28th May 2018
I’m walking down Grafton Street when I see her. She’s young, early twenties. Behind her she pulls a small suitcase, an overnighter. Airline tags stuck on the handle flutter in the breeze; she has clearly just landed.
There, in the middle of the packed street, I burst into tears. She catches my eye, and instead of the alarm you would expect at a complete stranger crying at the sight of you, she smiles, and there’s an almost imperceptible nod.
Because that’s the kind of day last Friday was. As I walked through town, I caught eyes with woman after woman and we exchanged it again, that slight nod, and a look of hope, fear, solidarity. It felt like a giant water balloon of emotion, heavy and precarious, was balanced above us, but we were all holding it together.
My WhatsApp groups were alight with it.
‘Have you seen the videos on Instagram of people arriving at Dublin airport? They’re being greeted by crowds cheering. Am in floods.’
‘Kids were wearing the Tá badges in school this morning heading up to their graduation mass.’
‘They’re down in Fairview on the bridge demonstrating, cars are hooting. I want to go down, but I have a baby attached to my boob. No bodily autonomy here,’ jokes one.
Pictures of friends bringing their young children with them to vote.
Then the stress, the fear. Word from the Yes Campaign that turnout was dying. ‘Yes in danger of failing,’ said the Instagram post. What if this was another Brexit, another Trump, where the world seemed to have turned upside down. I feel sick at the thought of the bleakness of those mornings being repeated, only this time so much closer to home, so much more visceral.
And then the exit polls. And the relief. That maybe, just maybe, it was going to come out alright.
And it did.
And the pride.
And the fact that there wasn’t an urban-rural divide.
And we all fancy Simon Harris.
And the braveness of Dr Peter Boylan- he was my consultant; a kind, sensible man with the ability to make you feel eminently minded.
I stand in awe of all mná. It gives me shivers even now.
All those young women in their jumpers and badges. And all those older women, the quiet yeses. And of course, all those men who supported all those women. My own father surreptitiously wiping away a tear as he watched the returns.
I made that journey to England in support of a friend, years ago.
I remember when she arrived at my workplace and I knew by the look on her face without her saying anything that something was gravely wrong.
She texts me over the weekend, to mark the day, and to thank me. I don’t know that I, a twenty-something year old who had barely lived, had anything in the way of real emotional support to offer back then. What you want at a moment like that is your mum. But we told no one, even her mother, the most loving and kindest of women, because who knew what the reaction would be? And because of the shame. The undeserved, unfair, bloody shame.
So we went, and she persevered, through the awkwardness of staying with our friend and chatting to her flatmates- did they know? This most private of matters being played out in front of strangers, because your own country made a refugee of you. And the argy-bargy of travel. And the getting home and having to pretend we’d had a great girl’s trip. And the rest.
In her message, she says the decision changed the course of her life, and that it took her years to get over it. ‘This day will only help in subsiding that shame’, she says. And I want to cry tears of rage for my friend, the most gentle of people, that by dint of having to leave her country, her home, she was made to feel that way.
I am raising a girl. The girliest of girls, as it happens. Already, just shy of four, she loves dresses, and pink, and make-up, and princesses. And sometimes I catch myself and think should I be trying to point her in another direction. We watched the royal wedding last weekend, and she relished it. Halfway through, I started on with ‘of course the princess does lots of other things, yoga, languages, travel, charity work, she has a great career. And look at the Queen, sure she’s the boss of everyone.’
I caught my mother, the most feminist person I know, because it would never even occur to her that girls could not do anything and everything that boys can, giving me an amused look. ‘Let the child enjoy it’, I can almost hear her thinking. And she is right. So much of what it is to be a woman comes with shame. Why should these things be in some way wrong because they are traditionally seen as female?
The day of the vote, I tell my daughter we’re voting for women’s rights. And the two of us march around the house shouting ‘women’s rights, women’s rights’, and fist punching the air.
When her father picks her up later that day from the grandparents, there’s a demonstration across the road. ‘Women’s rights’, she shouts. And they join the march, where she sits aloft on his shoulders, waving her flag. If she understands nothing but that women’s rights are something to be excited about, and to shout about, then for now that is enough.
And maybe next it will be the schools, and she, the child of a non-religious family, will not be punished as such with limited educational opportunities.
For this moment though, it is enough to feel that we rose up, quietly, concertedly, indomitably.
I stand in awe of all mná.
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