Sunday, February 3, 2008

using 'women's work' to add eloquence

Susan Cooke Kittredge combines heritage with eloquence -- and uses needlework, specifically mending -- to do so in a "This I Believe" essay broadcast this morning on National Public Radio. (You can read the essay and hear the audio of Kittredge reading it here.) It's an excellent example of an eloquent woman who doesn't shy from describing what's known as 'women's work' to make her points. She sets the analogy early in the short essay:
...I believe in mending. The solace and comfort I feel when I pick up my needle and thread clearly exceeds the mere rescue of a piece of clothing. It is a time to stop, a time to quit running around trying to make figurative ends meet; it is a chance to sew actual rips together. I can't stop the war in Iraq, I can't reverse global warming, I can't solve the problems of my community or the world, but I can mend things at hand. I can darn a pair of socks.
But what takes this essay to eloquence comes later, as Kittredge uses sewing and mending to lead into the description of her grandmother's rape at age 78 by an intruder. She stitches us a progression, from her grandmother's sewing prowess and her own failed attempts, to the rape and her grandmother's subsequent focus on mending, rather than making, clothes, as a way of healing. Kittredge uses her skills as a minister and her heritage as daughter of Alistair Cooke, the noted British broadcaster, no doubt--but it's her willingness to share and describe women's work as a metaphor for women's woes that moves us. While this metaphor has been used before in history, today we see a backlash, a double-edged sword for women seeking to employ the feminine approach in public speaking--a tactic that nonetheless works for men in public view. Yet, as a writer and a speaking coach, I know you're at your most eloquent and most effective when you can speak this way: from the heart, from your experience and from your own viewpoint.