I took the picture last Thursday in Bologna before the women’s marches. There’s something so calming about Bologna. It manages to be lively and vibrant without feeling chaotic. It’s also one of Italy’s oldest university cities (yet feels more like a big town), is home to so much cultural and political activity. I sat in a bar in via Zamboni’s university area, amidst students on laptops and various flashbacks to my own student days in 1990s Manchester.
On Sunday in Milan there were women younger than this who got up and shared their stories, the stories we can all imagine. On Saturday I went to Rome and heard other stories from other women, Asia Argento, and women who’ve worked all their lives for women’s rights, women who’ve lived a lifetime and share experiences of that lifetime. I got the lowdown on menopause. I need other women to tell me how they did it, to give me the nitty gritty this-is-how-it-is-sweetheart because at the end of the day we’re living in women’s bodies. I might find the social definition of woman extremely problematic but the truth is I’m still a woman with periods and a body that’s been through childbirth and hormones that are rapidly turning me into this middle aged woman and I never knew until it’s happening now just quite how liberating that could be. And I listened to it all, met new faces and saw old ones and was so glad to see them.
Of course some of us will never be involved in politics. We’re far too busy drowning in the myth of having it all, the one where we’re supposed to have perfect families and brilliant careers and sex at least three times a week with our partners when actually most of the time we’d rather sleep. We’re the daughters of the witches, or rather the semi-witches who were still working out how to do it all themselves and mixed messages became rooted in our conscience. Our politics become the everyday, our lives, our work, the way we educate our children. The voice in my head tells me stop being sentimental. It’s not sentimentalism, it’s our own form of politics. Where women don’t feel they’re heard, they’ll find a way. Where women feel their children are being educated by other people’s values, where they see a society moving in a certain direction, where they feel they’ve been stripped of the age-old communities that fed them and nourished them, they’ll still find a way.
Like a friend said to me on Sunday, it’s sisterhood. And it’s very real. Not that men aren’t invited, but really, there are some pretty good reasons why sometimes we need this private party. To quote Gloria Steinem, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” Really piss you off.
It’s a me too that feels permanently fused with a fuck you, even though you have this voice that tells you there’s always another side to any story, and maybe I’m playing the victim. That’s where the social conditioning kicks in. Keep quiet, don’t complain, think how lucky you are, be grateful (the slightly more sophisticated version that they’ll throw at you where you’re supposed to float off into some calm state and forget about all this – permanently), and shut up while you’re at it. No, I will not shut up. I have no intention whatsoever of shutting up. Besides, I’ve realised it’s good for my kids. It causes them to ask questions, difficult ones. Oh, you don’t like that idea? But aren’t you the ones who are always telling me to do what’s good for my kids?
The Bologna porticoes say it all. You walk through one, and then you walk through another. What matters is that you keep walking. And sometimes you will only keep walking if there are other women walking with you. The crucial part is that there are women walking with you. It’s where me becomes we, and that is always the difference.