“Do you not know I am a woman? What I think, I must speak”
Shakespeare’s little joke gets a laugh from audiences even today when Rosalind says this in As You Like It. Women are gasbags, shrews and scolds, vixens and viragos. Women gossip and tittle-tattle, prattle and natter, rabbit and jabber …. through the ages women’s words have been derided, denied, and deleted.
My new pamphlet, A Public Tongue, starts by telling the story of Veronica Franco, one of the “honest courtesans” of sixteenth century Venice, women valued as much for their intelligence and delightful company as their beauty. When she openly engaged in the poetry contests of the day her witty, erotic verse caused a sensation. The Inquisition condemned her “public tongue” and, when plague struck the city, they had their excuse to silence her. Accused of witchcraft Franco defended herself and won, but was stripped of money and goods, dying soon after in poverty and obscurity.
Speaking up and speaking out can be a difficult and dangerous business, even now. It seems to me women’s voices are being drowned out all around the world.
Is there anyone else out there enraged by what they see on their TV screens? Women gang raped in India; sold as child brides in Niger, and as slaves in Syria; trafficked across Europe; abducted and lost in the forests of Nigeria; made to confess to immorality for singing and dancing in Iran; shot in the head for going to school, then daring to blog about rights denied, in Pakistan?
I feel the need to exercise my public tongue. Do You?