As an American living abroad, I have been trying for a long, long time to figure out how I continue to help and even relate to a place I have voluntarily left behind. Home is not America for me. Home is Scotland and I am British, and I cannot split myself in two. We have our own problems here, and it’s impossible to devote equal care and action to both places, particularly when one is an ocean away.
But while the pitifully lacking sentencing of a convicted rapist and the mass shooting attack on a community that never gets to take a deep breath are American problems, rape culture and hateful, violent crimes are worldwide problems. They are inequality problems. And they are worth all the fight we can muster.
There’s that thing about the definition of insanity being that you do the same over and over and expect different results. But I don’t think anyone expects anything at all anymore. Not in America.
When I was about 20 and sitting in a hostel in Cesky Krumlov talking to an Australian guy who was on a round-the-world trip, he was telling me he’d love to go to the US but he was too scared. Because doesn’t everyone have a gun? Why are there so many guns?
I firmly reassured him that no way, dude, unless you’re specifically in a rough neighbourhood, on the whole, you’re pretty safe. Guns were around, but in my privileged, white, middle class experience, they were not a thing I worried about. Columbine had already happened, but mass shootings were not yet the norm.
But now? In addition to everything else, there have been incidents with guns at both my high school and, indirectly, my college. Guns ARE everywhere. I am still shocked when I hear news of guns in the UK, but gun violence, including mass shooting, is so standard in the US that as the first trickle of news of Orlando came through, before there were any details, it wasn’t even remotely surprising.
If I had that same conversation with that Australian today, I’d be more sympathetic to his views. Things have changed. They’ve gotten worse. My friends are having kids and they are worried. I do not actively fear being in public when I do go to the US, but I am uneasy in general, in a way I never was before.
Generally it is a good, sensible thing that our President doesn’t have absolute power, but it’s been obvious for a long time how frustrated Obama is about his inability to make effective changes to gun control because they won’t get through Congress.
Meanwhile the government spends so much time and energy making everything BUT getting a gun harder. Making women’s rights and healthcare a total minefield. Making something as everyday as going to the goddamned bathroom into an absolute nightmare for Trans people.
This post started two weeks ago when I was feeling rage about the joke of a sentence Brock Turner got for being a dipshit horrendous rapist. But it grew quickly to be about all of the things the US cannot seem to solve. And while I was still waffling about how to frame it, the senseless hate-fueled violence hopped the pond – last week Jo Cox, an MP who routinely stood up for immigrants, was stabbed and shot on her way home from regular office hours for her constituents. I can only hope that’s not a sign of things to come for this country.
20 years ago, there WAS a mass shooting in the UK. It was in a primary school in Dunblane. On 13 March 1996, a 43-year-old former scout leader shot sixteen school children and their teacher, Gweneth Mayor, in Dunblane Primary School’s gym. He then shot himself. Assault weapons were already banned here, but he used legally obtained handguns.
In a conversation we had just after Sandy Hook, Kristina told me about how fast the gun laws changed in the UK after Dunblane. In 1997, the UK passed laws banning private possession of handguns almost completely. Even the UK’s Olympic shooters fall under this ban and are unable to train in England, Scotland, or Wales.
Since then, there was one incident in Cumbria in 2010 where a taxi driver went on a spree killing. But mass shootings are otherwise unheard of here, and we have one of the lowest rates of gun homicide in the world. Even police don’t usually carry guns.
Yes. That’s right. Even the police don’t carry guns. Do you know how NICE that is?
How it is that a similar change has not already happened in the US baffles me.
I have been told by many, including my own father, when discussing misogyny and the bullshit women put up with, that I can’t get so angry about things. But I disagree. I can get angry. I am angry. I will stay angry.
Women are told all our lives that being angry isn’t attractive or ladylike. Fuck that. Anger is productive. Anger doesn’t make me bitter or horrible or unhappy – it makes me active.
I will stay angry as long as rapists are getting away with it. I will stay angry as long as, as Mali said, it’s easier to buy an assault rifle than a golden retriever in America. I will stay angry as long as people are targets of hate because of who they love. I will stay angry so that I’m not complacent.
Anger and love are not mutually exclusive. I am full of both. What would change without anger? Without love? They the most potent motivators I know.
One of the most frustrating things about being a woman is being told by a man – and this happens ALL THE TIME – that they are a feminist ‘but…’ insert any number of things that are a woman’s fault or that we shouldn’t complain about so much or aren’t we overreacting just a little bit or shouldn’t we just be a little stronger in the face of abuse or a little more conservative in the way we dress and on and on and on.
And trying and trying and trying to make a man realise that they will never understand what it is like to feel an entire movement is resting on your shoulders. To question yourself for hours on whether or not you should speak up in return, because all your life you’ve been told to pick your battles, which is valid advice in general, but in terms of feminism, we really need to pick more of them.
If you think picking more battles makes me a pain in the ass, well, maybe you should examine WHY you feel that way.
And then think of what a pain in the ass it is to always just a little bit fear for your personal safety when you walk home alone in the dark, even if that fear is just sitting in the back of your mind in a corner. What a pain in the ass it is to feel lucky that you’ve never experienced more than low-level street harassment that all women experience.
Let me reiterate that. To feel LUCKY you have never been sexually assaulted or raped. It should have nothing to do with luck. But that’s how I, and plenty of other women, feel about it.
To constantly work against the society ingrained notion that what I’m wearing or drinking or saying is responsible for what happens to me, not the actual person DOING it. To constantly have to remind people that it is not our responsibility as women to fix the system.
To see that somehow, even today, a hateful, racist, misogynist, scumbag of a human being has managed to get as far as the Republican nomination for leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world, and to watch the Democratic nominee constantly take extra shit because she is a woman (historic! Finally!) and extra extra shit because her opponent is who he is.
To know you always have to fight a little bit harder, but that aggressively asking for what you deserve is seen as an undesirable trait for you while the man across the room aggressively asking for what he deserves is seen as strong and effective.
To do all of this anyway and take extra abuse for it in the process. Because if you don’t suck it up and handle the backlash, fewer people will join you in doing the same and nothing will ever change.
And then having men tell you you’re overreacting or taking it too seriously or being ridiculous.
Yeah. That is enough to make anyone crazy, right?
But I’m the pain in the ass.
And that’s just being a woman. You know who takes even MORE shit? The LGBTQ community. To have something as hateful as a mass shooting happen to a community of people who already have to deal with so much fear and persecution. To have the safe spaces they have worked so hard to build for themselves violated in the face of baseless hate. To see them unable to help their community because there are ACTUAL FUCKING LAWS against it.
But, you know, god forbid you take away our right to have an automatic weapon in our home. Because that is helping everyone, isn’t it?
Feminism is equality. Simple. And all of these problems come from some people’s inability to see others as equal. Because of gender, sexual orientation, mental health. We need to fix the way we look at all of these things as a society. Particularly in America.
And what am I doing? I am making noise. I’m writing to representatives. I’m talking to everyone who will listen and even some who won’t. I’m donating time and money and love. I’m being an ally. I’m being a woman.
Stop asking me what I’m doing and start asking what you can do.
My life is awesome. The lives of my female and LGBTQ friends are also awesome. But the standard, inbuilt obstacles associated with being who we are regularly exhaust and frustrate the best of us. We can’t just DO something – we have to navigate the bullshit at the same time. But we are all on the same team. We don’t stop working or fighting. We have productive anger, and we have endless reserves of love.
It is easy to be an ally. All you need to do is acknowledge what it is like for someone else. Don’t diminish them by competing with your own problems. Don’t try to one-up or match. If you feel your own problems relate, then use them as a way to understand that sure, it is hard for you sometimes, but it’s harder for someone else.
Listen. Think. Believe them. Fight WITH them.