“Of course, as a woman, I have to vote. Because of the suffragettes.” Nothing like Radio 4 to get me cross on the drive home after a looong day/week/decade. It’s something that’s said a lot. Women died so that you could vote, so vote you must. And they are right, on many levels. Some women did die. Many others were tortured, ostracised, tormented. Women marched and wept and slept in broom cupboards so that I could vote. But that was their choice, and they fought so hard so that I, and my daughters, would have our own choice. Their actions are not the reason I am going to vote this week.
“I don’t know anything about any of this. It doesn’t mean anything to me.” One of my students said this when I told them we were talking politics this week. And she’s right – she proved in that lesson that she did not watch the news, or think about the election, or understand the different actions and reactions that divide our nation at present. And yet, she is an intelligent woman with a passion to go further. One who has very firm views on the health service and on social care, working as she does within the health sector. She is passionate to see her children given more chances than she feels she deserves. She, and so many people like her, think of politics as something that is done to them, that disempowers them, something they have no control over, no say in, no stake in. Although I work to help them, and pray for them, I am not one of them, and I will not use my voice or my vote to speak, unsolicited and unchecked, on their behalf. It is not for them that I am going to vote this week.
“As a mum I care more about the future of this country, of the world.” If hopefuls to be the next prime minister could say that, should I say it too? Yes, absolutely, I care that I can expect a worse quality of life than my parents did, and I care that it will be worse still for my children. I care that their future is being ripped away from them before they are old enough to understand what they are losing, by shadowy figures who speak golden words and show in their actions that they believe none of their own propaganda. But that is still not why I am voting this week.
I am not voting as a woman, weighted down by the oppression of women in history. I am not voting as a teacher, accustomed to trying to give voice to those who have been silenced by stifled dreams and stunted expectations. I am not voting as a mother, staring into a void and trying to give my children the skills they will need to thrive in a world of unimaginable possibility and overwhelming fear. No. I am voting as myself. I am curious. I am ashamed. I am despairing of the hope I have been teaching for years, the lines I have used, the expectations of honesty and goodness and hard working bravery that I have credited those in control of all our lives with. I cannot remember a time I have been more angry with the establishment authorities, and more despairing of those who would tear them down. So I will go, with bloody-minded fury, to vote on my own behalf. I urge you to do the same. Because without shouting about it, now of all times, how will I ever be able to shout at the radio again, without also screaming at the mirror?