If you haven’t heard of my lovely friend from afar, Thordis Elva, you should. She’s an incredible writer and activist who I met a few years ago at Sydney’s ‘All About Women’ festival, where she was touring with her book, ‘South of Forgiveness’. If you haven’t seen her TED talk, it’s a great place to start. It’s a masterclass in bravery and courage, but also creativity and honesty when it comes to storytelling.
Thordis also has great Instagram game, and I’ve enjoyed following her journey in the years that I’ve known her through the online platform. She is a uniqely wonderful storyteller through that medium, making people from around the world feel like close friends. Part of that magic comes through the way she has brought us into her life: the way she shared her powerful pregnancy experience last year for example, was deeply inspiring, in the truest sense of the word.
Thordis was carrying twins. Her water broke early, and she was then forced into bedrest for weeks. The journey was harrowing, but against all odds the Icelandic powerhouse gave birth to two healthy boys (mashallah), despite doctors telling her that they would almost certainly not survive the early trauma. As she shares pictures and videos of the boys growing up, I feel like a far away God-mother they don’t know they have. The ‘army of light’ she calls us, those around the world who prayed and wished good luck from afar. Every time I think of Acer and Swan (the two boys), I think of the power of motherhood, community, and the possibility of social media for good.
Watching Thordis’s instagram story yesterday, I was greeted with something a little different. Elva is an activist for women’s equality and rights - has always been - and as such had been in vocal opposition to the recent Georgia abortion ban. Seemingly some folks had taken it upon themselves to question her legitimacy in doing so. Thordis responded with a history of her work, the many films, books and policies she created, and presented a CV that very clearly tells a story of a woman dedicated to the cause. ‘You go girl!’ I thought to myself, as I learnt about what this woman - who I knew was powerful but didn’t know the specifics - had achieved over the years. I reached out and shared my admiration, but also my personal struggles with owning my history and narrative. Thordis replied with such wisdom, I thought I must share it with you all today.
She talked about how even though talking about what we’ve done may not always feel comfortable, the reality is that as women (and in my case, especially as Muslim women or women of colour), our histories and legacies are so often forgotten. Not even just forgotten, they’re actively erased, eradicated, pushed out of the record books. It hurts, but we’re surrounded by that truth. Take a walk through any museum, art gallery or history section in the library. Even Muslims, following a religion that was founded on the idea of equal rights for all - have found ways to sideline the stories of women, ignore their perspectives and minimise their contributions. It’s so important, Thordis said to me, that we share and record our own achievements and histories. We must shout them from the rooftops, not just for our own egos, but for those who come after us. So that the work we do is not forgotten, is not scratched out, so that people don’t continue reinventing the equality wheel and imagining noone else has done it before.
It made me reframe two things in my mind: one, the importance of sharing what I have been able to do (with the grace of Allah, of course) so that people know it can be done and it has been done. Secondly, it made me question the number of times I have been considered the ‘first’ to do something - wear a headscarf in a particular school, company, department, the ‘youngest’ to start a youth organisation, the first Muslim to do XYZ… how do we know there haven’t been others? There may well have been, and we’ve just forgotten. It’s a welcome, humbling and urgent thought.
What do you think? How important is it for us as individuals to be involved in maintaining and recording our legacies and histories? What do you think about all of this?