Hysterical: A Night of Stories Encourages Women to Take Up More Space

The voices of women and non-binary folx are often left behind, or deemed as too harsh, too brash, too much or hysterical. An event in Toronto tonight, Oct. 2 at the Tranzac Club, is aiming to break down this barrier – allowing a place for women & nonbinary speakers to take up space and others to listen to them.

Hysterical: a night of stories will provide a stage for an incredible group of speakers to share their perspectives, reminding them and the audience that their voices are not “too much,” rather they deserve to be heard. We had a chat with event organizer Ameema Saeed to learn more.

What was the inspiration behind this event? 

All of our events are meant to be a space for feelings & storytelling, & Hysterical is no different. We wanted to use this event to honour the word’s roots in the medicalization & institutionalization of people with wombs, throughout history. But we also wanted to use this event to speak out about the ways women & queer & nonbinary folks are gaslighted, diminished, undermined, & made to feel like they are too much. We wanted to create a space to be unapologetic, unashamed, unafraid, and unencumbered by the weight of everyone else’s expectations. We want to use this event to capture a breadth of stories by women & nonbinary folks, to show the different ways they resonate with being called Hysterical – to have them take up the space that they so often have to fight & claw for; to show up, and be ‘too’ emotional, or loud, or angry.

 

What are you hoping audience members take away from this event?

I want audience members to take away two things from this event.
  1. I want them to create & hold space for our speakers – to hear their stories, to listen, to empathize with our storytellers, who are going up on stage, getting vulnerable, and telling you what being Hysterical can mean. Each of our storytellers will be sharing a different perspective, and it’s important to me that our audience really listens to each of them.
  2. You, too, can take up space; and you should take up space. You might have to claw for it, fight for it, but it’s worth it… People may try to diminish, discount, & discredit you – but I want you to know you don’t have to be quiet and demure and nice. You don’t have to make yourself more digestible to others – it’s okay to get angry to be sad, & to be hysterical. You are not ‘too much’, you are just enough.

 

How did you go about curating the lineup of speakers?
As with all of our events, I try to be really intentional & thoughtful about who I reach out to, about speaking at this event. I’m always on the hunt for potential speakers — We always have speaker submissions open on our website; I get a lot of recommendations from my colleagues, & other people we’ve worked with in the past; I do frequent searches of relevant hashtags on Instagram & Twitter; if I read a book or a poem, or an Instagram caption I love, I always check if the speaker lives in Toronto, or The Greater Toronto Area. I send a lot of DMs and cold emails, I put open calls on social media, and as I go about my life and meet more and more really awesome people, I’m constantly looking for opportunities where we might be able to feature them at one of our events.
I always want a variety of speakers, and I want to give space to voices that are so often marginalized: women, nonbinary folks, queer folks, racialized folks – and although I am thrilled about our 10 storytellers for this event, this lineup was not without its own struggle, because I found that this event was particularly challenging to recruit speakers for. I think this topic is still very close to a lot of people, in ways that makes it a hard one to talk about. Women & marginalized folks, especially racialized folks are so often told that they are too loud, too angry, too emotional. Too much.
Women of colour – especially Black women are reduced to tropes of being ‘angry, Black women’, or having “fiery” tempers. Ex girlfriends are somehow always “crazy”. Women’s smiles are deconstructed and measured, their tone & their body language analyzed – it’s a lot. And I think it’s something that’s still too close to a lot of us, and maybe too hard to talk about.
I’m hoping creating spaces like this will help – will show our speakers, and the people in our audience that they can take up space with their messy, complicated emotions; that their feelings & their stories matter, and that they can absolutely be art.

 

Storytelling can be a powerful way of understanding the experiences of others. What kind of experiences are you hoping to highlight by featuring these different storytellers? 
Women & nonbinary folks are diminished, gaslighted, & made to feel small in so many ways. All ten of our storytellers have a different perspective & different experiences with being told they are too much, too emotional, or too hysterical. From talking about their experiences with mental illness, or institutionalization, to activism, or reclaiming your body, & your agency through sexuality – these storytellers are taking up space unapologetically.

 

Have there been times when someone has referred to you as “hysterical” or “too much,” and how did you respond to that? 
Absolutely. More often than I can even count. I wish I could say that I always had a pithy, razor sharp comeback, but unfortunately that’s not the case. I’m still learning to take up space, to fight for it, and to be authentic to my emotions – even the ones that are “too much.”

 

Do you think hearing these stories will help other women embrace the notion of taking up more space? 
Oh, I fucking hope so.

 

What advice would you give to younger women who feel like society is trying to put out their fire? 
It sounds trite to say “don’t let them” – but I’ll say it anyways. People will try to extinguish your spark, but you need to remember that your feelings matter, what you have to say matters.
How can other women better support each other?
There are a lot of ways that women can better support each other – by creating space for each other, especially more marginalized women (queer & trans women, women of colour) & nonbinary folks. By not “tone policing,” especially women of colour, & especially Black women.
However, I think we also need to put a huge onus on men, & the people in positions of privilege to support women, to create spaces for them (physically & emotionally). To not discredit, disbelieve, or diminish their emotions. To be cognizant of the language they use, the ways they talk about women, and women’s feelings. All of these things seem small, but they add up!

Hysterical: a night of stories will be at the Tranzac Club tonight (Oct. 2) at 7PM. Tickets available here.

Cassandra Popescu