The Right to Write: Woolf’s Desks and MITA’S Literacy Mission

Dear MITA Women,

It is our organization’s belief that it is essential that women and girls have access to writing utensils, paper, and a writing desk.

woolfdesk
The writing desk of our Founding Mother, Virginia Woolf.

Virginia Woolf warned us of the perils of losing one’s ability to write because of one’s gender, racial, or socioeconomic position in life. The “room of one’s own” of which Woolf wrote is an actual room and a metaphorical one.

Women held in psychiatric institutions are kept in rooms, but often they are not provided with or allowed to have the resources necessary to write. This needs to change, and doing so is MITA’s literacy mission. Women need the time and resources to develop literacy and to use those literacy skills to empower themselves. We want women to know that having a voice is their right and that their stories matter, and we want to reach women who have been silenced or directly had their voice demeaned by systems that see and treat them as non-human entities.

It is, therefore, our organization’s long-term mission to make these tools available to women in the community at least once a month, and more, if possible. One of the most disempowering and degrading aspects of many psychiatric units is that they do not encourage and give patients access to writing materials. Pens and pencils are considered weapons within psychiatric facilities. Not all psychiatric patients are suicidal, and not all psychiatric patients are violent. Patients, if they go out of their way to ask, or beg, for writing materials, are given the minimal: a pencil so small and dull it seems as if it shrank with Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Writing is not encouraged, and is in fact, discouraged, in many psychiatric facilities. MITA operates under the premise that those who are being treated in a psychiatric environment should have times in which they can have safe access to a safe writing utensil. Often, those who end up in psychiatric hospitals are socioeconomically disadvantaged, and so when they return to “life on the outside” they would benefit from being involved in writing activities and given access to writing resources. Not having access to writing materials means that women cannot tell their stories, cannot share what is happening and has happened to them beyond the walls of the institutions. Their voices, their stories, and their truths never leave: they die in the institution.

Raging against the machine is important, but it’s just as important to develop mobility in and out of the machine in order to give the most powerless people within it the most powerful gift we can give: knowledge of their right to write.

MITA needs to work to find out more information about how individual psychiatric facilities make decisions regarding patient rights and about what kinds of access patients have to writing resources.

Woolf's working table, Sussex, 1965 by Gisèle Freund
Woolf’s Working Table, Sussex, 1965; Photograph by Gisele Freund

The right to write is paramount. The right to journal is a must. Madwomen in the Attic is going to work hard to make sure that those women who are most vulnerable are those whose needs we try most to serve. Providing women with access to writing materials is revolutionary.

liste_Les-romancieres-anglaises_737

Access, however, is only part of the problem. Women affected by the psychiatric industry need information: to know the benefits of writing– why writing should matter to them and why it could be crucial to their survival. We cannot always control what happens to us, but with the ability to write about what happens to us, we can find meaning and a reason to survive and overcome. The pen is mightier than the sword because the pen creates something that has a chance of surviving; the sword does not create, it kills. MITA supports the writing lives of women and girls across the globe.

At the first meeting of MITA, we offered pens and yellow pads of paper to every member, and the last word of the evening was an encouragement to write. We are very grateful to St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Williamsville for serving as a MITA Writing Patron by providing our organization with a room of our own, one equipped with a large writing desk that can seat 14-16 writers. We hope that more resources will become available to us. The more writing resources, the better!

We ask that anyone reading this please consider what your privilege allows you to contribute and about how you can help with MITA’s mission. If you cannot attend meetings, there are other ways for you to be involved.

The MITA Literacy Mission:

  1. To acquire pens and writing pads, paper, and journals, through donations from women- and literacy-supportive local businesses that can be used in writing workshops for women in psychiatric units and in writing workshops held outside of psychiatric units by MITA.
  2. To acquire used or affordable copies of works by Virginia Woolf to share with women who have been harmed by the psychiatric industry and to donate to psychiatric institutions.
  3. To build and lobby for MITA Writing Workshops for women incarcerated in psychiatric units.
  4.  To visit and provide writing workshops to women in psychiatric facilities, meeting in a room with “desks” (tables) of some sort; providing them with writing material; informing them about their right to write about their experiences in and out of the mental health system; informing them about our MITA Mission to empower them and to help them tell their stories; providing them with the space, time, and materials to write; supporting and encouraging them; serving as MITA Writing Tutors and Advocates; offering them writing assistance, and providing them with opportunities to join MITA once they are out of the psychiatric facility; and providing a space for their stories to be told, anonymously if they choose, whether through MITA or another platform.

Our goal is for our members to be or become both readers and writers and for our member-advocates to become MITA Writing Advocates. You can sponsor a writer, or be a MITA Writing Patron, by providing writing materials for one or more writers. If you have writing resources, whether you know how to write, you have books and journals to donate, you possess knowledge about running a community-based organization of any kind, you are able to tutor writers, or you can offer help in some other way — or your are interested in becoming a MITA Writing Advocate or MITA Writing Patron, please contact our organization through this website, on Facebook, or at madwomenofwny@gmail.com.

las horas virginia woolf escribiendo

Lastly, we would like to share a writing opportunity with members and friends of MITA. The Buffalo Disability Writing and Art Collaborative reached out to our organization recently to invite those involved with or connected to MITA to submit materials for their upcoming book project. If you or someone you know in the Western New York area identifies as having a cognitive difference or disability or identifies as a consumer, survivor, or ex-inmate, please see the flyer below and consider submitting work. We encourage you to pick up your pens and submit your stories to a wonderful project.

In Solidarity,

Jessica and Melissa, MITA-Cofounders

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