International Women's Day (8 March)
Next Friday 8 March 2019 is International Women's Day. This day always reminds me of the time, in the early 1980's when I started to become more politically aware. I had moved out of my parent's home and was living the independent life I had always dreamed of. I could do what I liked, when I liked, within reason, and was much happier making these decisions for myself.
Part of my new found independence was making my own friends. Most of my friends, up until this time, where people I had known through my parents: off-spring of their friends. Although we lived in London we had a very small range of acquaintance; same schools, friendship groups and social groups, similar thoughts, books read, and political thought. All left-leaning, highly intellectual middle-class people of strong opinions; no room for independent thought. High school saw a slight expansion of people my age, but not enough to dilute the influence of the parental friendship connections.
My new friends, on the outside, may have looked like they came from the same mould; nice middle-class area, mainly left-leaning, strong opinions, but there were two very important differences. The first was they were a great range of ages, young and old together. Not just old, as in my parents age, but much older. I, as a woman in my early 20's, with no living female relatives older than 50, found this interesting. There were also a number of women in the same situation as me: at home with small children. We all complained about the lack of intellectual stimulus. Being at home with young children is great, getting to see the day to day development of babies, but it can be intellectually dull. Days are an unending round of nappy changes, meal and sleep times and then doing the household chores in between. There are not too many conversations about politics, social issues or even what books have been read lately. These women showed me that both being a devoted mum and finding a path for myself, could be possible. The nurse, civil servant, journalist, and interpreter showed me how to find a curiosity and interest in things outside my own life at the time.
My parental home had been full of books. Rows and rows of shelves of great literature: novels, poems, short stories. These, at various times over my life at home, had been pressed on me to read, but I had never engaged much in this attempt to improve the quality of my reading. I was urged to read these books not for engagement and curiosity but for betterment. I would better be able to have conversations about the classics. I was not interested in such learning. That is not to say I did not read. Having copies of the latest page-turner, or Airport Fiction, as it was known in our house, like Marilyn French was always guaranteed to get a rise and comparison reading cereal packets
These women in my new life, introduced me to George Bernard Shaw, Russian novelists like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, English literature by the likes of Anthony Powell, Evelyn Waugh, Dennis Potter and George Orwell. They also introduced me to the idea that women could write powerful, diverse work. Authors like Maya Angelou, Doris Lessing, Toni Morrison took up regular spots next to my bed. They fed my curiosity.
The introduction to such great stories and literature really opened my eyes in a way that I had not experienced before. I could see there were other ways of living, experiencing emotions and ways of being in the world.
One of my favourites, at the time, and has remained a favourite is Alone Poem by Maya Angelou. It illustrated to me that we are all connected. The message is direct and not easy to miss, just like Angelou herself, but it gave me words to express my feelings about how to be connected, and why connection was so important to me.
I owe a debt to those women who gave me so much; always generous, always there and available. Thank you for opening my mind.
Alone Poem by Maya Angelou
Lying, thinking Last night How to find my soul a home Where water is not thirsty And bread loaf is not stone I came up with one thing And I don't believe I'm wrong That nobody, But nobody Can make it out here alone. Alone, all alone Nobody, but nobody Can make it out here alone. There are some millionaires With money they can't use Their wives run round like banshees Their children sing the blues They've got expensive doctors To cure their hearts of stone. But nobody No, nobody Can make it out here alone. Alone, all alone Nobody, but nobody Can make it out here alone. Now if you listen closely I'll tell you what I know Storm clouds are gathering The wind is gonna blow The race of man is suffering And I can hear the moan, 'Cause nobody, But nobody Can make it out here alone. Alone, all alone Nobody, but nobody Can make it out here alone.