for a mixed audience. Some would not have written at all. Why? LeGuin has lots of answers. (So does celebrated linguist Deborah Tannen, whose angle is a lot less inflammatory to non-feminists.) But even if none of them were true–even if the as-written contents of this issue showed up in other publications, piecemeal–the effect would not be the same. Sparks scattered here and there do not a mountain make.
And here’s where I end. There are a million and one things more that I could say, and perhaps a few things more that I should say. But it’s getting hot in here.
That’s what I want: to hear you erupting. You young Mount St. Helenses who don’t know the power in you–I want to hear you.