I’ve taken it upon myself to try and read more this year. I bloody love my books and always have done, but I’m much more of a fiction than fact kind of girl. I’ve decided, though, to try and broaden my literary horizons and so I headed to my local library and raided the Serious Book section and left with seven books on or around the subject of feminism. Bearing in mind that I read perhaps three whole books in the first year of my son’s life, the fact that I have smashed my way through four in two weeks goes some way towards highlighting how exciting I’ve found these books. Far from being dry and dull, which is how I remember factual books, I was fired up and empowered by them. Jess Phillips’ book had me almost cheering out loud in a quiet cafe and, when I went back the next day, in surreptitious tears. It made me want to be a better person. If you haven’t read it, read it. If you don’t know who she is as I didn’t before I plucked the book off the shelf, google her. She’s ace.
How many times can you say book in one paragraph??
After reading about Jess Phillips, I moved on to War on Women by Sue Lloyd-Roberts. I didn’t read the blurb before bringing it home with me, so had no idea what I was letting myself in for. It’s horrifying. In a series of chapters the brutal, violent, dismissive treatment that is inflicted on women is laid out, with stories from all ages and countries across the world. I’ve cried and I’ve raged whilst reading it. I won’t go in to details here, go out and read the book, although perhaps everyone already knows and I am late to the party. I suspect that isn’t the case, though, as I, like every average person, watches the news at least once a day, I listen to the radio and I read the Facebook news articles that take my interest. I am aware of things like FGM and arranged marriages, but I don’t feel like their stories are front and centre. I knew rape happened in war and I knew about sex trafficking but honest to God, why aren’t these stories on the TV every day, beating us over the head with them until we instigate change? I don’t have the definitive answer to that, but I do know that part of it is that women don’t matter, not in the grand scheme of things. It’s the conclusion that Sue Lloyd-Roberts drew, over and over again, in each of the chapters, in each of the countries, including our own. Women are not valued, we are possessions, objects, things to so many men. Our voices are silenced routinely, which is something that Jess Phillips mentions as well. I don’t know how to change it and I don’t know what the answer is except for people to shout long and hard and loud….
Except they do.
The secondary realisation I had while reading War on Women is that there are heroes in every chapter. Real life women who stand up to be counted against dreadful odds and I’ve never heard of them. Why not? Why do we only hear about newsworthy men? I’ve heard of all the wars mentioned in the book and the vast majority of the men mentioned. I didn’t have a clue about the women that stood up to them. This can’t be right.
I want to write about brave women but I also want to read about brave women. I want my son to grow up being able to reel off a list of heroes, at least half of whom are women. Bravery is not the sole premise of men – courage is as big or as small as you want it to be. It takes courage to say to a room of people, ‘that rape joke isn’t funny’ or ‘don’t talk about women like that.’ It takes courage to ask your boss for a pay rise so you’re being paid in line with your male equal. It takes courage to get out there and march with your sisters like many women will be doing today in London. It even, and I know this is an unpopular opinion, can take a courage to share opinions and articles on social media for fear of backlash or gaining a label. My mother recently called me a ‘manhater’ for this very reason and I had to explain that I don’t hate men. I hate a patriarchal society that has, for so long, beat, raped, tortured, belittled, devalued, silenced and oppressed the female members.
I’m not kidding myself – I’m not brave. I’m hoping that if the situation arose, I could be but there’s not much chance of that in my sleepy little village. What I can do, though, is try and highlight the courage of other women and cheer them on and express my gratitude for their words and actions and, on so many occasions, their sacrifices.
For today, then, I’m cheering on those participating in the Women’s March in London. Although I imagine there won’t be sufficient news coverage, I hope that you all know you’re making a change. It takes a million single steps to complete a journey, after all.