A recent commenter on my post, “Live Free or Die” expressed the view that those who cannot speak for themselves deserve a voice as well. And that got me thinking about giving voice to the voiceless.
If someone or something is truly voiceless, it would seem a little presumptuous to appoint oneself as the speaker for that voiceless being. But all too often those who “give voice to the voiceless” are simply engaging in a ventriloquist’s act–and making the voiceless into their dummy.
The demands and desires that emerge are not necessarily the demands and desires of the voiceless, they are the demands and desires of the ventriloquist, who tries to make it appear as if they are coming from the voiceless.
Often those who are called “voiceless” are not really voiceless at all. I remember, when defending my history thesis on Whiteclay, NE and the history of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, I was questioned about my lack of recommendations for resolving the continual problems of violence and alcohol abuse there.
My response was that I am not qualified to speak for the Oglala Lakota people, and if I tried to tell them what to do, I’d just be “one more white person trying to solve the ‘Indian problem.'” Often, so-called minority groups are referred to as “voiceless” because they’re simply not listened to.
I do, of course, speak for my own minor child, but I do not mistake my voice for his. He has his own clear and opinionated voice, and he is quite good at making his own desires heard. However, as his mother, I am responsible for making decisions for him, and for approving those decisions he makes on his own.
Some would like to give voice to the voiceless in women’s wombs. That seems like a noble cause, though I would prefer not to have my uterus involved in a ventriloquism act. For better or worse, a fetus does not have a voice. Those who want to give the fertilized egg, the embryo, or the fetus a voice are giving it their own voice.
The real problem comes when those who would perform a ventriloquism act with women’s wombs drown out the voices of the owners of those wombs, creating yet another wave of voicelessness. But women can speak, and vote, for themselves, even if the ventriloquists aren’t listening. And I am interested to see what they say in November.