She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.
I’ve just finished reading Hannah Jewell’s 100 Nasty Women of History and that phrase came to mind pretty much on every page. Just as women around the world have turned Senator McConnell’s rebuke to Senator Warren into a rallying cry, so Jewell turns Donald Trump’s insult to Hillary Clinton around, and uses it to celebrate women in history who were ‘brilliant, badass and absolutely fearless’, and in many cases, pretty much unknown.
Some of these nasty women were indeed pretty nasty. None of this is about saying that women are good, or do good (#notallwomen). It’s saying that women can’t, won’t, never did, never will, fit into the restrictive little boxes that centuries of patriarchy have tried to confine them to.
Men keep on warning us. They keep on explaining why we need to leave things to them, to stop being so pushy, so strident. And nevertheless we persist.
We always have. The women that Jewell celebrates all had to deal with men telling them that they couldn’t do things simply because they were women, because their brains weren’t sharp enough, they weren’t rational enough, they were too emotional, too fluffy, because trying to be otherwise would make them poorly, shrivel their ovaries or something, stop them getting a man, or being able to bear children. We’ve been told we’re too pushy or not ambitious enough to succeed, too plain or too pretty to be taken seriously, that our choices are all wrong (have babies/not have babies, go back to work/stay at home).
And nevertheless we persist.
Women throughout the centuries, across the continents. In cultures far more restrictive than our own women have nevertheless become warriors, monarchs, visionaries, writers, leaders, artists, scientists, inventors. And we go on, pushing at the barriers, cracking the glass ceilings. We carry on speaking out when they interrupt or talk over us. We carry on campaigning in the face of internet abuse and threats, or worse.
We’re half the human race. We’re all races and religions, all shapes and sizes, all political persuasions. We have disabilities and we have none, we are healthy and we suffer pain and indignity, we are independent and we need help to get by. We have money to burn and we have nothing at all. We are mothers and we are daughters and sisters, we are friends and wives and lovers. We are beautiful and we are ordinary. We are gay, straight, bi, cis, trans, and every variant or combination of the above. We are feminists, and we are ‘I’m not a feminist but…’ and we are most decidedly not feminists. We believe in our right to choose, and we believe that women’s fertility should be controlled by the state, by the church, by men. We wear pussy hats, and ‘Make America Great Again’ hats.
We don’t agree with each other, we don’t always understand each other. There’s no unifying glorious, supportive and empowering sisterhood – how could there be, when we’re half the human race? But we can choose to support each other, to celebrate achievements that otherwise might be dismissed or forgotten, to amplify voices that might not otherwise be heard, to bring into the light wrongs that otherwise might be hidden.
We’ve come a long way, baby, but not yet far enough, no way. We still lack anything resembling proportionate power, resources, influence. We still face horrific violence, on the streets and in our homes. We still carry disproportionate burdens when it comes to feeding and raising our families.
But we will persist.
PS – Oh, and BTW, International Men’s Day is on 19 November. Just in case anyone was about to ask. Richard Herring is doing a sterling job on Twitter (@Herring1967) for what he calls International “When’s International Men’s Day?” Day, encouraging anyone who asks the question (and each of them seems to think they’re the first person to do so. Bless.) to contribute to Refuge.