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Book Review

Speak Out! Talking About Love, Sex and Eternity

Dawn Menken

2001 Tempe, Arizona: New Falcon Publications

In her book, Speak Out! Talking About Love, Sex and Eternity (Tempe, Arizona: New Falcon Publications, 2001) Dawn Menken recounts the story of Socrates’ refusal to teach a student. The father came to Socrates, asking him to teach his boy. “I’m sorry,” Socrates told the man, “I cannot teach your son.” “But, I am rich, and will give you lots of money if you’ll accept my son as your student,” the father rejoined. “No,” said Socrates, “I cannot teach your boy because he does not love me.”

In the tradition of Socrates, Menken recognizes that to learn, one must be moved. Her book of stories moves us in order to teach us. Speak Out! is a worldwork reader, a personal narrative about the pain of marginalization, and the insights and strengths that can come from it. Blending personal memoir with social commentary and worldwork theory, Menken takes the reader on a learning journey through humorous and painful terrain, showing us paths that lead to personal freedom and social transformation.

Speak Out! covers a rich array of diverse issues. Many of Menken’s stories deal directly with the oppression of marginalized groups. In one story, she shares the difficulties she encountered growing up Jewish in an anti-Semitic neighborhood, and the insights and gifts that grew out of that struggle. Menken also addresses the world of love and relationships, sexuality and gender. Particularly moving are stories of her spiritual journey. “Mother and Child” is a poignant celebration of the spiritual bond between mother and child, a bond that transcends life, birth and even conception. The diverse topics in Speak Out! are united in the task of illustrating the power of worldwork, a psychological and spiritual approach to social and political issues. With each story, Menken reveals worldwork’s central principle, that to address tyranny, we must grapple with the tyranny within, the “way we disavow or exclude aspects of our experience and cement identities that inhibit us from expressing our expansive natures.” Her stories offer hope, courage and tools for how to wrest the gifts of insight and awareness from life’s struggles.

Many of the stories in Speak Out! touch upon growing up in a world of conventional messages that limit a woman’s self-expression. Menken shares with us her coming-of-age stories of struggling to love her unique self. Speak Out! demonstrates the role that personal work can play in addressing and redressing social inequities. For instance, “The Best for You” is a sensitive exploration of internalized oppression and colonization, and how repressing our nature parallels the repression of marginalized groups. Menken shows the interplay of the personal and political in the dynamics of projection. She demonstrates a main tenet of worldwork, that the inner and outer are one. “The mainstream colonizes itself, partitioning off behavior that then remains inaccessible except in the form of stereotypes and prejudices.… This is the painful horror: we in the mainstream use those whom we have rejected in order to rediscover parts of ourselves. Our dreams at night are filled with a diversity of people in order to connect us with the projections that we have on them.”

The beauty of the book lies in Menken’s ability to deal with difficult subjects with humor and mischief. Like the child in the fairy tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” Menken conveys simple, naked truths, which are painfully obvious once revealed, but tend to be obscured by cultural norms and social mores. In one of her essays, “Looking for God,” Menken recounts her lifelong interest in God and religion. As a young child, she remembers sitting in Synagogue, excited and anxious to see God, then bitterly disappointed when he didn’t show up. Years later, she discovered what had always fascinated her about Catholicism, that a baby was the object of worship: “A baby who was God! I let it sink in—people worshipped a baby. Big strong men and women who seemed so self-sufficient with all the answers prostrated themselves before a baby.”

Speak Out! reveals the beauty in diversity. While not flinching before the pain of oppression, it gives us tools and ideas with which to understand our own journeys to liberation. Using her self as a doorway to awareness, Menken touches the heart of the reader. By sharing her pains and triumphs, she creates an intimate environment where the deepest learnings may flourish.