I am going on holiday this half term with the extended family on my side. There will be 19 of us in total, staying in a beautiful manor house in the countryside. That statement may send shivers down your spine, you may feel happy for me, or a few twinges of envy, depending on your own family situation. For myself I flip flop from really looking forward to it (it has its own pool!) to being a little nervous.
It is not that I don’t love my family. I love them all deeply and enjoy spending time with each of them individually; the thing that concerns me is when we are all together. When we are gathered as a group there seems to be a natural reversion to our old family dynamics. I am one of four. Growing up, we were all close. There was my elder sister who was shy, probably the most nurturing of all of us with a wicked sense of humour. Then me- a subject matter I will get back too shortly. Thirdly, my brother, sporty, charismatic, and strong willed. Lastly my youngest brother, being a few years younger than the three of us he was always the baby, sweet, sensitive and obsessed with all things electrical!
We have all grown up and moved back to the local area. We all see each other regularly and all our children get on well together. So what is the problem? I hear you ask. The problem, in a word, is me.
I was the feisty one, the one that would challenge, ask questions, not back down. Words were my tool and I was just starting to master them. I can remember being told that I would argue black is white. I said things how I saw them and often not with tact. I was not afraid to confront or stand my ground depending on the situation. If I saw a perceived injustice either to myself or others – I was all over it.
I know some of you reading this may well recognize this either in your younger selves or your daughters and I see many girls like this in Shine. We are not necessarily easy to parent or be a sibling of. We don’t conform, and our life’s blood is deep conversation, discussion and challenge. Like I said – not easy.
But we do not sit idly by, we cause change we create opportunity and we are passionate.
I have seen many passionate women out on the streets in the past weeks prepared to make a stand for what they believe in, no matter the inconvenience to themselves. I didn’t and that makes me nervous, when did I start to conform and why do I have a niggling sense that over the years I have lost my voice.
As with most cases it started with my family. I became a caricature for them, the argumentative one. As such my opinions were not heard and the more I shouted the more I unconsciously consolidated their opinion of me. In the 90’s I ventured into the workplace where strong, self-assured women were not necessarily welcomed with open arms. Time and again my thoughts, opinions and feelings were discounted and I was brushed off. I was either too strong or emotive or quite simply a women.
Sadly I gradually learned to not trust in my own discernment or myself. I lost the authority to say, “I feel”. I had to have copious amounts of evidence to back up why I felt the way I did and at least three people backing me up. Somewhere a long the line of not being heard I stopped listening to myself.
I know my story is not unique. There are many women out there who feel the same and can give instance after instance where they have been dismissed. A common occurrence for me now is in relation to my children’s schooling, I can speak to the school/teachers but I know in reality to get things really moving I need to get my husband involved.
We see repeated examples of this being carried out in politics, where groups of men make decisions regarding women’s lives. Are we not to be trusted to make the right decisions for ourselves?
One of the key aims for Shine is to see the girls we work with start to believe in themselves and their own decision making so that they can say “no, I don’t want to take drugs even though all my friends are.” Or “No, I don’t want to have sex even though my boyfriend wants me to.”
How are we supposed to do this if the whole of society is singing a different song? To be strong – is aggressive, to be powerful is controlling; to argue is to nag and to be a leader you are a witch.
I don’t want to see my beautiful, feisty, fierce Shine girls lose their brilliance, their passion and their self belief and so to do that I must try again to be heard and so must all of you. Do not let their light dim through sexist propaganda. Listen to your grandmother, mother, sister and daughter, hear and encourage them because as Maud in the movie suffragette says,
“What are you going to do? Lock us all up? We're in every home. We're half the human race. You can't stop us all.”