I think about where I was this time last year, waking up bleary-eyed but excited at 4am, only to check my phone and realise Trump had taken Florida. And Ohio. And Pennsylvania. And Michigan. Michigan?! I still can’t believe that.
The stony silence of the office that morning, even quieter than the post-BREXIT morning. BREXIT was a blow to immigration policy and the the tenets of the EU, but this? How do you even quantify a blow that hits pretty much every single minority?
And I’ve seen those memes over the last few days, comparing election night 2016 with election night 2017, and I can relate. I do feel different to the person I was twelve months ago.
Me on election day in 2016 v. Me on election day in 2017 pic.twitter.com/VhEJD7468n
— lyz lenz (@lyzl) November 7, 2017
For starters, the election results gave me an empathy that I had previously understood but could now actually feel. This time last year, I termed it a “hollow, empty gut kick”, but also registered that this was the first one of my life. People of colour, members of the LGBTQ community, immigrants, people with disabilities, and many others have long since felt their personhood held up for question and, inexplicably and unfairly, were found wanting. It was a recognition of my own privilege, that I could never truly know how anyone might experience the world, whether they had been standing right next to me the whole time, or a million miles away.
I also definitely feel angrier. But less in the lost-for-words kind of way of those early days, and in a steelier, hardened, I-will-fight-you-on-women’s-issues sort of fury. It’s no longer a jittery, bubbling, fear-filled anger anymore, but a cemented one, further bedded in by the Harvey Weinstein, Johnny Depp, and Kevin Spacey scandals, the current uproar over sexual harassment in British politics, and the horrific and still-unfolding revelations about the Gate Theatre’s long-standing artistic director, Michael Colgan.
I am more aware of how small slights, of the type that Jo Brand called out recently, are a minor but continuous blow to women’s rights. Now I can’t let things slide as “just a joke”, because I feel a responsibility, both to the women of the world but also to the people I spend time with, to hold them and myself to higher standards. It rises up from me like bad heartburn. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise we were stood in Donald Trump’s actual locker room!”, is a phrase I’ve turned to on many occasion this past year.
And sometimes, I’m not sure that this stony anger is a good thing, it has resulted in many an argument with people I love. But the fire has been lit and that fire has also galvanised in me a sense of hope.
And this hope too is more palpable than it was before. Less a recognition that something is wrong and more a communal determination to demand change. Look again at the Weinstein scandal and see the understanding, acceptance and freedom granted to women, through the #MeToo campaign and other, non-digital ways, to be open about their experiences with sexual harassment and violence. Look again at the US elections this week, where the first African American woman was elected mayor in a Southern city, the first transgender member of state legislature, a Liberian immigrant, a Sikh, a Vietnamese immigrant… This too gives me hope.
Trump’s election, while troubling in so many ways, has been an undeniably positive thing for the women’s movement – his election and subsequent events have galvanised and diversified a previously fractured group. From the Women’s March across the world to the Repeal the Eighth movement here at home, everywhere you look women are coming together not just to quietly discuss and advise one another like the now-infamous Hollywood whisper network, but to demand change and share their experiences with the world. Trump has fueled conversations, not just amongst my female friends and me, but between me and my mother and aunts, my brothers, my boyfriend, my father and male friends.
So a year on, I feel hardened but I also feel hopeful, hopeful because I can suddenly feel women bristling like a coat of armour all around me. I feel the strength of numbers.