When I resigned my national and local trade union roles with UCU last autumn I knew that there was more that I wanted to do. I found myself with much more time but also with much more head space as the clouds of casework, campaigns, complaints, conciliations and confidences, cleared.
My sky bluer, I looked outwards. I wanted to make change and contribute to a difference. Indeed I was as busy as ever, campaigning in the community for a change of government, challenging discrimination and campaigning against austerity and racism.
I became increasingly aware that the issues did not interest me so much as the people themselves affected by policies, by personal or institutional discrimination. I could no longer see an homogeneous ‘other’ or ‘they’.
In a reverse of the mimetic polyalloy, the liquid metal that coagulates to form The Terminator, I saw an unglooping of the molecules. I saw human beings, a myriad of individuals beneath the headlines and sweeping statements; it was their stories I wanted to hear and to learn from. An orchestra of voices tuning up, discordant, waiting, needing, entitled to be heard.
“Every person, a unique blessing to never be repeated”. (Lowkey)
Named after an historical novelist my identity was forged in history and in story. Stories are important for they shape how we think, how we feel and how we interact with the world. Understanding how stories are put together helps us to counter narratives of hate and to make changes in our lives for ourselves and for others.
The shift that came with the pandemic, with everything moving to online platforms, meant I was able to spend more time learning from and with European colleagues, further developing our work in challenging narratives and creating opportunities whilst keeping friendships alive.
Locked down but not out, I loved it. With no daily commute or breakfast-and-out-the-house routine I recovered at least two hours a day. I was reading more and I had time alone, to have space and to think. I relished not having to be social or sociable. Enjoying the quiet, I could walk without people and spend quieter time by the river. I was in my element, thriving in giving community support and cooking for friends in isolation, on my own weekend terms …
… when along came covid …
My experience was strange, not quite real. I didn’t have tangible illness like a cold or the flu; lightheaded, brain fog, anxious and I was so incredibly tired. Then I got weaker and weaker. Just when I thought I might need to transfer accounts to my son, I felt a reprieve….for a time, for a few weeks, then I went through the rollercoaster of symptoms again, a reprieve, then again, then again and again.
I remembered when I was a trade union caseworker telling members on sickness leave to enjoy their time off, to not waste the time and to actively use it to get better. Museums and art galleries closed, I couldn’t get out to walk in the woods or visit the sea. I told myself I needed to take my own advice and I needed to make the most of my time for me and that included putting my community roles on hold. I couldn’t give if I had nothing to give from. I needed all my energy for me.
I lapped up the reiki, shambala reiki, sound healing and aromatherapy my professional healing friends sent me. I wrote letters to beloved friends on beautiful writing paper, I made lemonade, I meditated at lunchtime and lit candles during the day just because I could.
I switched off from social media, I couldn’t cope with live radio or television and the daily death count. I became a recluse, locked in my lockdown world. But what I wasn’t doing was going outside and I yearned to be in nature. There’s a green opposite my house but I couldn’t cross the road without falling over and I listened instead to the music of the wind passing through the trees.
One grey, damp afternoon I looked up from the sofa and my neighbour, unexpectedly, was outside my window waving a drill at me. He had built me a bird table which he proceeded to fix into place where I could see it from my perch as I watched reruns on iPlayer, “You need something to look at, to take your mind off things”.
What a gift of thoughtful kindness was this?
There was nothing to look at. Weeks passed. I put food out, but no birds came.
Speaking at an online conference early on in lockdown, Hoppi Wimbush talked about living with nature and its importance in cultivating wellness; expounding on filling homes with flowers, inside and out. I took no convincing to fill all the rooms with fresh flowers, which I have replenished throughout this pandemic. I closed the curtains with no energy to think, let alone deal with what might need doing outdoors.
When we moved house in urgency last year, the garden was covered in weeds and the previous tenants’ detritus. The rubbish cleared and the ground covered with black liner, we were determined to move again in the spring and had no motivation to work on a garden we were leaving.
I was desperate. If I couldn’t get out into nature then I had to bring nature to me. Bit by bit, patch by patch, I pulled back the liner and planted new life, when I had the energy to manage it.
I have neither green thumbs nor an horticultural aesthete but I do have access to online shopping and a trigger happy purchase finger …. And I can play. I loved the planting especially, hands in the soil and the daily anticipation of growth. As depth psychologist Bill Plotkin might say, I allowed my inner Pan/Diana/Artemis to come to the fore: cultivating this ‘wild indigenous’ aspect was the perfect antidote to the grind, role and responsibility of my outer, everyday world by connecting me to the natural world. It helped me feel better.
I dug out mirrors belonging to a previous tenant that I had hidden at the back of the airing cupboard and put them outside, placed to bring in more light. My recovery of these led me to find again, by chance, the saccharine “Home is my happy place” sign with its stylised birds design, which had been glued (yes glued) above the mantlepiece. It had taken some unsticking and I had hidden it. Cheese. I loathe and despise aspirational messages, reminding me as they do of those office posters of mountains with “Aspire … Achieve …” but perhaps I thought … perhaps this sign was a sign …. If I was to be stuck at home then I mustn’t be ‘stuck’ at home. Ever the hypocrite I seem to find myself to be, I hung it up on rusty nails outside. My nursing neighbour hollered aloud when she saw this and strongly suggested I take it down. It’s staying … for now, hideous though it might be.
Then one day, after plants and flowers started to grow, I noticed a pigeon feeding and I despaired; I wanted the smaller, pretty birds who dance in next door’s buddleia tree.
The pigeon was visiting frequently. I was discussing my annoyance with my neighbour and as we talked it flew down into the garden. When I paid attention I realised it wasn’t a pigeon singular, but a breeding pair of wood pigeons who roosted in the third tree along on the green opposite.
The more confident of the pair, Mr Wood Pigeon, would visit late morning and if I was inside he would sit on the fence and watch me in my rewatching of Spooks. Mrs Wood Pigeon visited in time for high tea and is more cautious since her near-capture by a marauding, long-haired, neighbourhood, killer cat. Caution aside, she has character and when bowls or feeders have been emptied, I have watched her right in front of me, kick them to the ground. I quickly became accustomed to their daily visits and after a heavy rainstorm when I didn’t see them for several days, I found myself actually missing them, their cheek and their presence. I learned a lesson then: in cultivating a garden I had invited nature in – I couldn’t then be selective about just who that might mean.
With the return of the wood pigeons followed an arrival of sparrows, blackbirds, various tits and finches, what looks to be an escaped caged bird with punkish plumage and the winter robin who lived in the hedge, he returned too.
Like the Hindu elephant god Ganesh, robins are guardians to gateways, they nest on the boundaries and I love them. But they are territorial and little fighters too. A not-fully-grown, young cock robin, saw off his elder and claimed this territory for his own. In defense of it, he made a cowardly attack from his retreat between the hedge and the fence. This young upstart robin with his puffed out red chest, was flying backwards and forwards, squawking into the face of a dowdy brown bird three times his size, as she tried to feed from the table. He chased her the length of the garden and away. There is food in abundance here; with five feeding stations there is enough for everyone and he had no need or right to behave like this.
Mr Blackbird was a regular visitor, eating his fill and carrying surplus in his beak to his young brood nested in hedgerow across the green. That dowdy brown bird came back with him. Only she isn’t dowdy, not at all. Over-shadowed by the sleek blackness and sweet singing of her husband, with her coat of glossy, mottled feathers and her black button eyes bright as embers, Mrs Blackbird is so very pretty. Why had I not taken notice of her before? She is deserving of attention too.
Tap, tap, tap. “Are you looking at me?” Tap, tap, tap. I opened the curtains, late admittedly, and caught Cocksparrow de Niro taking on his adversary in the garden mirror, reversing, puffing out his diminutive wings in reflection and repeat. I ran outside to avert a beak incident when this little bird was saved, quite literally, by the creak of the gate and the arrival of my lovely postman.
I too have been saved by the postal service. The twice daily delivery ensured doorstep conversation, a friendly face and a regular supply of books and letters and presents too.
I loved the time I spent in my garden this summer from early breakfast to last thing at night. Sun soaking and reading and listening to the trees. I lost an hour watching a worm casting. Time wasted? If I call this meditation on nature it is time invested. Most of all, I loved being out in a blanket, after the rain, being still, when the colours are clearer, more vibrant and when there isn’t a sound of people.
My son came home from work one day and looked at me. “It’s just not right. I can’t keep coming home to finding you dressed.” He really did say that.
“What you need …” It’s always interesting, what other people think that I might need.
“What you need is loungewear. L_O_U_N_G_E_W_E_A_R” and clearly he thought I needed the spelling too. I put this aside, thinking I needed to unpack it later, then realised I didn’t, I really didn’t.
Out of social contact I had no expectations for my birthday, which I had expected to pass unmarked. I was wrong. My solar return, a veritable lightning rod, brought me gifts in abundance this year.
Two dozen beautiful, deepest pink roses arrived at my door. Symbolising appreciation and recognition in the language of flowers, they were an opulent reminder that I am loved and I am cared for.
In the bundle of gifts I received from my dear friend Lorraine was a copy of aromatherapist Jane Lawson’s book on essential oils. It begins with chapters on the importance of cultivating your garden with a necessary balance of fruit, grasses, trees, flowers, herbs – nailed that, then. I’m on the right path.
Mafalda, my Italian friend, invited me to join the European Council Network for facilitators so that I can further deepen my understanding and practise of Way of Council in preparation for leading groups. Council is a ceremony of communication, of listening and speaking. I appreciated the invitation and a different way of learning. The Ojai Foundation and ECN encourage trainees to have two mentors and here, almost simultaneously … serendipity. I was blessed within hours with an invitation from Pip Bondy to join a summer Way of Council group, which by chance and not design, was attended by all women. Pip held the council circle firmly and gently, sharply and tenderly, with wisdom. Here was a place of trust, for making mistakes and for learning our truth. Over four weeks this group of women evolved from strangers to keepers of each other’s hearts. I took from Pip that there is so much to work at in communal listening, so much more that I needed and wanted to learn.
My multipotentialite, international trainer friends Carmine and Bara facilitate trainings for young people and educators using non-formal storytelling and theatre for personal growth, development and to challenge narratives of discrimination and hate. Not even realising it was my birthday, Carmine had gifted me an invite to join his seminar with a professional storyteller. Empathy, enigma, enchantment – we spent a delightful evening, carried to magical lands in company with European cousins. Just wonderful. An evening interrupted only by the GP telephoning in late clinic to advise me she was extending my sick leave until October. Yes! Result! Now that was what I called a gift.
Two days later my son’s delayed parcel arrived. Multiple outfits with elasticated waistbands. I may sound ungrateful, but I’m not. Dressed for expansion … comfortably …
What then hit me with the arrival of my dressed-for-illness wardrobe was a pounding in my ears and a thumping in my chest as the panic set in. The realisation came that I wasn’t, actually, getting any better.
Graded exercise helped – whether psychologically or physically or both. It took the passivity out of waiting for wellness and put me back in control of my own recovery. It takes some getting used to, going against the grain as it does. Raised in competitive sport to go that bit further, a child of the 80s with my own gifted copy of Jane Fonda’ s Workout Book, I had been taught to go for the burn. Not any more – exercise when you’re tired and stop before you get tired. A shifting of the fitness paradigm. Bonkers but it works. And in inviting sponsorship, my recovery plan served to raise some small funds for the Red Cross to support refugees in the UK. Every little helps.
I liked the anonymity of Northumbria University’s swimming pool but I realised in my post-viral state I couldn’t get there, let alone swim. I cancelled my membership and joined the local pool, a social enterprise, my favourite business type. What I lost in anonymity I gained in support in my fitness recovery from the staff and friendly time passing with my fellow swimmers and gym goers. And given the recent redundancies with business support packages ending, just maybe my membership will go some way to contribute to helping them stay afloat. Pun intended.
Not all in my garden is rosy and certainly not what happens just across, on the other side, of my hedgerow border.
Soaking up the last of the afternoon sun before it disappeared to the other side of the house, it was just me, Mrs Blackbird and The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. I heard a car pull up outside, my neighbour’s gate open and knocking ensue which increased in franticity as the car started to pull away then crunched to a grinding halt. Shouting after fevered shouting followed slamming doors between the knocker, driver and passenger as the bonnet was thrown up.
Expletive after expletive for the want of some water for the radiator. The girl-next-door was not next door right then and they were arguing about who to text to rescue them “cursing third world country this, all for some cursing water”. Not quite.
I was right there with the door visibly open. There were family activities happening on the green behind. There were so many people around who could help.
Three young people sat on the verge, heads in hands when I took them water and asked if they needed more. Their amazed thanks I received in exchange for a cessation to blasphemy.
Two minutes later and those young people had gone and I wondered why they hadn’t thought to ask for help from any of the people all around them.
Asking for help takes courage; it’s easier, often, to sit in despair than to step into positive action, to be a victim of fate and, as I have learned myself, it’s easier to give than it is to receive.
There is power, then, in asking. And if there is courage in giving, more than in withholding, then there is greater value in what can be done with a gift than of the gift itself.
How do we create more value then? Speculate to accumulate?
I was considering this the next morning over a sleepy, humid August breakfast in the garden when my thoughts were interrupted by a low, parallel whoosh as the Blackbirds swooped down at speed either side of me and across the garden to breakfast at their table. Food aplenty, Mr Blackbird blocked access to the table from his wife’s position, adjacent. She let him know, quite audibly, that she was hungry and not happy and so he turned to feed her, beak to beak, and she let him. Such love.
Mrs Blackbird dropped down into the bedding, coming closer to me than any of my avian visitors, grubbing for worms among the petunias (a choice influenced by a rereading of The Darling Buds of May) as her husband made return journeys to and from the table and the flowers to feed her beakfuls of suet crumbs. Such loving kindness. Until she’d had enough of course, and she told him. Assertively.
Blue tits arrived and there was no squabbling, no threat. There was food enough and plenty to share. That young cock robin has much to learn about territory and residency, but that lesson won’t come from me.
I am learning too. There is value in gifts and I have more gifts than I need. Enough to share.
Less accumulation and more speculation.
It was the right decision, I knew, to gift my new Kindle to our continuing group fundraising efforts for Care4Calais. Digital books versus food for the hungry. Not such a difficult choice.
With my birthday money I paid for Immigration Advice training; when I’m ready to crack my way out of this corona-induced chrysalis and rejoin my natural world, my new wings will be able to beat some practical solidarity into my work and community roles. An investment. Small changes.
From chaos theory to butterfly effect in one fell, long-covid swoop.
And then along came Lee Chalmers with her invite to join her new coaching programme.
Described in The Guardian as having more charisma than any other woman in northern Europe, Lee founded the nonpartisan Parliament Project to get more women involved in local and national politics; it was she who gave me the courage and the kick to step up to the #LabourDoorstep a few years ago. Her invite to join several hundred other women of a certain age to Kickstart Your Midlife Revolution could not have come at a more apposite time, given I was quite possibly going to implode in the domestic womb of my emerging midlife covid crisis.
Truthfully, I was a bit skeptical. I wasn’t looking for a new job and right now wasn’t the best time to start planning a round the world trip. How would I benefit from coaching right now?
The first task was set: Join the Facebook group and post an introduction. Oh no. But I’m locked in my isolation. I want to be here, safe in my comfort zone.
I wasn’t ready to rejoin the world. Different options ran through my head. I could sign on and off my account in the early hours, I could set up a second account for task purposes only, I could ignore the task altogether.
If not now, when? I bit the bullet. I reopened my Facebook account. No great shakes. But I still wasn’t ready to share and I wasn’t quite ready to rejoin the world, outside or online.
I have been grouped with women before, but Kickstart was different. Here women buoyed other women, shared in their hopes and lifted them in their doubts. Lee created and sustained a safe online space to do that, going forward together and not in competition.
I have learned that when I have chosen the women I want in my life, when I have worked with groups of women of my choosing, then I have experienced support, generosity, kindness and growth.
As the coaching progressed, and sooner than maybe we were expected to, I realised that I needed to take a step back and across. I needed not so much to enjoy my time off less, but to re-frame it. Prepare. This time I had given, this opportunity had to be about re-shaping me for when I really was ready to re-emerge in the world again.
I didn’t need to be more or have more, I was already enough and I had enough. I wasn’t looking for a new career, a new hobby or travel adventure. Right now it would be something just to step back into my own life, but to do that, first I needed to reframe my story for me.
My story is mine and it is for me to tell. It is time to set the story straight and it was Lee Chalmers who finally gave me the kickstart to do so and the courage to step back into my living world again.
And it was the living world that triggered my thought process.
Distracted from reading in the midday sun, I was transfixed. I caught sight of a huge, bright red spider heaving her pregnant sac as she slowly and heavily traversed the baking heat of the garden path. With every step a labour, she was vulnerable to attack from above and below. What dangers lurked in the cool dark of the garden cupboard for her to leave its dank harbour, to risk her life and the safety of her unborn babies to make this journey?
Pregnant and homeless years before, I chose the privations of hostels over a return to perceived comfort with abuses I had long left behind. Dangers are relative, danger can be relatives and risks might just be worth taking.
My form teacher who loved boys, didn’t favour girls, who ever watched for me at an emotional distance, told me at every challenge I faced, I had to go it alone; extreme tough love I desperately wanted to be softened.
She nearly softened, even tried to hug me though I wouldn’t let her, the last day of autumn term the year I was fifteen; hysterical in foreboding the imminent holidays and missing already the daily respite, the safety that school provided.
Never a great time of year for me, the last Christmas I ever felt unsafe my clothes and belongings were taken from me to prevent my escape. The sense knocked into me was, I was assured, for my own good. Prescription cream to reduce swelling and a residual ringing in my ears, served to affirm my decision to leave.
I once tried telling people my parents were killed in a car accident to explain their absence in my life. That lie brought undeserved sympathy and shamed me still further; and learning that lesson I promised myself that I would live my life in truth. Not wanting to share my truth though, meant not sharing me and I closed down to others and closed down to myself.
Years later in the new kitchen of my former guardian teacher, my son beamed from the very centre of a framed montage of all her many grandchildren, “Well, we couldn’t leave you out, could we?” she told him. Here was photographic evidence of the place she held for me, deep in her heart; we were bound by an invisible cord.
When I learned secondhand from a social media post that she had died, I felt a hole in my history burn.
All these memories and the emotions they evoked, were stored away, convinced I had forgotten. Moved on. They reared up like a Gorgoneion rising in the temple, triggered by an abusive relationship twenty years later. I swam against Poseidon’s tide – he wasn’t dragging me to the depths of his ocean and I would not succumb to Athena’s curse.
In choosing to swim I learned not to drown and, in so doing, I made sense of my late teenage years, the self harm, overdosing and antiseptic baths.
I had learned through experience and I understood now. I understood me.
And I understand that spider.
I have been my own Hero in Joseph Campbell’s archetypal Journey. I entered the cave – not the first time I was called, but when I was ready – and I embarked on a path through the dark of the shadow. Like any good Hero I found friends who would help me and mentors to guide me on my way.
One friend, self-styled, could be my hero; he could save me from the shadow, he held the treasure, but it was not his gift I wanted to receive. From friendship to saviour – I had met the Shapeshifter, my “Rescuer”.
Pathological altruism. I didn’t need saving.
What are the motivations in giving to heal? To give for giving’s sake, to feel good for giving, to be regarded by others as good for the giving?
Anthropologist, Roshi Joan Halifax says the question to ask in giving is “How will this serve?” This removes ego from the equation leaving only the highest good to be met.
Ah my “Rescuer”. The absolute joy in healing others is not in the holding on to, not in being needed but it is in the letting go. A rite of passage. Like baby’s first footsteps ….. And they’re off!
I didn’t turn back. I did not accept his gift. The one that got away. No pattern repeating. No asking for it.
That wasn’t the story he told.
From platitudes to beatitudes. And so be it. And so it is.
Shapeshifter. Trickster. Antagonist.
Enmeshed in a web of veiled conjecture with strands so fine and so loose, it was impossible to know where they started and where they might end.
And I didn’t turn back to him. Creator of problems only he can resolve.
Netted. Trapped. Blocked.
Fight? Flight? Fright?
If I tell my own story, if I speak my own truth, he is powerless.
I refuse to live in the shadows with an implicit threat of exposure. And so I speak out. And I start with some advice.
In training trade union reps in my branch I gave two pieces of advice – three if saying nothing if you know nothing is included.
Firstly, check your evidence and double check. People who feel aggrieved provide bullets to fire and you don’t want to go over the top firing blanks because you will likely be shot down in flames.
Secondly, check your person. Why are they giving you this information, what are their motivations and what do they want you to do with it?
Check your information and check your person. Double check.
Check your evidence. My “Rescuer” was absolutely right. There was someone with cause to feel excluded and there was a complaint submitted against me. Complaint not complaints. Four files. Significant complaint in fact.
Check your person. Why was my “Rescuer” told? What was it his person wanted him to do with this golden nugget of information?
Had my “Rescuer” checked his person he would have known this was pyrite. Fool’s Gold. No gift at all.
Simple fact checking would have confirmed there was, indeed, one person who had cause to feel excluded because they were excluded, from some activities – on the direct instruction of the UCU Northern Region Office.
Further factchecking would have uncovered that the person who submitted that epic complaint about me … was me. Motivated only to end the relentless gossip and conjecture, there was enough evidence to flush out my “Rescuer” and float him to the surface, without punition.
I wanted him to stop. Move on. That was all.
How did he know though, when complaint submission is made to the General Secretary’s Office and bound in strictest confidence? Who was it, I wonder, putting whispers in his ear?
Wanting to reduce the dose of my “Rescuer’s” bitter medicine, I asked the advice of a woman who used to chair a national women’s committee. She responded in assertion and defense of the moral code by which she said he lives. And so my “Rescuer’s” version of a story that was never his to tell, is held to be true.
No advice. No support. Had he been whispering in her ear?
Unison’s Northern Region Secretary, Clare Williams, speaks brilliantly on gender based violence – not just physical or direct sexual assault or verbal abuse, but on organisational policies and processes which can be applied and manipulated to hinder progress and to obsfucate – and all serving, actually, to sustain a patriarchal system and mute the voices of women.
The feminist writer Bel Hooks says patriarchy isn’t gendered and it is women just as often who organise and take action to close women down, be it by blocking or assassination of character. The deliberate intention to traduce, to reduce, to diminish or block another woman from speaking out, comes from a position of weakness.
Philosopher Simone de Beauvoir calls this paying of the price for being women with agency ‘‘social dominance penalties’. A punishment for capability.
Florynce Kennedy the feminist civil rights activist and lawyer labelled the turning on women by women which she witnessed firsthand during the feminist movement of the 1970s, as ‘horizontal hostility’. She explained this phenomena as ‘’misdirected anger’’ which should have been focussed on the cause of women’s oppression, not other women.
There are women who have taken on board the dominant narrative of men’s superiority and power. This is internalised oppression which Joan Halifax says in her book “Standing at the Edge” is often played out in caring professions where colleagues might feel stuck on low pay grades and unable to control external factors affecting them. It is from this feeling of weakness and inability to challenge the status quo that Kennedy says they project those feelings as aggression on other women whom they perceive to be strong and have courage.
Dividing to patriarchal rule.
And so the patriarchy is sustained. By women.
In her manifesto “Women & Power”, Professor Mary Beard explains that the mechanisms used to silence women are deeply embedded in our culture: the learning is so ingrained in us that we take the voice of the man to be the voice of authority. And so my “Rescuer’s” account is held to be true.
UCU’s General Secretary, Jo Grady, says “Listen. Believe.” Ad infinitum.
And I hear a faery die. How many faeries? Listen.
To believe is to take a position and position is power, or not. The temptation of power is much for a listener to not put their own ego in the telling of a story. To relinquish that power, to let go, to let women tell their own stories for themselves without comment or contribution, to recognise an account as a truth in itself, to hold space without judgement, takes courage and it takes leadership from the heart.
I carry no shame and I feel no shame. I am not a survivor. I will not be cast as a victim. I am someone who has had things happen to them. I have experienced them. I have processed them. I have learned from them. And I have moved on from them. If Jo Grady had made good her invitation to meet with me, I could have told her that.
If I am denied a voice, I cannot tell other women that with support and with friends and in their own time, when the time is right for them, they too can be ok. It is possible to get to a place where they can just be.
I stand firm in my values. I walk in my truth. I bear my Standard high.
Don’t see it, don’t hear it, but whatever you do, don’t speak it.
Jo Grady does not want to hear that my Poseidon, the man who raped me, used to be a UCU Rep. She does not want to hear me say that my “Rescuer” sat on a national UCU committee. And she certainly does not want to hear that the woman I asked for advice also used to be a UCU member.
All those UCU members, hopeful of the new Jo Grady broom sweeping clean. No sweeping, just a bigger mat; room enough for my Poseidon and my “Rescuer”, snug as proverbial bugs in this rug of silence.
Status Quo or status quo – You Take The Money And You Make Your Choice.
Busted. McFly. It’s All About You. The New Kid on the Block. Take That. She Bangs The Drums. Do You Know Where You Are Going To? One Direction. Yazoo or Yazz? Both. Only You. The Only Way Is Up.
Simone de Beauvoir said that our experiences shape the women we become. Jo Grady was propelled into position through the glass ceiling; convinced by men and supported by women to stand as she stood on a platform that stretched to include challenging sexual violence in universities. (Note UCU represents members in prison education, further education, adult & community education).
Pushed not pulled. They are different energies, pushing and pulling, the male and the female, the bee and the flower. It’s not too late for Jo Grady to learn. There are women who sit alongside her in TUC General Council and in her counsel who could mentor and guide her. She could learn to be a woman who pulls other women through too.
A woman’s place you see, is to ensure inclusion, safety in challenge and comfort in growth for everyone – in action and in word.
It is a woman’s place to lead.
And it is the place of women leading to ensure that each and every allegation of sexual violence is investigated, whether it be rape, harassment or persistent, just-under-the-radar abuse and particularly when children are involved.
Believe. Don’t believe. Listen.
In responding to a recent report on institutional sexism in another trade union, the TUC’s General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said “I’m massively sad, disappointed and frankly angry that women are still experiencing this now”.
Cleaning the stables is a Herculean task. Or maybe it is one for an Amazon, a warrior woman.
When the women Frances O’Grady leads and the women in whose interests she serves, rise up together and in support of each other, tilling the soil in joy and without judgement, only then will the ground be prepared for systemic change to take root.
What a harvest there is to be reaped, of truth and of trust. Enough for everyone. In kindness and in solidarity. Together.