Mini-Me and I were sitting in traffic on the M25 coming back from a weekend away visiting my mother and her husband who live on the north Norfolk coast. We had listened to as much music as we could cope with and it was getting too dark for Mini-Me to read. Fortunately she is never short of conversation topics and had just started up one of her typically random “Did you know..?” discussions.
“That’s utter nonsense!” I immediately said , which is my general go-to response to most of what comes out of her mouth.
“Mummy!” she protested, “It says here in my National Geographic magazine! Look! It’s in the ‘Believe it or Not!” section.”
“Well, it’s a ‘Not’ from me! It cannot possibly be true that a domestic cat can run at 30 miles per hour!” I was incredulous.
There was some sighing from the back seat and a request that I sped up to exactly 30mph so that Mini-Me could look out of the window and decide if she was really convinced of the fact. With some sneaky maneuvering and weaving in and out of the very slow moving lanes of traffic, I found a gap big enough to accelerate.
“OK..we’re at 19….24….OK..this is THIRTY!..There is no way that next door’s cat could keep up with this car! It must be a misprint!”
“Mummy. Next door’s cat is not a trained athlete-cat. If we put him on a special athlete’s diet and training program, then he would be able to.” This was followed by more sighing and I was left doing an impression of a goldfish and finding nothing forthcoming as a reply.
Mini-Me is a nature-nut. She is extremely interested in animals – not in a ”Awww’ aren’t they cute?’ way (although there is some of that, of course, (mainly from me) when her magazine has photos of polar bear cubs on the cover) – but in an enquiring, knowledgeable way. She has a particular interest in marine life and can spot the difference between a Moorish Idol and a Reef Trigger Fish. We talk a lot about the world, the environment, our role in the life of the planet and who is responsible for what goes on around us. She is concerned about the fact that every single day 150 species of animals die out and we had a long conversation when she was in bed the other night about how unacceptable the intense destruction of the rain forests is.
Now, I was recently accused of “not really being that interested in politics.”
I say ‘accused’ because I do see that as an insult, an insinuation that I am shallow and non-thinking, or that I’m not clever enough to be able to figure out the world of complicated politics, which is reserved for high-brow intellectuals who have the time and energy to sit around discussing theory and making pondering observations.
Actually, the world of politics isn’t that complicated. And yes, I am very interested in it. How can I not be? Having the responsibility of raising an almost-eight-year old means that politics – the implications of what the government is up to, the ideas of the Opposition – is my every-day.
I don’t mean the photos in the papers last week of David Cameron cosying up to Obama over hotdogs and a basketball game. I get that – it’s spin, it’s show and it’s an important image. Nor do I mean the soap opera that is the News of the World saga, compulsive reading and viewing though it is. In addition, it’s hardly surprising that people don’t think politics is relevant when faced with the constant widely reported envy-inducing distraction of Michelle Obama’s wardrobe. All that J.Crew? Sigh.
I am talking about being able to answer my daughter’s questions about what’s happening to the planet she cares so much about; the fact that every time I fill up my car with fuel it costs me over £100; I am talking about the myriad of law surrounding divorce; the complicated system of Child Benefit; the wilting bunch of flowers with a note, which is tied to a lampost I drive past every day, pleading for a zebra crossing; I’m talking about the letter I got this week from the beautiful, intelligent and inspiring girl in Zimbabwe whose education I pay for because I am so desperately grateful for mine; I’m talking about gay rights, pollution, Afghanistan, prisoners of conscience, domestic abuse and wanting to make sure that the world my daughter grows up in is fair, just and safe.
In order to make even a vague attempt to understand what on earth is going on around you, you simply have to be interested in politics. I feel very strongly that it is our responsibility to make an effort to be informed, questioning, and to recognize the path of history which has led to women like me (and in the future, women like Mini-Me) having the opportunity to express our views and, most importantly, make a cross on a piece of paper to mark what we think. Emmeline Pankhurst should be every woman’s heroine.
This said, I’m not a Feminist. Sure, I’ve read Marilyn French and struggled through Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth. Not entirely because I bought what they say, but because it was the mid-nineties and I was trendy. I’d never set fire to my bra, I love it when a man opens a door for me, or helps me with my coat as a sign of care and consideration and I not-so-secretly think that, actually, women’s rights sometimes go too far and, consequently, disadvantage men. Equality? Absolutely. Women getting more or being seen as ‘better than’ men? No.
I use my vote . Every. Single. Time. And shame on those of you who don’t. You have no right to complain, or even have a point of view, in my opinion, if you don’t exercise your hard fought privilege to try and change things. I don’t think I have the courage to be like Irina Ratushinskaya or Aung San Sui Kyi , but complacency won’t teach my daughter how to stand up and protest against what she believes is wrong in the world – whether that be the abhorrent treatment of our planet or the need for an athlete-cat training ground near our house.
And I’m not interested in politics?