Sharing your story is the best way to effect change
Philip Ellison 03 March, 2016 at 04:03
“I have never, not for one moment, regretted my abortion.” In a personal essay published by Cosmopolitan this week, actress Amy Brenneman has told, in very frank terms, the story of how she made the decision to terminate a pregnancy at the age of 21.
Why go public about such a private, sensitive subject? Brenneman believes that lending not only her voice, but her own story, to the on-going debate surrounding women’s health and reproductive rights in the US can only help the cause. And she welcomes others to join her.
“I once asked Nancy Keenan, former president of NARAL, why the marriage equality movement had gained so much ground while the reproductive justice movement seemed to be moving in reverse,” she says. “She answered with a simple word: stories.” She cites the overwhelming support received by same-sex couples who shared accounts of not being treated as equal to other couples, from being denied access to their partners’ hospital rooms to being unable to adopt children together.
We have seen this time and again. Campaigns for equal rights, for international development, for crisis relief, all follow a common pattern; people engage more when there is a single narrative to follow, the plight or lived experience of a single person. Most recently, the Department for International Development has used VR to scale down the vast Syrian refugee crisis into individual narratives which make the situation feel far realer than a standard news report could, fostering a greater degree of empathy in the process.
“This makes sense to me,” says Brenneman. “I am a storyteller by trade, after all. I believe that we connect and learn by the specifics of stories, our own and others’. I am also a believer in taking our private stories public, where the residue of shame — even the shame we were not aware we had — gets evaporated in the light of community and shared experience. We women are especially susceptible to shame for all sorts of reasons: psychological, societal, biological. Tendrils of shame have a tendency to pull us back into the habit of silence, but clearly silence isn’t doing us any good.”