Today, I have to choose to believe that there is nothing that I can’t do.
It is a conscious and bold choice, flying in the face of reality.
Yesterday, with grace and poise, Elizabeth Warren announced that she would no longer be a candidate for President of the US.
A few months ago, I made the argument that Joe Biden or someone like him should be the Democratic nominee in the United States of America, because I was so tired of the insidious sexism that was emerging from the highest office in both their land and ours, the United Kingdom. Their misogyny in leadership was enabling our misogyny in leadership, and I felt weary to my core. Though not my political views, it seemed like the best strategy.
More recently, I spent some time considering Elizabeth Warren, how five years ago my US friends were nervous about Hilary Clinton, though excellent and qualified, as a continuation of an establishment that allowed people with the same surname to continue to sit in the same office, but were effervescent about Warren. I was thrilled to watched her stage a sit-in in the Senate, how determined, articulate and brilliant she is and was. I found myself thinking of her every time I pulled on my trainers. I don’t like wearing trainers, but every time I did, I felt just a little more energetic, competent, capable. She reminded me of all the women I know who don’t suffer fools gladly, as became blisteringly apparent in the debates.
As I watched, however, I noticed that there were subtle, familiar barriers every time. Gender was something that went ahead of all of the candidates that happened to be women, something that people would have to fight through their own emotions and feelings about, before they chose to form opinions on the calibre of the person.
I have not experienced institutional racism, but I can only presume this projected barrier is double, triple that for women of colour everywhere. Neither race, sexuality nor gender should be an obstacle to the merit of the person. Yet, as was stated beautifully on Twitter earlier this week, the solution is not to say that you shouldn’t vote on gender, you should vote on merit – as if there has been no American woman in the history of American women with sufficient merit to match residents, past and present of the Oval Office.
There are myriad reasons for voting the way that people have, and people have a right to make that choice in a democracy, but the seeming inability to challenge the systemic misogyny of the political system still pervades, over 100 years since women were granted the vote. It leaves me, and many others wondering if any gains are made at all and who we might look up to. Not as a source of perfection or an idol, but another talented, intelligent, strong, imperfect woman – not because we all want to be president, but because we all have further steps to take, in the wake of being told that based on our biology, we can’t.
What makes this all the more painful is that these are Democrats, these are supposedly liberals, who are granted a significant portion of the women’s vote, yet strategically it is still not in their interest to vote for a woman.
My experience in the UK is that the only two women Prime Ministers that have existed are women that I could not vote for, because their policies were so heinous to me.
I was born into the Margaret Thatcher era. Aside from the theft of my milk, it was her deification of the economy, and undermining of the need for welfare and support, that I believe led her to destroy swathes of the safety net of British society, the long-term consequences of which we are experiencing now. Still now, as I interview people around the country, particularly in areas where the decline of industry has undermined life and community, the name Thatcher is spat out like a bad taste.
Theresa May was the unapologetic architect of the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts that brought about a hostile environment, a dark underbelly of British society. It differentiated between those who are allowed rights, and those on whom we turn the screws, created such unfair, unjust, life-destroying, life-undermining circumstances, that are only possible with a narrative of dehumanisation. It further established and encouraged systemic racism, that reinforced tiers in our society and made the Windrush scandal inevitable.
What’s more, May would talk passionately about the need to challenge modern slavery, not in any way engaging with the hypocrisy that her own systems, the house that she built, contained and reinforced this slavery, trafficking and abuse.
These women, these former Prime Ministers did not align to anything that I value, and therefore I could not vote for them. Their elevation to the highest office in this land was made possible by the fixation on power, the creation and maintenance of it, the same thirst that drives the current leadership of the Conservative party in the UK, and much of the Republican Party in the US (though there are excellent and compassionate Conservatives in both), which has allowed for the preservation of the current resident of the Oval Office, and No.10 Downing Street. Anything is permissible as long as power is maintained, even, God forbid, a woman.
This is why it is so devastating that a woman of Warren’s calibre and policies has not been embraced by her party. She is a woman of vision, something the world desperately needs to find a way out of the current polarising, power-driven challenges we face, as well as being a woman who could easily be voted for on the basis of merit alone.
Today I have to choose to believe that there is nothing that I cannot do, because at this current moment in time, the world has announced that I am limited, and must stay small. I do not want to react to that, either by being small or overcompensating with fear and anger, but I cannot wait much longer.
In Martin Luther King’s letter from Birmingham Jail, he addresses the depravity of slavery and segregation that existed in a particular form then and continues to exist in many others now, but his sentiment is apt today for women too. It is apt this week, as we are caught between Super Tuesday, with the seeming declaration that a woman cannot be elected President, and International Women’s Day on Sunday, the one day that it was necessary to create to poke a hole in the year round, consistent power and control of men,
For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”