There’s something pretty uplifting about meeting a hundred thousand people who share your views, even if you just walk down a road together making ‘woo’ noises every now and again. Or perhaps that makes it even better.
When I attended the Women’s March in London, after a slew of thoroughly depressing news articles read under the duvet (yes, this cold still won’t go away) there was undeniable hope and power in the footsteps of thousands who are feeling out of step with the way the world is.
And of course, there’s the placards. I’m not exactly a specialist (it was my first) but there’s nothing like other people to remind you that your rhetoric isn’t up to scratch. Orange Is The New Bollocks, Get Your Hands Off My Rights, Grab Them By The Patriarchy, We Shall Overcomb. Just a sample of the array of puns that people put together. Bonus points if you employed some sort of collage technique or glitter was involved in any way. My highlights have to be the papier maché Trump and the simple yet powerful ‘It Takes A Lot To Get Me Off The Couch.’
My slogan of choice; ‘Nasty Women Unite,’ was picked out by a few people for a photo, which made me feel better about my lack of punning. It encompassed the feeling that’s been blooming in me as I’ve witnessed a series of political decisions in which I don’t see myself, or anything close to fairness, justice or equality. I’m angry, I’m pissed off. I don’t want to be a simpering, smiling feminine cliché that pleases others. I want to do something about it.
On the escalator, on the way to the protest, a man asked me what my sign meant. I explained the backstory to it. He shuddered a little. “Oh, not too nasty, I hope,” he said.
And there it is. Those soft-bodied women, getting feisty again. Or possible sassy. Certainly not something we want to encourage, right? If women’s nastiness was equal to the injustices done to them against their rights and their bodies, they’d be the nasty equivalent of Gengis Khan after his horse got sick and his entire army took the wrong turn at a mountain pass. Heads would roll. Of course, the escalator had taken me away by then, so it was a bit late for a witty or thoughtful comeback.
In the crowds, it was easy to feel powerful. Buoyed up by the shouts, the singing, the chanting, the beeps of passing cars, there was an overwhelming feeling that anything was possible. Angry at a world that not even tolerates but encourages hateful opinions, and makes the most vulnerable more weak and afraid than ever before. The feeling that we could make a difference.
Even afterwards, there was also something emboldening about taking my sign home on the train. People read it, people nudged each other, darted their eyes from me when I looked over. I had power. But once I got home, unstuck the piece of laminate floor edging that served as a stick, it wasn’t as easy to be strong.
In the wake of Brexit, after a campaign fuelled with lies, it seemed incredibly possible to challenge the legitimacy of a marginal vote, when no-one really knew what they were voting for, and had been lied to about what they were going to get anyway. Somehow, this has translated to a country that seems fine with leaving the single market, and all we care about is the texture of the Brexit, not whether it will happen at all. Where did all that power of protest go? We need to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen this time.
As a woman, I am often invisible, or at least prized more highly for my decorative purposes than my intellect. Yet as a straight, white woman, I also enjoy privileges other women or femme-identifying individuals don’t have access to. And the terrible truth is, I’m not really that nasty. I apologise when someone steps on my foot. I don’t like phoning for a takeaway. I avoid making decisions. But I need to find some strength, if I am to live a conscionable life.
Now is the time to test how truly nasty we can be. In the aftermath of this glorious wave of protests, I want to use my voice, and my privilege, to carry that feeling I had when the sign was in my hand. To speak out for others who don’t recognise themselves in an ever-shifting political landscape, where the elite continue to thrive, and the disadvantaged continue to be bulldozed in the name of progress.
Now is the most testing of times. Will you be nasty with me?