Picking your battles

‘You have to pick your battles’

Out of all of the maternal advice that I’ve had (and I’ve had a lot), I think that this has been the most frequent. Picking your battles. I remember being a small child and throwing a tantrum over my sister nicking my toy or not getting the exact sweet I wanted from the corner shop, and my mother telling me to ‘pick my battles’.

I remember being older, having issues with friendships and having to deal with really very painful arguments and bitchiness as a teenager – pick your battles.

I remember learning about injustice in the world for the first time, and being absolutely outraged at the idea of children starving in Africa, or pollution destroying the ozone layer, or governments toppling the structure of entire countries in the name of ‘counter-terrorism’ – pick your battles.

And I remember being awakened to feminism, being angry at the manager who hit on me, the ex who told sexist jokes, the men in the street honking their cars, the men in clubs touching without permission. And again, I subsumed these issues, because – you have to pick your battles.

I’ve accepted it, and subsumed it into my consciousness, for so long, but I’m starting to realise that actually – fuck that! 

When I point out to my brother that his favourite TV show is full of sexist jokes and stereotypes – that actually matters – it is actually a thing! It’s not just me being the crazy obsessive feminist – it’s me getting increasingly tired and frustrated by living in a world where sexism is so normal it’s not even noticed half the time. Where sexism is so normal that sitcoms airing at 6pm – sitcoms that are essentially aimed at young teenagers like my brother – are full of it! Would we accept sexism on a programme on the CBBC channel (kids TV channel for non-UK folks)? No, we would not. So why is it ok that the programmes that air before the watershed and are essentially for kids (after they’re too old for CBBC but before they’re old enough to think for themselves) are so full of misogyny?

So I realise that sometimes I might post *too many* depressing stories about rape, or murder, or rape-murder, or rapists being allowed back on a football pitch with no consequences – but maybe instead of telling me to ‘pick my battles’ you should look at the societies that allow these things to happen so often that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence.

And maybe I’ll come across as an angry or bitter person – but it’s not true. I have my personal life, and I have my political views – and I’d like to keep them fairly separate (or at least be able to compartmentalise so I’m not constantly walking around fuming about female genital mutilation – because who does that help?)

However, I’d rather be angry and bitter and yet raising awareness and trying to make the people in my life concerned about these issues in the way that I am than be blissfully unaware of the damage and pain that my culture is contributing to.

As I’ve written in other posts, sometimes the injustice in the world really does get on top of me, and makes me want to melt into a heap and just cry forever, because I feel utterly useless and helpless to make a change.

But I’m trying to accept that whilst I might not be able to end sexism or give everyone an education, give everyone life-saving vaccines, give everyone enough food and water and shelter to live – I can make small changes and I can contribute in my own way.

I have to follow my talents, and my talents are in my writing, in my theatre work. If I make a play and just one person comes to see it and they leave thinking, really thinking about how they can change this stuff, I’ve succeeded. And that’s all I can do.

Sometimes it does feel like I have to make a choice between pointing out sexism and injustice all the time, and people thinking I’m obsessive and weird, or allowing this stuff to pass by me, allowing people to say hideous things in front of me with no protest, and feeling ashamed of myself and internalising that sexism.
But, honestly, people have always found me a bit obsessive and weird.
I’m really not bothered.
So I’m sorry, maternal voice, I know that you want me to pick my battles. But looking back on my life, in the past I’ve spent so much time picking my battles that I’ve neglected to fight some of the most important ones. So, moving forward, I’m fighting, and fighting, and fighting some more. Because I have to believe that I can make a change. Because I won’t be silenced by anyone, not even myself.
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