There is a moment in Out of Africa,
set in the early 20th century, when the car engine fails and between them Meryl Streep and Robert Redford crank it again and again until (thank heaven) it coughs into go. We may have more sophisticated machinery nowadays but when it falters, it is hard to restart.
Where we are now* feels like what I have read about the phoney war, the period after the declaration of WWII when the allies lined up their troops, the public was briefed and – nothing happened. Brexit suspended animation has gone on for much longer (a trade war is just as expensive and punitive as a military one) and the clinging to relentless normality – too much of much when there is so little of things we need as opposed to want – superficially reassures us into believing a start has been made, however difficult it was to do. But conditioned by 21st century technology, do we perhaps expect a series of clicks and all to fall into place? Not a hope. For all sort of reasons – not the least the unpicking of several decades of human history – this is going to take a long time. And the trouble is that there are various interested parties who would like it to go slower while others would like to speed it up. Balance and keeping interests on board is difficult.
In the meantime the Tories enjoy their new sport of maykicking. Nothing these guys like better than kicking someone who’s down, especially if it’s a woman. Sexual prejudice is an aspect of racial prejudice because men and women are two different races – a thought leading straight into sixth form psychology about social constructs (I’ve been dying to use that word), hormones and whose parents did what to whom for several generations.
Last week I received a complimentary copy of a new magazine – the usual overstuffed mixture of relentless consumerism and features on what’s “hot” with one exception – a truly terrifying and very informative article about transgender called “When Girls Won’t Be Girls” by Charlie McCann. It was a very long way from Brexit and women in power. But it was to do with a change in perception, that where in the past, time had been taken to do something difficult carefully, now life changing permissions were granted far too fast, in the current belief that slowly and (more) surely would be a problem in itself.
I was interested in this article for several reasons. One is the small paragraph I had read some months ago about a young man who transgendered into being a woman, wasn’t happy, changed back, and was still unhappy, so he killed himself. I was interested because the first person I ever went to meet when I worked at the slightly po-faced sex publication where my journalistic life began, was a man in his late forties/early fifties who was contemplating a sex change. I remember sitting with him in Green Park and being aware of the role depression played in all this. When Jan (formerly James) Morris wrote the book Conundrum, Germaine Greer raised thoughtful points about gender and took the flak. Simple it ain’t.
But now speed is God. Do it fast, it must be right. And the more interests that have to be represented, the harder it is to make a start and continue at a reasonable clip. Any form of democracy from physician’s office to parliament takes time – time to listen, time to be heard, time to debate and choose and time to decide, the very opposite of a pressed button.
Mrs. Clinton has never met Mrs. May but they have one thing in common: under pressure, they do not speak well in public. They take refuge in a limiting formality which risks sounding like bright girls wanting to be taken seriously by the all male sixth form. The pressure on the female voice in public life reminds me of the stories about male presenters “fixing” mikes at the BBC so that women sounded shrill and insubstantial, and were thus discredited. Of course it’s not the whole story but it is some of the story – as are personal likes and dislikes, in or out of Europe and the terms thereof and what makes a woman. Where we are now* (see title).