I don’t talk much about politics on this blog; I write it in a light hearted way, looking at how kids push our buttons, and about what I’m trying to do, as just one parent, to keep sane as I navigate the winding paths of toddlerville. But life is politics, right? You can’t escape it. Long wait for a GP appointment? Prescription charges gone up again? Politics. Local police station or fire station closed? Public transport driving you mad on the daily commute? It’s all politics: it surrounds our daily lives and effects us all. Those people whom we elect into positions of power, the decisions they make and the laws they pass, the messages their words send to the greater population, it impacts on everyone of us.
With this in mind, I, like so many us, have been transfixed by the American Presidential Election over the past year or so. And not more so, than this past week when I watched Michelle Obama speak at a campaign event in New Hampshire. I cried watching her talk, I felt every word because as FLOTUS herself said, “I feel it so personally.” Because when I look at my newsfeed each day, and read the latest “words, just words” and the “locker room banter”, I am shocked to the core, not just by the fact that someone in such a position in power could say such things, but the greater meaning that goes with it. The credence it gives to those who think those words are acceptable. The message it sends about how we treat people, how we speak to them, how we talk about them. Those words, are not just words, they are powerful, they are filled with hate, misogyny, a lack of human decency, and the creeping subtle messages that have been seeping through our societies for hundreds of years.
I must admit, when I was younger, I would have dismissed some of it as banter. In the late 80s and early 90s, I was naive enough to think that times had changed: I knew so little about feminism but thought enough had been done, that the world was a different place and no one needed to be a feminist anymore. I remember someone on my course at university, asking me if I was a feminist, and I was horrified, and terrified of being made fun of if I said yes. How crazy is that? Sad actually. I told him, I believed in equality but I wasn’t a feminist. I think about that response now and can’t believe my naivety, my lack of awareness, of knowledge. What is feminism if it’s not belief in equality? What did I think it meant?
Now, in 2016, when you have inspirational men like Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau, readily, happily declaring their status as feminists, and amazing women like Laura Bates, Catlin Moran, Emma Watson, Michelle Obama, and hopefully, the next President of the United States, Hilary Clinton, it’s hard to believe that as a teenager I was so afraid to speak up, so ready to dismiss ‘locker room banter’ and not see it for what it really is; the damage it causes in society, the permission it gives to a young man to treat a young woman in any way other than equally.
Now, in 2016, as the mother of a young daughter, with all the hopes I have for her, her life, her place in the world, I can’t agree that words are “just words”. Words are powerful. What we say, and hear, fuels our beliefs. What we say shapes our children. Who we vote for, sends a message to our little girls and boys, about equality, about misogyny, about racism, about hatred.
Watching what is unfolding across the pond, has been pushing all sorts of buttons for me lately: horror, astonishment, anger, frustration, disbelief. But when I watched Michelle Obama speak in New Hampshire, so clearly from the heart, it pushed the button of hope. I’m hopeful that there are enough people in the USA, in the UK, in the world over, who agree that words are not just words. That we should use them carefully, considerately. Words are powerful: they have the power to hurt, to incite, or they can inspire and educate. They can heal. Words are not just words.