Tricia Dower: Silent Girl

by Rachel Baker on April 7, 2008

I used to think the Virginia Slim tag line “We’ve come a long way, Baby!” was empowering and celebrated the achievements women have made in the last hundred years in gaining equality.  Women can own property, women can vote; women can be working mothers or stay at home mothers without society telling them which path is better. Women can be CEOs, Presidents of Universities, Scientists, and Jet Engine Mechanics. Women can be anything they want to be.

On the surface, women have certainly come a long way.  What about under the surface?  Women are still kidnapped and given away as brides for financial gain.  Girls are still sold into the sex slave trade. In some cultures, women are socially isolated just because they are women.  There’s still a great deal that happens behind closed doors while society chooses to look the other way.   Domestic abuse against women is still very prominent in all areas of the world.  Few women are counseled on how to overcome the pattern of abuse in their lives.  Sure, through therapy they become aware of this pattern, but are they taught how to overcome it?

I just read a book that left me wondering, not about what women are still subjected to, but what can we do to help change the old ways of thinking about the role of a woman in different cultures.

Silent Girl by Tricia Dower is a powerful collection of short stories that takes on us a roller coaster ride into the lives of fictional women inspired by the women in eight Shakespearean plays.  Dower explores issues that include: gender politics, inter-racial relationships, forced marriages, incest, domestic violence, and sexual slavery.  Each can be found in Othello, The Tempest, Hamlet, Pericles, The Taming of the Shrew, The Winter’s Tale, Coriolanus, and Twelfth Night.  Dower took Shakespearean characters and imagined what that character’s modern day story would be like.

Through research, Dower found real-time examples of these issues in the cultures of twentieth and twenty-first centuries Canada, Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, and the United States.  Dower’s characters range between prepubescent and grandmotherly. Each of the characters deals with patriarchal value systems, subtle and not so subtle abuse, and social isolation on some level in just about every story.

Each story in this robust collection is haunting in its own right. Dower has successfully woven a web of thought-provoking stories that cry out for someone…anyone…to help abolish oppression of all classifications. After reading this collection, one can’t help but wonder if women’s lives have really changed at all.

When you think about the inspiration of this book and the collection of stories encompassing Silent Girl, you can’t help but wonder how far society has really come. Dower did a great job touching on the inner conflicts, as well as the cultural conflicts, of both genders that lead to oppression, abuse, and social isolation.  Silent Girl is an interesting study on both sides of the issues touched upon.  While there is not much blatant psychological exploration, there is a great deal of opportunity for reflection on the “why” of these social problems.  Silent Girl is a good starting point for deftly exploring what it will really take, as a society, to impact the oppression in this world.

Silent Girl by Tricia Dower (ISBN no. 978-0-9808822-0-9) is scheduled to come out May 2008.  I recommend picking up a copy for two reasons.  One, its well written and tells some incredible stories.  Two, its thought-provoking and does more than just create awareness to issues we may not be exposed to in our own little tiny individual universes.

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