Sometimes people speak and I just feel a bit… uncomfortable. Y’know, like when you see someone giving their child the bollocking of a lifetime that seems just a little bit too extreme, but you can’t decide whether or not you’re overreacting.
I feel like that a lot.
As I become an older woman, I feel this discomfort more and more. Throwaway comments become less and less easy to ignore. And I question my apologism in the face of other people’s opinion. When I was young enough for life to move like machine gun fire, I didn’t really have time to mull or give these awkward feelings the consideration they deserve, but now I have the benefit of time. Not a lot, granted, but *some* time.
Like now, for example. I am clacking away at the old laptop while our little daughter pokes other children with a pointy stick in the name of sport. She’s about as privileged as it’s possible to be without having a pony and a Bentley, but her future still makes my shit itch because I feel like she is suddenly standing still.
Not literally, of course. For all this floral waffling, I think it’s quite obvious what I’m trying to say here. At some point, all our careful and deliberate ‘empowerment through education’ and practiced gender neutrality will be rendered fucking pointless through a word or a deed that will make her feel a bit shit, but maybe not strong enough to give it a name or call it out.
She will feel like that a lot.
I’m not alone, of course. I see evidence of widespread taut-faced smiles and fake semi-apologetic laughter every day. Because it’s all just a birrova laugh, innit? Not meant to be taken ‘that way’. But good intentions and the context of ‘edgy banter’ don’t change the fact that this insidious behaviour and language entrenched in years of ignorance and oppression is at our expense – and at best clumsy, at worst dangerous. And simply because we don’t find it funny or appreciate your appropriated opinions, it doesn’t make us wrong. Or sour. Or the enemy. It just makes us human and capable of feeling deflated, intimidated, stupid and hurt.
And we feel like that a lot.
We told each other to be strong while the world changed for our children. We took the shit and subverted it with learning accumulated from generations of fear and futility. We started to talk openly and without anxiety, turning the tables as we spoke about the wrongs we encounter and that which makes us women – sexuality, birth, sexual health, beliefs, femininity, rape, abortion, who we choose to love – and took true ownership of the gifts our great-grandmothers gave us. We became stronger and wiser and braver. And it felt good! Even in spite of all the hideous shit the world insisted upon flinging at us.
It felt true and it felt purposeful. It felt right.
But through the combined actions of the few our world filled with wars, terrorism, global recession, millions of displaced people – and the availability of an open forum on which to spout accumulated anger on the world – and suddenly the future we planned for our kids is at threat of landing squarely on its arse.
The new world order is simply a by-product of the fear of the forced change. Anger and fear turns to blaming and scaremongering and we’re in the throes of a darkness driven by nostalgia and a yearning for a world that simply cannot exist anymore. It is the manipulation of this terror used as a tool for politics and personal power that has seen the language and actions we have long challenged on behalf of the future being used against us. Such is the dramatic exertion of influence that it’s taken mere seconds to filter down as acceptable behaviours.
And in a flash, we feel lonely and hurt and fearful. All over again.
21st January gave me hope. Hope is powerful and vast. Hope has kept people alive against all odds and changed the world. Hope manifests itself in all shapes and forms and on this day, which will go down in history, hope became human, global, vocal and fearless. The images from across the world showed solidarity and sisterhood, kindness and humour, anger and resolve. They made me feel less alone and have done every day since. But it’s only been four days. Four days where I have already seen and felt the effects of a newly altered world. In eight days it will be harder. Sixteen, harder still. I can’t see into the future, but I can feel it.
We need to be like the five million, all of the time. Be brave and don’t cry. Speak up and bludgeon the fuckers into submission with your dreams and expectations. Be the resolute women our grandmothers were and change the world all over again. Talk is not cheap and words are damaging. They shape opinions and influence actions, so make your responses count. If something you hear sounds wrong, ask the person saying it to repeat their words. When something is said twice, it’s no longer throwaway. It becomes real. Ask why, demand clarification, be polite, make ‘em squirm.
So, don’t be like me. I have been a fucking idiot. But I’m going to try harder. For my little girl, for my husband, for my nieces and nephew, for my friends and their children. For you.