By Rylee Sommers-Flanagan*
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about women in collective knowledge and culture. Maybe it started with the Texas history book scandal – yes, it’s scandalous that a single conservative Board of Education can strong-arm textbook makers into rewriting history to exclude, among many other people and events, the Seneca Falls Convention, Harriet Tubman, and Abigail Adams’ letters to her husband. Or maybe it was when I was reading the article about women athletes in the media securing less than 4% of sports news in 2009. It also could have had something to do with the Opinionator blog article in the New York Times called “Lady Power,” featuring Lady Gaga and contemporary hook-up culture as one version of self-defeating and intrinsically contradictory New Age Feminism.
I find myself complaining about modern-day media coverage, the demographics of leadership, and public school history textbooks as special victims of a greater frustration. It’s a generational and a feminist frustration, stemming from a visceral sort of desire to have my ideas respected and my experiences validated. And so, with a mind to represent women of liberal sensibility in the throes of youthful self-reflection, I am going to write about these things that concern me, which I expect will reappear with thematic precision throughout my life.
But before I dive into discourse on the feminist nature of my soul, I am going to deliver a disclaimer. What inspired the proviso was unearthed in the midst of a graduation-speech-writing free-for-all. It was Nobel Laureate, Wislawa Szymborska’s speech, and it imbued my own resultant speech with energy. In her words, “All sorts of torturers, dictators, fanatics, and demagogues struggling for power…’know.’ They know, and whatever they know is enough for them once and for all. They don’t want to find out about anything else, since that might diminish their arguments’ force…[The phrase “I don’t know”] is small, but it flies on mighty wings. It expands our lives to include the spaces within us as well as those outer expanses in which our tiny Earth hangs suspended.”
Those words were like a beacon of hope for me, the know-it-all, the never-wrong-always-right. My curiosity, questions, uncertainty—it all felt suddenly sanctioned by this wise woman. Not knowing was now a space to wonder and pursue hypotheses, without needing to tie myself to sureness or final answers.
So here’s the qualification; I don’t know much.
But Szymborska and her speech function as more than motivation to condition what I say. I see her words as a new structure built on an old idea, originally constructed by Socrates, who famously said, “I only know that I know nothing.” Szymborska is my exemplar of a woman who has added to human understanding and accomplishment, been duly recognized for it and been willing to spread her ideas and opinions.
In writing my next few posts for The Real Deal, my goal is to talk about some women and issues not often talked about, and to bring a fresh perspective to some contemporary ubiquitous women (e.g. Lady Gaga, Hillary Clinton) and issues (e.g. the “hook-up culture”). My frame is exploration; because I have learned from the curious ancestors that not knowing where you’re headed makes the adventure all the more adventurous.
*Rylee Sommers-Flanagan is a Communications Intern and a student at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, where she is pursuing a degree in International Studies