Dumbwomanslane? What kind of name is that?

On the way into the picturesque towns of Rye and Winchelsea on England’s south coast, there’s a twisting, turning, hair-pin-bend ridden, narrow country road called Dumb Woman’s Lane. It’s a favorite site for tourists and travellers in the area who enjoy taking pictures of themselves with the sign! .imgres-1images-4

It’s also curious.

Why, in an area known for some of England’s most fabulous women – writers such as Virginia Woolf, Catherine Cookson, Angela Carter even Beatrix Potter spent time here, artists and actors – Dame Ellen Terry, Dame Anna Massey – the list is extraordinary – is there a road with such a demeaning, insulting name?

Or is it?

It’s part of our knee-jerk culture to immediately suppose that the Dumb Woman of the eponymous lane was stupid, ignorant or a fool.

But there are at least two different versions of how the street got its name: one that it used to be a main thoroughfare for smugglers bringing lace, brandy and tobacco from France into England in the 14th through 19th centuries and that one poor, hapless soul saw contraband being hauled up the lane, and her tongue was cut out so she couldn’t tell anyone, or that a woman who was mute used to dispense herbal remedies in the area, and the street became known as “Dumb Woman’s Lane.”

So why choose Dumb Womans Lane as the name for my blog? I am surely a woman, and I am not, nor have I ever been, dumb – in any sense of the word. Yet sadly in many countries women are still considered “dumb” or “chattels” or even worse, domestic slaves, and so for them – and for all women who have no voice – here’s a place where I can spout. I can say the unsayable, write the unrepeatable and generally ROAR as I said in my opening post.

Like Peter Finch said in the movie “Network” so many years back – “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!” So watch out politicians, injustices, anyone whom I think deserves calling out for any reason – dumbwomanslane will not go quietly into this good night. This woman is not dumb. No way!

The Pressure to Feel

Israel’s Ariel Sharon is dying – and I feel an extraordinary pressure to try and find something positive to say. But I can’t. The man who countenanced and permitted the massacres in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut in 1982 which resulted in the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of Palestinians – is preparing to meet his maker, and I’m wondering what that encounter might look like.

The eulogies of course, are bound to be full of plaudits and revisionist history. His courage, his ability to seize victory from the jaws of defeat, his tenacity and his obstinacy.

Ever a man of strong convictions and contradictions, Ariel Sharon was loved by the Israeli right wing and loathed by Palestinians and most Arabs. His flamboyant displays of bravado, including the notorious visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in September 2000 which arguably provoked the Second Intifada, resulting in the deaths of yet more Palestinians (over 2,000) and Israelis (over 1,000), were his signature.

After years of covering the Middle East and especially Israel and the Palestinians, I wish I could feel something as this divisive figure prepares to shuffle off his mortal coil. But I don’t. Not a thing. Just a realization that my ambivalence is probably my loudest shout. Or as Morales sings in “Chorus Line” —
I dug right down to the bottom of my soul
And cried ’cause I felt nothing.”

A New Voice for a New Year

There comes a time in every woman’s life when the pressure to stand up and speak her mind appears, first like a wraith swirling in from the mists, and then like Stonehenge – strong, indubitable, eternal. Setting up the platform, finding the location, and then screwing up the courage to say – Hey World this is ME! I have something to say. And I’d appreciate a few moments of your time to hear me out.

That’s my challenge – and it’s one I accept, as of now.

So bear with me as the pages are made up and the ploughshares and pruning hooks all get beaten into shape.

The pressure grows. And as the saying goes, “I am woman! Hear Me ROAR!”