To speak for your elders, your sensei, your granny or anyone else if they can still speak for themselves. Or even after they are dead, unless you include the words “I think” somewhere in that speach.
I’ve seen much too much assumption in my life that I later checked and found was totally off base and it irritates me to no end. If you are asked to speak for someone, speak in that person’s voice, not your own, not even through the filter of your own wishes and desires. You don’t pick and choose when you’re a spokesman or an interpreter, you speak for and you translate. Don’t edit, censor or explain.
This can apply to objects and a great example is the photograph by Ruth Orkin entitled “An American Girl in Italy” 1951. Go ahead and look it up. This photo is being used right now as an example of “harassment of women by men on the street”. I dunno why, easy to get hold of I suppose, assumption that it’s out of copyright? Regardless, it’s a great example of speaking for your granny, of putting your own agenda atop the life experience of previous generations and it shouldn’t be done.
You see, this particular granny is still alive and living in Toronto Ontario right now at 87 and her name is Ninalee (Jinx) Craig. I know this because she wrote a letter to the Globe and Mail and said “… as long as I breath, I will maintain I was not being harassed in Italy. I was young, free and having the time of my life.” If you’re not old enough to have heard that nickname, it was usually given to someone who sounds just like Ms. Craig.
Now look at that photograph again.
I was raised by working women. Both my grandmothers worked and contributed at least half the income to their families. My paternal granny was a single mother. My mother worked her entire life and was a single mother. My girlfriends and my current wife all worked and continue to work I presume. None of them felt downtrodden or glass ceilinged or victimized any more than the men in their lives, or any less. I think you need to be at least upper middle class (able to survive as a family on one salary) before you can start talking about being oppressed as opposed to having to work for a living. The 50s were five minutes and some folks didn’t have those union jobs at the car factory. My mother would have loved to stay at home and paint instead of working as an X-ray technician. I know because she told me so. Harassed? Sure, harass me right onto the sofa to watch the soaps she might have said.
I suspect there are a great many women out there who might not appreciate having their lives spoken for. I know my mother had lttle time for what my daughter now calls “first world problems”. Like being looked at while walking down the street in Italy. Several years ago a Spanish grad student working in my department angrily cornered me and demanded to know why Canadian men wouldn’t look at her. “She was good looking, she dressed well, she did her makeup well and these jerks wouldn’t even acknowledge that, let alone appreciate just how good looking she was.” It took me a while to calm her down and explain that in Canada if we did what she asked of us we might just get fired.
One woman’s joy in life is another’s harassment. Which has the right to speak for the other?
If you must speak, speak for yourself, not your elders, not your sensei. They have their own voices and their own life experience which is greater than yours. They know where the closets are buried and what’s hidden away from the kids in the back of the skeleton. When you’ve been around long enough to have built the world you live in, comment on that one. Don’t presume to understand the world you’ve been handed, you weren’t there on the street having a blast in Italy. Riding a Vespa in a short dress. Flipping off the boys as you stride by on your way somewhere exciting and, if you’re lucky, maybe a bit scandalous.
I bet my daughter just smiled.