Direct Action

Like many others, I have been dismayed and shocked by events in the US surrounding the election of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

These events have forced me to acknowledge that we have a LONG way to go towards the fair treatment of people of different genders, race and cultural background.

There are those who are respected and believed and can get away with quite a lot before they are called out, and there are those who have to live up to a much higher  behavioural standard in every area of their lives, in order to have a say.

Even if these brave souls are more credible, and are actually believed, they will not get very far.  White Male Privilege* was clear to see in Brett Kavanaugh as he shouted back at his questioners and lied about his drinking history and the meaning of the term Devil’s Triangle.  He was right to be so confident: a supporter from within the House of Representatives was simultaneously editing the Wikipedia entry to reflect Kavanaugh’s fabrication.

This is not my Government.  I live in the UK.  So why do I care so much?

Because this is personal.  No woman could have behaved like this and got away with it (much less benefited and been promoted).  No black person could have got away with it.  You can substitute immigrant/gay/disabled person if you like.  Some citizens are more equal than others.

Just to be clear, I do not hate white males.  I am in a loving relationship with one.  My dad is one.  They are equally appalled at this situation.

This is an extreme example of White Male Privilege, but it filters through everything we do in our every day lives.  A myriad of messages contribute to women and men knowing what to expect from one another, what they can or can’t get away with, or put up with, and how they feel about themselves.

I got a wake-up call a couple of years ago, when the tv documentary No More Boys and Girls aired.  Before I watched this programme I had a gut reaction against the title.  I was resistant to the idea of getting rid of gender markers in school.  If this is you too, I urge you to watch the programme.  The whole programme.

Without re-watching it, these are the key points I took away, and have remembered:

  • The teacher tended to call girls ‘love’ and ‘sweetheart’ and boys ‘mate’.  This resulted in girls being less resilient, and feeling they needed to be looked after by others.  They shied away from a challenge.
  • Girls felt they were not as strong as boys.  Boys ‘knew’ they were stronger.  Experiments showed that this was not in fact the case.  The girls were amazed and delighted (some burst into tears at the revelation).  Some boys were very angry at their lost status.
  • Boys did not have the words to express how they felt, except when they were angry.  They couldn’t say ‘I’m frustrated’ or ‘I’m disappointed’ or ‘I’m anxious’.  It all turned into ‘I’m angry’.  And they acted this out.
  • Girls were initially poorer at spatial reasoning tests.  However with practise with toys like Lego, they equalled the boys.  They had just spent too much time brushing Barbie’s hair.
  • Girls’ clothes were labelled with logos like ‘Princess’ and ‘Gorgeous’.  Boys’ clothes were labelled with logos like ‘Monster’ and ‘Here Comes Trouble’.  They lived up to the labels.
  • Parents often said that their daughters ‘chose’ pink sparkly things.  It emerged that they were getting very clear non-verbal signals that this was the right way to go.  I realised that I have been guilty of this.  Since watching this programme, I have been much more comfortable with my daughters going off-piste with their clothes and bedrooms!
  • When babies’ genders were swopped, the adults around them reacted to them very differently depending on what gender they felt they were.  ‘Girls’ were given boring toys to cuddle; boys were given stimulating toys to problem-solve and explore.

We think that so many things are just natural, and they are not.  They are socially constructed.

On Friday, I took my car to the garage.  For many years I have felt intimidated when taking my car in for any sort of work.

When I was twenty and took my first car in for an MOT I was told that it would need £500 of work.  I couldn’t afford this, and rang my parents in tears.  My dad told me not to do anything, and that he would take the car to his local garage.  He was told that the car needed £100 of work.

When I was seventeen, my boyfriend taught me how to change a wheel.  My mum got a flat tyre a couple of months later, and I changed her wheel for her, single-handed.

The experience of the garage when I was twenty made me feel under-confident with car maintenance.  That this was not my domain.  I left much of the car maintenance to the men in my life, saying that I found it ‘boring’.

I don’t think I meant ‘boring’.  I meant:  ‘car maintenance makes me feel crap about myself.  I will never be taken seriously in this area.  I will be addressed in a patronising manner and be called ‘love’ and be given the message that this is a job for the big boys.

So on Friday, I took my car to my garage.  Our local garage has challenged my assumptions and insecurities.  They have never over-charged me, and have always treated me with dignity and respect when I have asked questions.  And so I felt confident in describing the symptoms I have noticed when driving my car.  The mechanic listened, and said he would check the brake-pads.

I left the garage feeling elated.  I had been treated with respect.  It felt good.  I walked with my head held high and my arms swinging.

I got half-way home.  I got to the end of our lane.

A new housing estate is being built alongside the lane.  I don’t object to new housing estates.  People have to live somewhere.

The annoyance about this building project is that our lane has been closed for a year to allow site vehicles access.  They stopped needing to use this entrance to the site six months ago, but have not re-opened the lane.  And today, they had blocked off the footpath.

Women.  You know the feeling you get when you approach a building site with a cluster of men in high-vis jackets and hard hats.  But I was riding high on my garage experience.  I am a confident, capable woman in my forties. 

Workman: You can’t get down here, love!

Me: Why not?

Workman: It’s closed for six months.

Me: But I live down here.

Workman: Sorry love.  You’ll have to walk around the other way.

Me: But that way is dangerous. [No footpath, blind bend, 60 mile speed limit]

Workman: Well, you can’t walk down here, love.

I surveyed the site.  There was a stretch of 2 metres of footpath blocked off, with nothing in between.  No dangers, no work taking place, just a clear footpath with a temporary fence at either end, and then the lane I needed to walk down.

‘F**K it’.  I thought. ‘I’m going in’.

And I did.

I confidently and capably picked up the temporary fence, shifted it a foot or so, and squeezed past.  I marched across the No[wo]Man’s Land, and did the same at the other side.  The workmen looked dumbfounded, and stared.

I gave them a little wave, and I went on my way.

I held my head up high and I swung my arms.

I am not a rule-breaker by nature.  I am very much a good girl, a book-worm, a people-pleaser type of woman.  But today I found Direct Action.  And I liked it.

It might have been the repeated use of the word ‘love’ to keep me in my place.  It echoed back to the programme about little girls who thought they couldn’t.

Well it turns out we can.  We can break the rules if we can see that the rules are stupid.  We can act beyond our gender stereotypes.  It doesn’t always have to be like this.

I’m not going to change the world by moving two temporary fences in order to walk on a footpath.

But Women of America, you can change the world by voting in the Elections on Tuesday November 6.

You can say that you have had enough of White Male Privilege.  And you will set the tone for the rest of the world, because we are all watching you.

For everyone else, men included, I urge you to become more aware of the subtle messages we give and receive that tell us that the current state of affairs is the natural way and the only way.  We can make things so much better, for everyone.

*To see every day examples of White Male Privilege, click here.

This is, essentially, a gardening blog.  And it is generally a calm and mindful place.  But sometimes I feel the need to shout.

Being ‘mindful’ does, after all, mean being aware of what we are doing and thinking, and what influences are acting upon us.

If you would like to join a small and supportive community of like-minded people, consider clicking on the ‘Follow’ button at the bottom of this page.  You will receive an email each time I publish a post.  I aim to enrich and enliven your life with little pops of wonder from the garden and the natural world.  And just a smattering of Direct Action.

45 Comments Add yours

  1. Jane Eastgate says:

    So well written. It expresses clearly why we should all be concerned with what is happening in the US as these attitudes affect us all.

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you Jane. There has to be a way through this.

  2. Thank you for this well reasoned and well written post which reflects what I (and so many of of us ) have been thinking and feeling.

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you. I very much appreciate your comment. We stand together.

      1. It’s what we must do, all over the world.

  3. Emma Cownie says:

    Bloody Brilliant, Ali. I am with you all the way on this. That lack of language to identify feelings is very important. There was a school initiative, in Swansea, a while back to get pupils (boys in particular) to express how they felt about incidents in school (and to listen to others and be listened to) in a safe environment. I thought it was a great idea. The local Junior schools took it up with enthusiasm but the secondary school I was working in was dismissive of it, presumably because it didn’t directly contribute to their GCSE results, which is pretty much all they cared about.

    1. Ali says:

      It is so short-sighted, isn’t it? If we want calm, reasoned men, we need to treat them as such.

  4. Deirdre Phillips says:

    Well said! I am American, and in November 2016 I realized the scope of the problem was way bigger than I imagined in the Obama years. After a few more months I had convinced my Welsh husband we needed to leave. Since we arrived this February, (yes, it really took a year to do everything needed to leave), it is shocking how much worse things have gotten in the US. It simply defies belief, and breaks my heart for the country that is no more.

    1. Ali says:

      I have to have hope that this is fixable. That there can be more listening than shouting at some point, and all can agree that there is a way to behave and how not to behave. It just comes down to basic respect and telling the truth. And admitting mistakes. It can’t be that hard, can it?

  5. Paddy Tobin says:

    To bring the topic back to your usual gardening: My wife and I garden together. To be honest, for many years I perceived myself as the Head Gardener but over the past ten years or so, since retirement especially, I have come to realise that it is she who is the driving force, the designer, planner etc etc of the garden and that I am the Under Gardener – good for heavy work, the edges and hedges, as it often said. However, reflecting your article, most people regard me as the gardener and Mary as second fiddle (or should that be second fork, or some such?). It is something I have noticed more and more with passing years and now correct people’s misconceptions when they are expressed.

    1. Ali says:

      Paddy, you are a wonderful man. Stevie and I have observed this phenomenon, but in a slightly different way. Our group of houses shares utilities and some bills. I am consistently left out of group emails between the men of the households. Stevie always adds me to the list, making it really obvious to all, and saying ‘I’m adding Ali to this email list’. Then I’m knocked off when there is the next problem with the drains, or the hedge needs trimming. When there was a plan to dig out a blocked ditch and I was the first to volunteer my help, the response from one neighbour was ‘bless you’! I can tell you I do more digging than the rest of them!
      I love that Stevie gives me credit. It is really important to me. I applaud your stance too. Xxx

      1. Paddy Tobin says:

        Oh, I’d imagine you’d be just the woman to clear a blocked drain! LOL There’s a compliment you can frame!

      2. Ali says:

        Unfortunately I’m not on my phone right now, so can’t use the emoji for [spits tea out in uproarious burst of delight]! Thank you Paddy!

  6. bcparkison says:

    Well…As a conservitave Southerner in the USA I think you are way off base here. As the mother of four sons it is scary to think some bimbo can dream up a story which can’t be followed and distroy a life. I feel sorry for her and all her friends,which by the way don’t believe her. She need help not encouragement.

  7. You have made reasonable and thought-provoking points! As an American woman, I can tell you that the controversy about the Supreme Court appointment has been (and continues to be) a source of incredible division, frustration, and sadness in this country. As an American, I believe in the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.” I watched Dr. Ford give her very credible and sincere testimony. Then I listened to Judge Kavanaugh with an open mind. I actually hoped he would be as believable as his accuser because I didn’t want to think that a seemingly normal man already in such a powerful position on a federal court could have done something so vile and still reached these heights in our government. I wanted to believe there was at least one decent man left in American politics. He dashed my hopes with his evasion, deflection, filibustering, outright lies and vicious attacks on the Senate panel and all Democrats. This should have been enough to stop the process right there. Instead, the susequent FBI investigation was a shameful waste of time and the vote went exactly as expected — split almost exactly along party lines. When you think about that, this situation goes far beyond women vs. men. There are women in both our Republican and Democratic parties. Why did all the women not side with Dr. Ford and all the men side with Judge Kavanaugh? Because America is so blinded by the division between the left and the right that even sexual assault cannot penetrate the hate. That is why we have a President who is mixed up in multiple sexual allegations of his own and was caught on tape saying graphic, vile things about how women can be treated. He was elected despite his inexperience in government and his deplorable character because Americans are blinded by hate — neighbor against neighbor. That is the fundamental problem here. Until we solve that, the gender inequities will never be solved.

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you Laurie. Yes, it does seem to be all mixed up with bipartisan politics and is a terrible mess. I applaud your considered and calm reason in this. It is not easy to retain such reason in this toxic environment. Thank you; if you can stay so calm, then there is hope for others (for all of us).

  8. sgeoil says:

    So well said. We live in a world of white male privilege and the battle at times seems insurmountable, and sometimes we don’t even realize how we, as women, contribute; it is so ingrained. Raising awareness, voting, and being mindful of our daily actions are all necessary in the ongoing battle for respect and rights of all people.

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you. Such a wise and measured response, and exactly what the world needs.

  9. Eliza Waters says:

    Well put, Ali. Believe me, most of us here in the US are SO FED UP. I hope they get their comeuppance on Election Day!

    1. Ali says:

      Here’s hoping. ❤️🙏

  10. Jodi says:

    Thank you so so much for this Ali!!! Thank you!!!

    1. Ali says:

      You are so welcome, Jodi. Much love.

  11. Beautiful, Ali! I love your example of direct action. I needed to be encouraged in this today. And the facts you stated about the different ways boys and girls are treated is so important to me and a really helpful reminder of how I need to work for gender inclusivity in my classes. Thanks you so much for this.

    1. Ali says:

      Written with love. Thank you.

  12. janesmudgeegarden says:

    So well put Ali. People are very angry in the US, but one issue is whether they will actually vote. For a start, the fact that polling occurs on a weekday seems to me to be an obstacle for many. In Australia we have compulsory voting (on a Saturday), something I believe many people in other countries find quaint and amusing. But it does mean that everyone has a say and I think this is important.

    1. Ali says:

      Yes, I remember this from my time in Australia. I would never not vote (I’m too thankful to the suffragists and suffragettes) but I know a lot of people who don’t. Or who don’t find out what the parties stand for, which is another issue.

  13. FlowerAlley says:

    I am in the US. I have been sad for women and ashamed of men. All that has transpired has set me on fire with rage. If you don’t believe me…ask my white man husband. Ha! This is not over. There will be push back. I will be voting and making calls and writing messages. Thanks Ali.

    1. Ali says:

      I have surprised myself with my own rage. One thing that has bothered me is the hijacking of what is essentially about consent and entitlement, and turning it into something about Republicans and Democrats. I would really like the agenda to be brought back to: what is consent? How does a person signal their consent? (I would suggest enthusiastic responding, rather than the absence of ‘no’), and let’s address the gerzillions of confusing messages about the relative status of men and women. Thank you for being here with me. x

      1. FlowerAlley says:

        I have compartmentalized this into three issues. The sexual assault silence and shame issue. The entitled white male issue. Despite whether the judge (ironic) was innocent or guilty, he came off as an arrogant liar. And last but not least the party loyalty issue. I have never voted straight ticket, never will.
        I will not even mention our president.
        I’ve all ready yelled and cried today. I will be working on today’s post entitled ‘Hang the Weirdos.’ I am referring to plants…of course.

      2. Ali says:

        It helps to have this clarity. I look forward to your post!

  14. A very thoughtful, direct and non-combative post. This tone is exactly right, in my opinion. The goal isn’t finger pointing and blame, the goal is awareness and action.

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you so much Angela. It means a lot that my intention has come through.

  15. Where the hell is that LOVE button? What a great post! Thanks so much for inspiring us all to take Direct Action!

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you, friend. x

  16. Maggie Frost says:

    Excellent post, I agree with you 100%.

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you Maggie. X

  17. Svetla says:

    Walk on, Woman! and thank you for the documentary suggestion!

    1. Ali says:

      This made me smile. Thank you Svetla. X

  18. Great post Ali. Absolutely agree with you.

  19. Oh, how I liked this post! Yes, sometimes we do need to express strong views and air grievances with a cup of the and a view of the garden. That’s how I’ve been coping with the past couple of weeks. I an American woman who loves my country, but I’m pretty disgusted with its leadership right now. And the travesty of the Kavanaugh made me squirm in shame and embarrassment, feeling squished like a bug under a heavy shoe. A heavy MALE shoe. Granted, the white privilege males I grew up with, the one to whom I’ve been married for 49 years, and most of the other ones have shown respect and generosity and love for me, wishing only my well-being as another human being. Yet, because of an incident when I was a young, naïve 20-something, I’ve felt stripped raw and bleeding, re-exposed, as it were. Only in the last couple of days have I been able to dry my tears of rage and impotence, pick up where I left off, and move on.

    1. Ali says:

      I am so sorry to hear that you have been retraumatised, Jo. I am hoping that Dr Ford’s testimony was so compelling and resonated with so many people, that it will be a moment of change in our cultures. Your metaphor of feeling like a bug crushed under a shoe is an apt one; the level of dismissal to outright contempt has been painful. But I hope that Ms Ford feels held up by the love and support around the world, and that this radiates out to all survivors. These stories must be heard. It is time for our governments and our media and our friends and family to listen. With much love and appreciation for your personal insights, Ali. X

  20. (As I was writing, I kept glancing over at your scene of a “misty moisty morning when cloudy was the weather” but I didn’t “chance to meet an old man cloth’ed all in leather,” as the old English nursery rhyme says. The picture is so lovely and calming, and I’m glad you posted it. Thanks!)

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