'They Say': The Deady Cost of the Strong Woman Archetype
Updated: Jun 6, 2021
I wrote this poem months ago, feeling lost and unseen, breaking under the weight of an impossible archetype that regarded not my own humanity. It disregarded that I can, like anyone, break under unspeakable pressure, at that time, an oppressive entitlement and tone-deaf cruelty at the state level and in other communities/areas of my life.
So many things felt so unnecessarily imposed on me as if it were some natural state and I an aberrant inconvenience who needed to be trained to take abuse on any number of fronts, abuse for kindness.
It felt like I needed nearly to apologize for existing. If I objected, I was not "a" problem, but "the" problem. That is the issue with systems or people designed and hellbent on advancing or empowering themselves over others, as opposed to acknowledging that we all desire to be heard, to be seen, to have the chance to live full, happy, healthy, and empowered lives.
I thought those were grim days (ha!), and out of those days came "They Say." It is about the experience of living not only as a multi-ethnic woman of color but the heavy expectation of those around me. I buckle under the weight of that and can't be everyone's everything or anything. That dynamic is called "use and abuse." No, thanks.
My sister wanted me to speak this poem, but since pancreatic hell broke loose and this is a piece about speaking and owning my truth, it feels like right here, right now, amid the worst pain I've ever known, is the time and space to share it. I am here to be seen, to be heard, to have a chance to survive and thrive without the same government that claims it wants to help me get on my feet through one of the most disabling conditions one can suffer...disabling me further, imperiling my life, as if I'd just be another dead person of color to whom they would not have to pay disability benefits every month.
I matter, and I will not apologize for existing, nor for needing help, nor for having a rare pancreatic condition that I simply can't manage on my own, no matter what ...they say.
They Say They say I'm articulate
Until they don't like what I articulate
They say I'm exotic, beautiful, rare... Until they decide I'm too much somehow, and discard me, like an old mare Shall I apologize for existing? Must I?
Many times I have fallen from grace, many times seen as an eloquent, wise, glowing avatar They were not really listening I'm wise because of my pain, the scars on my heart taught me to look deeper than the skin-deep visage they can't see beyond, for long Do they really think that's the real me? Do they think they get to speak for me, assign scarlet letters like they are some tribunal and I some deadly threat to innocents? Who are they to know the "who" of me when they don't see the "me"... of me?
I am not merely what they see
They are blind to my pain, my wounds, my heart, with no regard for the real heart they shatter. That never mattered, to them, the "they" who are more apt to shatter hearts than make them matter My narrative, like my power, is not theirs to own
From the ashes, I rose
From the fire, this hell rose grew, found her way
Walked a narrow, perilous path, hope in my heart for better days I don't need their permission to speak to their lies of omission, and insidious commission Am I afraid? Sometimes I am. I know what they fear but I will show them the same kindness they showed me...and I won't think twice of telling truths they'd rather I not set free If it is the truth that liberates, I will do it anyway
Isn't that what they...also...say?