Today’s protest at Parliament, organised by young Wellington women in response to the Wellington College scandal, was a protest against rape culture and in support of sexual consent education in schools. Spinoff Parents editor Emily Writes went along, and left feeling inspired and hopeful.
Content warning: This post discusses sexual violence and harassment. It may be upsetting to survivors. Please take care.
At the museum there is a photo of angry women holding placards. They are screaming for liberation. They look powerful but exhausted. I often walk around the museum trying to get my babies to sleep in the buggy and I always find myself drawn to the women. There is a pull that brings me back again and again to Sue Kedgley’s quote: “It’s not your penis we have been envying all these years but your freedom”. She said it in 1972.
Today, watching hundreds of young women gather at Parliament to call for their freedom from violence, I was reminded of those women. I wondered if the photos taken today would become part of some exhibition, to be remembered at the next march decades from today.
How long would we fight? And would we look powerful but exhausted too? Did I have hope for these young women? These brave and bright and bold daughters of ours?
Did I see change in the faces of the uniformed boys there? Some looked like my sons might one day.
Young woman after young woman took to the stage and as they shared their stories I thought about mine. I could see the other women there were doing the same.
I thought of the night 18 years ago. A station bench, we had missed the last train. It was cold and we giggled as we held hands to keep warm. We pressed our foreheads together, then our noses. Our teeth bumped as out lips met and we laughed before resting our cheeks against each other. The night was so still and I thought – this is love. My grandfather’s armchair sermons bubbling in my head were drowned out as we laughed, eyes closed to the world, before kissing again. I had been told first kisses were awful but this was magic. She kissed my cheek then I kissed hers. The stars twinkled and it was like a movie. A perfect romance. Then a strange noise and she jumped, tripping, scampering backward. I saw him standing, leaning against the telephone box.
“Don’t stop” he said. His hands were down his pants.
We sat in horrified silence. The train arrived at the station. We took different seats, looking out the window, lost in our own worlds. That night we didn’t speak and we took off our school clothes turned away from each other. We slept with our backs to each other on the double bunk. In the morning her mum made buttered toast but neither of us ate.
Some years later I would carry my school magazine around in my bag. If someone asked me about school I would say I was a writer. I believed I was simply moments away from being the youngest writer for Rolling Stone. I just had to write more and more. I met the editor of a magazine. He was old and the buttons on his shirt were stretched around his bulging gut. He was balding. Stunk. He told me there was an internship. Your writing is incredible, he said. When I think about his words now I cringe. It was so obvious. But I was just a girl. He told me I had a voice. I went up to his office. My first assignment. And when I got there it was too late. He licked his lips and stole my voice. I didn’t want to write again.
In the cold Wellington air I thought about the indiginities and the violence of my teenage years and I thought about the strength of these young women whose voices were so strong and clear. I thought about how exhausting it all is. How it’s easier just to give up.
How can we hope for anything to change? Every woman has a story, at least one, and these teenage girls do too. It hasn’t changed now so why will it?
And then I saw their faces and I saw mine and I saw my sisters and my daughters and my mothers and my best friends and my girlfriends and my wives.
I saw the two girls at the train station and their perfect ruined first kiss. I saw the young writer who just wanted to use her voice for good. I saw the girls in the police station and the officers holding up knee-high boots and saying “interesting choice of footwear”. The rush past the building site in your uniform fumbling with your CD player so you don’t hear them and the first time I stood holding a candle for Louise Nicholas thinking – there has to be justice now.
I saw us all and then I saw these fierce angry young women and the empty anger was replaced by a searing hope.
Because what else is there? If not now then when? If you must put our anger in a museum, this mother’s next to her grandmother’s next to her great-grandmothers, know we will pull women to us and we will carry on and on and on. They will lead now and we will follow, as it always has been.
Each generation becomes more fearless. If you’d seen these young women today you’d know that change is coming. It really is.
They won’t give up. And we will never stop believing in their power.
Feature photo by @SehTuck.
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