There are very few moments in life when you’re aware something important is happening. Something huge. For most people, it’s weddings, funerals, births, educational achievements, work goals. With most other significant events, it’s not till much later that you look back and realise the full impact they had on you. Yesterday was an exception.
I had heard there was a protest taking place in central London a week or so earlier. A march for women to take to the streets and show their dissatisfaction with the inequality that still exists in every walk of life. It wasn’t limited to women, everyone was welcome and it was no coincidence that the march was scheduled to coincide with Donald Trump’s first day as President of the United States.
As the week progressed, I learned that marches would be taking place across the world, and that many of my twitter friends, politicians and celebrities would be attending and making speeches. I had already decided to attend, but seeing the preparations on social media with people making their own banners and joining in with the #marchingshoes hashtag, my excitement grew day by day. I had planned to go with a female friend of mine but to my surprise and delight, 3 of my male friends asked if they could come. They knew how much it meant to me and they wanted to show their support. Having grown up in an environment where I was always discouraged from speaking out, I was touched by the gesture. We spoke of little else in the days running up to the march.
Barely a week goes by in central London without a demo of some description taking place. Many don’t even make the news because the numbers aren’t significant or the issue isn’t deemed “sexy” enough to be newsworthy. I expected a mention of this particular one in the local news. I wasn’t prepared for what was about to unfold.
I woke up yesterday, the 21st of January, and looked out of the window at the bright blue sky. It was perfect marching weather, albeit incredibly cold. Regular readers will be aware I’m a bit of a hermit who struggles with the cold. Weekends are for burrowing under the duvet unless I’m tempted out with bribes of cake. I decided to take a look at twitter for motivation. Almost immediately, I was confronted by negative tweets from men.
“Marching doesn’t change anything.”
“Only polls count. Demonstrations achieve nothing.”
“Imagine how feminists would react if there were men only marches.”
Not only were the tweets negative, but they were designed to take the wind out of the sails of anyone who had been looking forward to getting out there. It had the opposite effect on me, especially when one of my fabulous female twitter friends replied to one of them with the perfect line “Yes, suffragettes achieved nothing.” If I was having any doubts, they were gone the minute I read those comments. Not only were they ignorant, but misinformed as well. In my group alone, the men outnumbered the women. It wasn’t a women only march. I finally had a purpose and an outlet for my rage, and I was going to make use of it. I set off with a marching playlist I had created especially to get myself in the mood.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave all weekend, you’ll have seen what unfolded. Approximately 100,000 people turned out in the UK alone and they came out in large numbers across the world, including in Kenya where I was born. There were people of all ages, genders, races. There were witty banners, chanting, singing, dancing, moving speeches from incredible women and I even spotted Gillian Anderson, whom I adore. I will never forget linking arms with my friends and walking towards Trafalgar Square, looking up at the clear blue sky, surrounded by amazing people, a tear rolling down my face and thinking I’ll never be the same again. If it’s true that our lives flash before our eyes at the time of death, I know that moment will be there. It was life affirming.
If you know me, you’ll know I don’t subscribe to the view that “most people are good and a few bad apples give them a bad name.” Recent world events have cemented this view, but walking among people who stood for the same things as me, reminded me that there was more good than I had previously believed. The atmosphere was friendly, almost like a big party and far more cheering than I had expected a protest to be. I knew I was a part of something powerful. I turn 38 soon and there had been a constant niggle in my mind that I had wasted the last year on things that were insignificant. This felt momentous. A pivotal moment of real change not just for the world, but for me personally.
The petty things that felt important at the time, seemed to fade. That’s not to say they didn’t leave a lasting impact on me, they did, but it’s amazing what a little perspective can do. I spoke to complete strangers, something I don’t normally do, and I learned so much. They all had different reasons for being there. Everyone had a story to tell. It made me realise not only was I lucky in many ways, but that I needed to stop letting my sisters down with my behaviour. The things I’ve allowed men to get away with, the excuses I’ve made, the things I’ve turned a blind eye to, all meant I was saying it’s fine. The bigger injustices we hear about don’t happen in isolation. They have to start somewhere.
I have had more than my fair share of debates on many women’s issues. Often thankless ones, where even women tut and roll their eyes or defend men, but I have persevered if I’ve known the person. I try not to reason with random trolls, it’s pointless. But it occurred to me how easily I’ve forgiven people I’ve cared about for behaviour I wouldn’t accept from say a friend’s partner. Feelings shouldn’t cloud judgement was the biggest lesson I took away with me yesterday. In my experience, men who have taken me for granted, played games with me, eroded my confidence, have all been allowed to get away with it by others before me and I’ve done nothing to change that for others who will come after me. I’ve unthinkingly okayed being treated badly as long as an apology is issued at some point down the line, at their convenience, and carried on as normal. I’ve okayed that behaviour when they’ve done it to others. It is not okay. We’re quick to vocalise how appalled we are when it comes to high profile stories, but it begins with how we allow ourselves to be treated and how we treat other women.
It starts small, it always does, with things so seemingly insignificant, you barely notice:
An uncle saying he liked to take care of the finances “because ladies don’t really understand these things” while my dad sat there nodding, knowing full well my sister, who works for a bank, had advised him many times over the years.
A boyfriend telling me his ex was a psycho because she didn’t trust him and checked up on him, even as he tried it on with me.
Excusing the behaviour of compulsive liars if I care about them, giving them every chance to change and insisting they are “nice guys”. The last time it happened (it’s happened many times with several men) and I eventually saw the light, (it took a pointed tweet of all things, to open my eyes) even their parting shot was a lie. I’ve always accepted this more from men than women. Ignoring patterns of behaviour in the hope the outcome will change, has always been a major flaw of mine.
Allowing someone to call me “challenging” for displaying traits that would be celebrated in a man.
Something we can do as women, is stop telling women they’re “just jealous” if they have a legitimate problem with someone. It pits women against each other. We don’t do this to men. We can also stop to consider if a woman has a point before rushing to defend our male friends.
You already know my views on blaming the “other woman” so I won’t repeat myself.
Excusing any behaviour that I would discourage a female friend of mine from accepting from a man.
There are hundreds of other examples where I let things go. Much of it stems from men not seeing women as their equals, even seemingly enlightened ones who say all the right things. I wanted and hoped for better and I didn’t learn my lesson until it happened to me, which I deserved, every single time. That behaviour is often exhibited by people with deep rooted beliefs they would never admit to. If you knowingly get close to someone with the knowledge that they are willing to go along with deception, no matter who is on the receiving end of it, you can’t feign surprise when they do it to you. I have been guilty of this many times over the years.
It starts small, but I do have the power to change things. There’s so much more I could have done. That I intend to do from now on. But sometimes, it’s exhausting and I get tired of fighting. What yesterday made me realise was to not give undue importance to those who don’t matter. I have spent the best part of the last year feeling angsty about people who were little more than DM sliders on twitter trying their luck with anyone who would bite. We are better than just anyone. We are better than “right now.” It seems laughable now, when it was all consuming before. Yesterday made me see the bigger picture and it felt significant that I was surrounded by good men when I had my moment of clarity. Even negative and sexist tweets couldn’t dim my smile when I got home. It affirmed my decision to rely on myself and not pills this time, however difficult that may be. Women can do wonderful, incredible things. We can achieve so much and we often don’t know our own strength. Perspective is a wonderful thing. I think I’ll keep it.