What do you hope will be different for the women in your family in 50 years’ time?
EW: In 50 years, my five nieces and one nephew will be celebrating landmark birthdays: the youngest will be turning 50. They’ll have inherited our roles as family storytellers and remembrancers; inherited, too, the detritus of our lives, at least those of us that have shuffled off the coil: houses, endless piles of stuff.
I hope they somehow have an archive of our family WhatsApp, so they can see how much we adored them, how we posted pictures and videos of them every day, littered with heart-eyes emojis. I hope they can read our half-century old Twitter and Facebook feeds: #metoo. #everydaysexism. #weshouldallbefeminists. #hollaback. #heforshe. I hope they must ask their floating Alexa-bot what these and “unsolicited dick pic” mean when they read our old pages, saved for posterity. I hope these are period pieces for them, interesting nuggets in the lives of their decrepit relatives, things they discuss with we-must-honour-the-struggles-of-history earnest, having to employ imaginative empathy in the way we do now when thinking of life before the NHS, say, or when there were only four channels.
I hope that in the decades between now and planning their 50th birthdays, the girls never feel in their pocket for their keys when they are walking alone at night. I hope walking alone at night is normal for them, my beautiful, clever, funny nieces: I hope they become poetic flaneurs who wander and dream and watch the stars above city rivers around the world, and never get called a bitch for not bestowing a smile upon a stranger who demands one. I hope they are friends, these siblings and cousins, and meet to get pissed and laugh about childhood jokes. I hope that when they’re in their twenties (and thirties and forties) they go partying together, and no one has to watch the drinks, or go anywhere in pairs, or shrug off being insulted, groped, as just part of a night out. I hope that if they have children, it doesn’t occur to them that this might harm them professionally, any more than it might to their brother or boy cousin, and that if they don’t have children, it would occur to no one to think them a failure. I hope their partners, if they want one, are decent men or women, that they never walk on eggshells, that their blood never floods with adrenaline when they hear the car pull into the driveway, except in the best way; that they never have a moment of fear in an argument with a lover. I hope that it never occurs to my beautiful nephew that he shouldn’t cry, or talk about his feelings, and that they’ll all pity us and our narrow views of a man, but then give us a bit of credit for at least starting what they finished. I hope that at the youngest’s fiftieth birthday party, they have a big reunion, and they laugh about how we, their elders, will fret and plan and argue about dangers and threats that no longer exist. They’re from a different time, they’ll agree, we can’t judge, and indulge their old aunt, if she’s alive, by fetching her more champagne and nodding along, catching each other’s rolling eyes.
I hope all this for them, but since it almost certainly can’t be so: I wish them all, girls and boy, bravery, strength, kindness and sheer raw guts to keep up the good fight for the next 50 years. I hope they keep calling it out, keep noticing, keep challenging, keep arguing and listening. I hope they all know and never forget they’re so much more than what society tells them girls and boys are. I hope I’m still around in 50 years to see how bloody brilliant they’ll all be.
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