Trying to make sense of a world that seems beyond my control.
How, as a woman, do I start to process the events of the past week?
Monday started so positively with the launch of this project, happily but entirely by chance coinciding with International Women’s Day. It had an almost celebratory feel to it, my Twitter feed flooded with female friends, colleagues and acquaintances empowering, raising up and shouting each other out. But it’s now Friday morning and I feel worn down by what it means to be a woman. Emotionally tired, scared, hurt and worried about the future – not just for me but for my eight-year-old daughter and the social and political landscape she’ll face as she grows up and navigates her way through life.
The fallout from the Meghan Markle interview with Oprah Winfrey has been startling to witness. The polarisation and vehemence of opinion about a woman who has clearly been through the wringer seems completely at odds with the IWD ideal of standing together, in the name of equality and solidarity. I read something by Richard Kay from the Daily Mail, about the ‘row’ between Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton, which used tired, lazy and outdated tropes to compare the two women and my heart sank. Kate was described as “gracious and deferential” (i.e passive and quiet), Meghan “impetuous and outspoken” (i.e spontaneous and opinionated), with the underlying implication that women ought to shut up and be some 1950s version of a gentle, submissive housewife. What upset me even more than these obsolete ideals however, was the tactic of comparing women to one another – insinuating that a woman can only be successful when she’s doing something better than another one. Why does it have to be a competition? Why must journalists and commentators with high profile public platforms turn women's lives into some kind of long-term, real-life popularity contest? And why do we buy into it? There is a level of complicity we must all acknowledge when we talk about, form opinions about and commentate on these women.
Moreover, where does it end? Looking closer to home, how do we talk about the women in our own lives? Do we draw the line at comparing ourselves with each other? No. Do we draw the line at talking about our friends, peers and colleagues and making judgements about them? Again, all too often, the answer is no.
Moving on through the week and the news about the disappearance of Sarah Everard took the headlines. Judgements that she had made a poor decision to walk home after seeing a friend dominated social media and were, rightly, condemned. Why should women fear walking home? What woman hasn’t been afraid of walking home alone, sometimes even in broad daylight? Why, in the 21st century, is this still normal? By last night, the discourse had shifted slightly, with some men trying to make the point that not all men are violent and likely to attack women. Whilst we know this to be true, the lack of empathy and understanding in trying to make themselves heard above an outpouring of emotion, fear, grief, frustration and anger seems tone deaf at best and controlling, dangerous and manipulative at worst. And all the while, an actual woman – someone with friends, family and a life in front of her - is dead and those same family and friends are left to deal with that.
Which brings me back to my original dilemma – how to process the events of the past week. On one hand, I feel desolate, disillusioned and static with fear. How can attitudes and behaviours towards women change in the face of such enormous and powerful opposition? On the other, something another woman said to me on Tuesday rings in my ears “I dedicate a large part of my brain to hope” and I cling onto that.
What would it look like if we more actively looked out for one another? If, instead of using our energy to form judgements, we directed it into an activated spirit of sorority and solidarity? How about we actively check in on each other to make sure we’re ok, on a daily basis? How about we actively choose not slag someone off because we can but instead choose to praise or encourage someone? This doesn’t mean not holding people to account or turning a blind eye to questionable decisions but how about trying to support that woman instead of condemning her? How about actively pouring our energy into educating ourselves about what other women are dealing with and actively concentrating on how to tackle the big questions such as racism, inequality, education, healthcare, poverty and lack of resources?
It’s a hard-enough job being a woman and trying to survive in this world but that job is 100 times harder without the solidarity of our sisters. Let’s ramp up the generosity and care we give each other and find our hope and strength in numbers.