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Culture

From Trauma to Triumph – A Review of Her Voice: Greek Women and Their Friends

November 8, 2023
By Dr. Eleni Tsefala

Varvara Athanasiou-Ioannou’s anthology, Her Voice: Greek Women and Their Friends (2021), presents a compelling collection of 42 narratives, each depicting the lives of women in Australia. Together, these stories form a vivid tapestry that weaves the past and present of contemporary post-war Australian reality.

These narratives resonate as authentic voices, echoing the myriad challenges that these women have confronted while living in Australia. Their stories are a chorus of immediacy, resilience, and insight, painting a picture of tenacity in the face of adversity.

In essence, these stories are a wellspring of inspiration.

These women – immigrants or daughters of migrants – belong to different geographical areas (mainly of Greek origin – first and second post-war generations), professions, cultures and beliefs. They share personal aspects of their lives and complexities they have faced in order to discover themselves. Emotional reserves, mental and physical stamina are essential to achieve goals, fulfil ambitions and realize dreams.

To realize their goals, ambitions, and dreams, they reveal paths of personal empowerment and ways of creating ‘new’ cultural and social ‘pathways’. They manage to overcome prejudiced behaviors and adversities with vigor by charting unfamiliar territories. They navigate in directions with more possibilities and opportunities. They explore their identity through the recognition of different perceptions and beliefs, the acceptance of diversity, mutual support, integration, awareness (of persons, things and situations in the surrounding space), the necessity of growth and evolution, reconciliation with the ‘self’.

Varvara Athanasiou-Ioannou. (Photo: Courtesy of the author)

Through their narratives, we witness a profound transformation, not through the wave of a magic wand but through the deliberate shattering of ingrained prejudices and stereotypes. While women’s rights, including gender equality, have been ardently advocated for, it’s evident that even in the modern societies of the Western world, there persists significant social resistance to providing women with equal opportunities, especially for migrants.

The narrators assert that women today continue to demand the right to freedom of thought, speech, and action, essential pillars of democracy, human development, progress, innovation, and problem-solving. These freedoms, which we often take for granted, remain a battle for many. Challenges persist, even in advanced social systems, particularly for migrant women.

Within each narrative, we encounter fragments that contribute to the oral history of post-war Australia and Greece, shedding light on various factors that shape women’s roles worldwide. These stories serve as bridges connecting women from diverse backgrounds, allowing them to share knowledge, ideas, and perspectives, fostering a collective force for problem-solving and positive change. These women, entrepreneurs, freelancers, politicians, civil servants, and scientists, chronicle their adventures, accomplishments, and significant societal contributions, always guided by a strong sense of purpose.

Politics and education hold a significant place in their lives. Leadership roles empower them to create conditions that benefit society as a whole, while education equips them to pursue their dreams without facing unnecessary obstacles. Art, in all its forms, serves as a means of communication, allowing them to express emotions through their unique aesthetics, influenced by their cultural heritage.

Above all, these Greek women firmly believe that “goods are acquired with hard work” (“Τα αγαθά κόποις κτώνται”).

Their stories underscore shared experiences and record a collective mapping of human relationships. There is potential for further exploration of narratives from women in other cultural migration contexts, enabling us to ‘listen’ to Her Voice, woven from the fabric of memory, forgetting, sensations, imagination, dreams, and expectations, transcending the visible urban landscape as we know it.

Some may perceive a feminist perspective in these stories, but at its core, it is a quest for gender equality, rather than domination. It’s a search for unconditional love, not a struggle for power. It’s a pursuit of an environment for creation, not conquest. These women emphasize the importance of forming identity through free choices, rather than blindly adopting an identity imposed by others. Once they find their ‘voice’ and their authentic selves, they ascend to leadership roles in the social, political, and scientific fabric of society.

They also recognize the value of periods of silence, acknowledging that internal processes require withdrawal to flourish. Whether it’s called a ‘return to the self,’ introspection, or folding inward, it can serve as a catalyst for soul recovery. ‘Trauma’ may bring about change, but the ‘miracle’ lies in discovering one’s own ‘voice,’ needs, desires, and abilities, in embracing the self.

As I read these stories, I often found myself identifying with the people, events, circumstances, and conflicts depicted. I felt moved. They touch upon common issues that have shaped my own life as a woman within a family, in the professional sphere, and as a child of immigrants.

Varvara Athanasiou-Ioannou, herself an immigrant and an award-winning educator and finalist in GIWA (Greek International Awards), as well as the founder of Food for Thought Network, Inc., 22 years ago, has dedicated her life to sharing her story, professional knowledge, experience, and networks. She has united women’s voices to combat social ‘loneliness,’ particularly during challenging times like the COVID-19 pandemic when isolation became a necessity. She offered her network as a platform for communication in a dystopian landscape. Her motto, “Every crisis comes as an opportunity to change and evolve,” resonates strongly with the themes in this anthology. Through this publication, she provides us with a “counterpart” to redefine the role of women in contemporary society.

While traversing the pages of this book, one cannot help but notice its experiential approach to healing the ‘traumas’ experienced by all women, migrant or not. Each time we venture beyond our comfort zones, our ‘home’, we feel as though we’re in ‘limbo.’  This vertigo stems from the fear of severing the ‘bridges’ to the familiar. Hence, we must return, both physically and mentally, to our origins, immersing ourselves briefly in our own existence, and reevaluate our ‘trauma.’ Ultimately, ‘trauma’ becomes a path to self-discovery, a ‘miracle’ we can all achieve, regardless of the ‘place’ we choose to live and create. Life doesn’t come pre-packaged with ‘meaning’; instead, we must invent it, craft ourselves, and, after forgetting whatever we’ve invented, turn it into a way of life. This journey takes us from ‘trauma’ to ‘miracle.’

Dr. Eleni Tsefala is a philologist, writer/screenwriter, theatrologist, director in theatre and cinema, and an actor.

 

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