Monday, 18 June 2018

You'd Think I'd Change the Record...

I've been thinking about representation recently. You know, because the day of the week has a Y in it. So fasten your seatbelts and let's crack on. First of all, the World Cup.

If you can handle the grainy tape
that's been uploaded to YouTube
, this
is a spot on way to pass an hour and
seventeen minutes. If you're up for
some Italia '90 nostalgia, that is.
Yay, it's the World Cup! Leaving aside the problematic political issues surrounding this event, let's shout, 'Yay it's the World Cup' loudly and in unison. Except deep down I'm not really that bothered. Not yet anyway. Since discovering the joy of women's football and watching matches where talented sportswomen compete for little reward, I've found myself increasingly indifferent to the male game, with its ref abuse, blatant diving and aggressive sections of fans. But, yay, it's the World Cup! I realise for many others, this is an exciting time. I'm getting there. Just a bit slower than most. And the greater visibility of female pundits and presenters across the channels is most welcome and makes me want to stick with it. I'm sure when England kick off later today, I'll have re-discovered my inner fan and got behind the whole shebang. 

Last weekend, in a bid to whip up some excitement, I watched a documentary called One Night in Turin. The Italia '90 World Cup tends to be a nostalgic cockle-warmer for many people of my generation. I loved that tournament. I remember that tournament. Despite being mostly dead on the inside, I still feel the full range of human emotion when I hear Nessun Dorma. But this documentary just turned me off. Whether it was the blokiness of Gary Oldman's narration (it really didn't need a voice over in the first place) or the lack of female perspective or inclusion, (apart from Maggie Thatcher, obvs. She was there, representing all women, natch) it missed the mark for me and that's a shame. I was really interested in the topic but I struggled to stick with it because of how it was presented to me. 

My feminism, sympathy to
 the cause, and love of a good
political t-shirt all converge in
this photo.
Next up, the Irish referendum. Last month Ireland voted in great numbers to repeal the part of the constitution that said the life of a foetus was equal to the life of a pregnant woman. Much has been said about the referendum and a quick Google will give you the entire range of arguments and think pieces from both sides. Regardless of viewpoint, there's a general consensus that the Yes side won - and won big (66.4% were in favour of change) - because women's voices were heard. It wasn't led by politicians and strategists, although their contributions were valuable too. It was a grassroots campaign where women from all over the country, stood up and shared their stories. The secrecy and shame surrounding abortion was cast off as women shared the highly personal and varied circumstances surrounding their experiences. Experiences that flew in the face of the No campaign's preachings that sought to keep the status quo. Women spoke up about an issue with which they had been dealing privately for years, and it changed minds. Powerful stuff. 

Finally, my most recent pilgrimage. In April, a new statue was unveiled and added to the ones in Parliament Square in London. The eleven existing statues include Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George and Benjamin Disraeli. In fact, all eleven are men. Not all Prime Ministers - hello George Canning and Mahatma Gandhi - but political, notable men. Now here's the thing. If I'd have walked around Parliament Square before April and seen these statues, I'd have probably noticed that they were all men too, but shrugged it away as crappy sexism. Then I'd have gone to the pub. I might have moaned about it to whoever I was with, and that would have been that. But I'm not Caroline Criado Perez. She spotted the lack of equality on a routine jog, and decided to write an open letter to Sadiq Kahn. Fast-forward two years, and her campaign resulted in the unveiling of Millicent Fawcett - the women's suffrage campaigner who would have celebrated her 171st birthday last week. I'd followed the statue campaign via Twitter since it started. Just as with Criado Perez's campaign to ensure female achievements were represented on bank notes, I was glad someone with more strength and savvy than me was in my corner. Someone was fighting to amend the one-sided view of history that the world is regularly fed. Once the statue was in place, I knew I needed to go and see it. Last week, I finally managed to put a day aside for a trip to the capital. 

The banner doesn't lie. 
As I approached Parliament Square, the first thing I saw was Winston Churchill. The word 'imposing' doesn't seem imposing enough. 'Looming' is another word that springs to mind. His statue is large, creating an impression of bullish power. I am sure that was intentional. Moving on, I passed Lloyd George, General Smuts, and a couple of people whose names  I didn't recognise on first sight. All on huge plinths, towering over little old me. Then I saw the statue of Millicent Fawcett. Created by Gillian Wearing it was not imposing or looming at all. It was approachable. Indeed, it's tweed-effect texture on the Edwardian clothing invited touch. There were people milling all around, some sitting, some waiting for a turn to be up close. And in the centre of all that was the statue, standing square on, holding a banner, and facing the world. The plinth below included pictures of female contemporaries; of women that she had stood and fought alongside. Over fifty faces are included, highlighting the heroic team effort that the fight for women's suffrage was. 

And so I waited my turn, took some photos, and was grateful to the kind man that offered to take one of me in shot. For some, it's just another statue of a long-dead person. For me, it gave me shivers and a lump in my throat. Not only because Millicent Fawcett did marvellous things herself. But because this statue pays tribute to fifty-five other campaigners via the photos on the plinth. It represents Caroline Criado Perez's campaign as well as the women that supported her, and it showcases the talents of the artist Gillian Wearing - the only female artist to be represented in Parliament Square.   

Look, I can cope without enjoying a documentary about the 1990 World Cup. My life is no worse off without it. But being included, having my viewpoint considered, and seeing myself represented in the world is important. For me and for everyone. Because of Ireland's referendum, the fight for the same human rights in Northern Ireland has been reignited. Hearing and seeing your views represented in others is powerful and prompts change. 'Courage calls to courage everywhere.' A statue of a historical figure might seem meaningless when it's done purely with sycophancy. But highlighting the hidden voices and secret experiences that have shaped our present is essential, for all our experiences. Everyone needs the security of being known and understood. Whatever our viewpoint, whatever our diversity. Because at times, the lack of voices can be deafening.

Have a lovely week, folks.


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