November 9, 2016
One of the most fascinating (if dispiriting) endeavours in which I’ve ever partaken is following Reese Witherspoon on Instagram. Not for the fact of Reese herself, who is perky, inoffensive, and avidly marketing her southern lifestyle brand, but for her followers. These are people who, apart from the fact of Reese Witherspoon, I seem to have absolutely nothing in common. Though you wouldn’t know it at first—click on their accounts, and they’ve got jobs and kids and gardens and they’re instagramming their pie just like I am. But when Reese Witherspoon posted admiration about Michelle Obama this summer, they went ballistic. “Unfollowing.” “I’m never going to be able to watch Sweet Home Alabama again.” “Reese, you’re an entertainer. We don’t come here for the politics.”
We don’t come here for the politics.
As though politics was a channel on television and not the world we live in, and the streets we walk down (though I suspect these people drive down) when we take our kids to school. It was shocking to me, that decent-seeming people can operate in the world in this way. And not just in this regard of politics as a kind of accessory, something you can put on and shrug off. But that these decent people were coming at it with politics of their own,with their #NeverHillary and hash tagged support for the Republican candidate for president. These ordinary people are the monsters in our midst and they’re so emboldened. Moreover, they hate Michelle Obama. I didn’t know anyone hated Michelle Obama. They all seemed upset about her influence over school lunches. I don’t know. It was so much nicer when I had never considered Reese Witherspoon’s twitter followers, back when I lived in a bubble.
Yesterday the writer Glennon Doyle Melton posted a photo of her and her daughters wearing Wild Feminist t-shirts, ready to rock the vote. The photo received overwhelming support, save for a few people. People who wrote how they really respect Melton and value her work, but can’t believe she is supporting Hillary Clinton. (How? How? How? I would love to sit down for a drink with the woman I heard of the radio the other day who claims she’s voting Republican because she’s a Christian and has morals and values. What are they? How did the Republican candidate align with these? What is it like to live in a world that makes absolutely no sense. Although I’m started to get an idea…)
Somebody told Melton though, why are you involving your children in this? They’re young, this person said. Let them be kids and why concern them with politics? And this morning even more than yesterday I’m considering how abjectly wrong this is. That we have to involve our children. We can no longer expect others to do the work for us, and Facebook posts and tweets just aren’t cutting it—we’ve got to get out there and do the work, and our kids have to see us doing it. They have to know what the stakes are. It makes me think of Advice for the Young At Heart, by Tears for Fears. “When are we going to make it work?” I’ve spent a good decade being bitter at Baby Boomers for the world we’ve been stuck with, but I’m nearly forty—I need to do a better job for my own children.
“I could be happy. I could be quite naive. It’s only me and my shadow, happy in a make-believe.” And it’s not just me and my general complacency. It’s all the people who seriously considered Hillary Clinton the lesser of two evils, the people who are right now on twitter claiming that Justin Trudeau is just as bad—this fucking moralizing has to stop, pragmatism has to prevail. The current Liberal government has to use this moment of crisis to live up to their promises and underline the faith Canadians put in them a year ago. We have to work together with what we want. I don’t want a revolution. Although it’s easy for me to say—I’m not living on a remote First Nations reserve with no access to clean drinking water, for example (or in Flint, Michigan, with no access to clean drinking water) but I’m not sure these are the people who want a revolution either. I’m not sure the revolution some people are looking for would make life necessarily better for either of us.
The idea of politics being something you can take off or put on is continuing to trouble me. I wrote about it last March when Rob Ford died—I can’t put my politics aside. The idea that women are human beings worthy of respect is my politics, and it’s the foundation of everything. And this is what drives me nuts—not the idiots and the white supremacists because these people seem to have an astounding sense of their own identities, but instead the ordinary, decent people (your dad, your husband) who found making the choice between Clinton and Trump a difficult one. Do you know how radical that is? Do you understand how extremist and terrifying it is that any ordinary decent person who was of two minds about it even entertained the notion of voting for Trump, not even to get to the fact that they actually did so? If that were my dad, my uncle, I’d never be able to speak to that person again. All those families who quietly agree not to discuss politics at the table, lest it make anybody uncomfortable. But we have to be made uncomfortable. Look how impossibly uncomfortable we are this morning after a season of trying to be civil and understanding. The daughters of American need to turn to their dads and ask them, How could you do this to us?
(This is also why we have to raise our children to be feminist. Actively, whether they are our sons or daughters. Do not think the world will do it for you.)
My seven-year-old daughter crawled into bed with me this morning and her entire body was wracked with sobs. She is a bit melodramatic. 14 years of living with an English person has taught me not to get hysterical about things, but Harriet is still little. And I suppose I should be sorry that I involved her so much in what was happening yesterday, that she became so invested—this would be a victory for justice, for women, for feminism. But it’s not the worst lesson to learn, either, that the world is a deeply imperfect place and that the things you dream aren’t everybody else’s dreams. That there are disappointments and set-backs, but we fight on anyway. In fact, we fight on even harder. If it was important to be a feminist yesterday, today it is beyond paramount. We cannot stop.
I’m going to write a letter to my MP and to the Prime Minister today imploring them to see this as a pivotal moment—you must be the thing you promised you could be. I’m going to take action to stand up for the people of Standing Rock, who are defending their precious resources from the likely possibility of environmental disaster. I am going to continue to insist that Black Lives Matter. I’m going to lay down my life on the principal of public education so that we stop having people who fail to understand that #BlackLivesMatter means that all lives matter, and that they don’t right now. All this is a failure of intelligence, of empathy and understanding. I’m going to keep talking back to pro-life numpties on the street and online and using my voice and my story. I’m going to keep reading and learning and asking questions and rejecting cliches and trying to put the pieces together. To understand Reese Witherspoon’s instagram followers even, and where the common ground lies—the world does not need any more othering. I’m going to use my voice and my body and stand up for the things I believe in—which include goodness, the world, and people.