May 13, 2011
We exist in a world, interrupted. A world inappropriately handled by our very own contextual experience. When we interact with the other there is an apparent gap between us. An invisible line, which is the proverbial us and them, materialises out of our unseen judgements. We silently walk pass those who might be different to us and subconsciously snub our noses at them. Or maybe you’re at ground zero and you’ve gotten used to your surroundings. If we are ever approached by someone to speak on their behalf we then, without being fully aware, filter all of their life experience through ours. There is a moment where their words get lost in our translation.
We need a better medium.
We need to bridge the violent gap between ‘us’ and ‘them’ that so apparently exists. We need to be translators of their story rather than interpreters of their story. As translators we make room for them to share their experience, we intentionally seek platforms for them to share, if they want. If we interpret their stories, it signifies that there is still a gap present between us and them – and this gap does not need to be present. Interpretation is a process where we take the stage and speak for someone else. It is the process where we take someone else’s life narrative and filter through our own understanding and present their experiences as our own. This is arguably condescending, because it assumes that the victim’s story cannot be uttered independently. Sometimes the stories of another can seem compelling enough to inspire others to help make the world a better place, however, we have to be purposely aware of our intentions when telling the story of another, because sometimes we can get so caught up in the story being about what we did to bring another’s ‘victory’ about. Let’s agree that ‘victims’ are not another notch on the belt of egos.
Sometimes by sharing the victim’s story and not allowing them to do so, empowers the woman to believe the same lie of invaluability that they may have experienced in their life. This is why it’s so important for us to pick up the gauntlet of translator. To be a translator means we are willing to advocate a safe space for the self-expression of each person we encounter and are able to help. This means we stand not in the gap for them, but stand in their corner fighting for them to fill the gap. This is an important distinction and why the role of interpreter is such an influentially dangerous role. Translators reject the notion of being a voice for the voiceless, as poetic as that sounds, as it fundamentally asserts the weakness of the victim and overlooks their resilience. Instead, translators embrace the role of “empower-er” and enabler.
The sex trade is a destructive thing. It devalues, dehumanises and irreparably demands women to become subservient to a corrupt system that tells them that they are essentially a sexual object. It is not just a dark and evil act, but also the new symbol these victims believe as true.
The danger in translating their stories for them is that the status of victimisation and disempowerment is then reinforced. What we need instead is a space where we intentionally seek out platforms for healing and where we make room for these beautiful people to share their stories of incomparable redemption and agony.I think now is the time we intentionally step back and allow space for the voices and stories to be heard, and yes, they need to be heard. If we don’t allow their voices to be heard, we are denying them their place of honour.
When we allow vocal space for narrative expression we then agree that not only is their voice and personality valuable but that each one has a pertinent role in transforming the landscape of what it means to not be a victim but a woman with a life-altering story that must be heard. These women need not be pitied but rather seen as person, a woman; a human being.
A contribution from George Elerick.
George is a cultural theorist, author and human responsibilities advocate. He is also the UK representative for the Network of Spiritual Progressives. He’s written a book entitled ‘Jesus Bootlegged’, check it out. You can find out more about him here: http:/theloverevolution.org.uk