I cried when I listened to Michelle Obama speak last week, and I know I wasn’t alone.
With her careful thought, her clear intelligence, her black-ness and her female-ness, this ordinary, extra-ordinary woman appeared in binary opposition to the man she so resolutely refused to name.
And what a name to be refused.
It is easy to imagine the flushed pride with which this name would be bestowed upon a woman, along with the considerable expectation that she be grateful and appreciative of her good fortune.
It is now even easier to imagine how this name carries such influence and power that women let you “do anything” to them.
And it is easy to imagine how, starved of this name and its associated wealth and status, such a man would be reduced to empty bombast and a desperate grasping claim to something that never should be his.
So Obama did not name him.
Until that moment, the tangle of disgust, anger, frustration at the apologists, and confusion about what exactly was so offensive had resisted my best efforts to unravel it.
The voice that told me this was politics on another continent and asked why should I feel so charged, competed with the one that shouted, This is so much more than that, and I struggled to find my true voice amongst all the noise.
But, as the minutes past rapt in the peaks, troughs, the ebb and flow of her masterful oratory, Obama spoke to me.
She told me that the disgust, the anger, the pointless shouting at the TV and the feelings of personal violation which had shocked me with their strength, came from a place where this man’s name is inconsequential.
With her words it finally felt like we were being given permission to be outraged because we all know this man. We’ve all met him.
I now understand that I feel outraged because I remember my sixteen-year-old self on a bus. The man who sat next to me leaned on me throughout the journey. Every time I edged away, he moved along too, forcing me to squeeze myself closer and closer to the window into a non-existent space where I could hide from his domineering presence. And when we reached my stop he stood up, but not aside, forcing me to squeeze past him. And his genitals. And he smirked.
I feel hurt because I remember the time I was out running and refused to respond to someone heckling me from his van window, so he threw a milkshake at me. It missed, but he threw it.
I feel violated because I remember the countless times on dancefloors that someone has made a fleeting grab for me as I’ve walked past them. Faceless hands on my bum, up my skirt, around my waist, on my hips – my presence enough it seems to convince them that they had that right.
These are all events that at some point I have told someone about only once I was able to achieve the dismissive, lowered tone of someone who isn’t bothered. Because that is the message we are given: it’s no big deal, take it as a compliment, don’t be so dramatic, it happens all the time.
And as I tell my stories to join with the chorus of voices saying this is not ok, it does not have to, should not, be this way, I am sad.
I am sad because why should we have to tell so many stories to prove this injustice true, as though we have to work our hardest to convince people that it really is bad, it really is important?
I am sad because I know it could have been so much worse and indeed is for too many women and girls.
And I am sad because when I first read the words I had written I had to edit them to replace “they” with “he”, as though the habit of somehow holding myself responsible is so ingrained that it makes me afraid to acknowledge the obvious. On each of these occasions of course it was a man – why am I so reluctant to point that out?
For the most part these kinds of stories are now in the past for me. I have developed a prickly “Don’t Fuck With Me” face that I can slap on at a second’s notice, and more often than not my presence on a dancefloor is accompanied by a man – sorry boys, I have been claimed – hands off…
Despite this though, their legacy remains. When it’s dark and I walk down a street I am ever vigilant, and I think about what I need to do so that should something happen, it would not be my fault.
When I pass a group of men, young, middle-aged, old, black, white, English-speakers or not, I tense. I mentally prepare myself to look the other way in case an unwanted comment finds its way to my ears. I prepare myself to pretend I have not heard.
Sometimes I use my children as a shield. I engage enthusiastically and loudly in conversation with them. Bloody hell, I even sing and always plaster on a smile like the world can just bounce off my bubble of happiness, so don’t even try to break through this with your cheap words.
But I don’t want to do these things because I am a woman, they are men, and that’s the way it has always been.
Instead, whenever I encounter this attitude, this strange and desperate maintenance of the status quo, it piques the special sweary place in my head that I reserve for such nonsense. And then I return to the safety and reassurance that if this were true then my mixed-race children, rather than being bringers of pride, would be a source of shame and perhaps would not exist at all.
I remind myself that pointing out injustice, loudly saying, “No. This is wrong. Here are the reasons why,” which is sometimes all we can do, is not pointless nor hopeless. It is where it begins.
So, there is hope.
Over a week on, since the damning video recordings were released, the tide has been seeming to turn. As this man embarrasses not only his political party, but other men, even those who we would really much rather not be “on our side” are running for the hills from the tsunami he is leaving in his wake.
We can not ignore that some of the men (finally) condemning this man for claiming proprietary rights over a woman’s body for the purpose of sexual gratification, still seek to legislate our bodies on the matter of reproduction, while others refuse to legislate on issues such as equal pay.
But, at least people are talking.
And this is The (amusingly unintentional) Brilliance of Trump.
What this man has achieved, that no amount of story telling could ever have matched, is to bring into the stark, full-beam glare of the media spotlight, just what women are dealing with.
Of course it is tempting to find frustration that it has taken one man’s miserable misogyny to attract the attention this issue deserves on its own merits, but let’s not drown in that bitter sea. Instead, let us ride this wave and make sure it washes up on hitherto unreachable shores.
Let’s harness this man’s words and the global horror they have evoked, in every classroom so that our boys know what high standards we will hold them to, and our girls know what low standards they should never accept.
Let’s keep the conversation going, and see just who we can get to join in.
Don’t tell me there is a long way to go, as though this should serve to quieten my storm and quench my fire. The length and difficulty of the journey we have to undertake makes the conversation more important, not less.
So let’s exploit this man’s repulsive words and actions to shamelessly and unapologetically raise the agenda that does not ask for more, but asks for the same.
This is how we will be heard.