Writing, Identity, & Queer Studies

In & Out, Either/Or, and Everything In Between

Believe us.

“The women feed him, bathe his feet / with tears, bring spices, find the empty tomb, / burst out to tell the men, are not believed. …“ (Kenyon, 42)

These three lines belong to Jane Kenyon’s poem “Depression”. The lines describe the biblical story of the discovery of Christ’s resurrection. The first part “The women feed him, bathe his feet […]” refers to two stories in which Christ was still alive.  The women welcomed him into their home and cared for him and washed his feet with perfume. The second part “[…] with tears, bring spices […]” refers to the biblical story in which the women come to visit Christ’s tomb, to care for him, even in his death. However, they find the tomb empty and when they report to the men waiting outside, they are not believed until one of the men goes into the tomb to see for himself. The verbs ‘feed’, ‘bathe’, ‘bring’, ‘find’ and ‘burst’ are all active on the women’s side, they do this on their own account. Still, the last verb ‘believed’ is put in a passive voice, indicating that the women’s sincerity is only validated by someone else, or rather by a man. Their voice is only heard and acknowledged through someone else – they do not have this advocacy on their own.

In these few lines, a lot of history can be found. Women have a long history of not being believed in all areas of life, but health is a very important one. Often, women talking about issues of health are not taken seriously because people believe them to be weak or whiny. Consequently, a huge number of women has been suffering from medical conditions, often mental health issues, which are not being treated or they have to diagnose themselves. Additionally, relating this to the title of the poem, “Depressions”, people with depression are often not believed concerning their condition and some doctors still refuse to treat it as a serious mental illness. Women and people with depression alike are an important part of society, but as soon as they don’t align completely with the monolithic expectations of society anymore their opinions are dismissed. Furthermore, both are, to a certain extent, subject to the patriarchy, as women, like in the story, need a man’s validation to be heard and similarly the health industry is, like so many others, still strongly influenced by the patriarchy.

What I am trying to say is, that society still lacks a lot in terms of equality and understanding. The women in the biblical story should have been believed and their words should have been accepted to be the truth. Exactly like people who suffer from depression should be believed when they talk about their illness and their opinion should not be questioned by people who don’t believe in it just because they have never experienced it themselves.

2 Comments

  1. I too think the phrase “are not believed” is significant in this passage. Although what if it goes further than to say people with depression are not believed of their condition? I think this line is pertaining to the fact that people don’t believe serious psychological harm can come from hiding your sexual identity and always feeling “different”. This reminds me of one of Sedgwick’s opening lines, “queer teenagers are two to three times likelier to attempt suicide, and to accomplish it, than others” (Sedgwick, 1). The constant denial and dissent placed upon a person, especially in adolescence, can indeed have a harmful effect, whether it is believed by others or not.

  2. I cannot help but to relate this to what is going on today in terms of kavanaugh (yes I intentionally didn’t capitalize his name because he is not deserving of it) being confirmed into the senate. Just like the women in the biblical story should have been believed in Christ being missing from the tomb, Christine Blasey Ford should have been believed by the Senate Judiciary Committee that she was sexually assaulted and that kavanaugh was unfit to be appointed as a supreme court justice. An overwhelming majority of the committee were straight white men. Only 4 out of the 21 members of the committee were women. You mention in your blog post about how people don’t believe in the severity of depression of others when they have not experienced it themselves. In the case of the senate judiciary committee, the men on the committee had never experienced sexual assault themselves, and thus did not empathize or understand the legitimacy of her claims and the significance that an accusation such as sexual assault holds.

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