Brutally Honest – Women of the World Fest 2016
At the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank in London, there has been a week-long festival based around International Women’s Day on 8th March 2016. Brutally Honest Live Art posted an appeal on social media asking for women to take part in an installation where 100 participants write what they want on sandwich boards and then stand for an hour around the Festival Hall. Then wait and see…
Now that intrigued me; quite an experience and a worthy one. I signed up. I had two wants in mind before I even did that; anyone who know me knows events like this are like catnip to me. I must stick my head above the parapet for what I believe. It’s a less a choice, more a compulsion.
I have been thinking about activism a lot, as my disabilities in winter cause increasing pain and a more reduced mobility than is normal. I read complaints that signing petitions is pointless, that no-one pays attention, and I know that physically often that is all I can do. Going on a march, where often it may not be possible to drop out halfway through or the routes are beyond what I can manage, are not always an option for me. I’m not the only one. Invisible in society normally, the protestor with disabilities is not just invisible at protests, but entirely absent
I had conversations with many people as a result of my sandwich board. One lady told me of her mother, now using a walking stick and occasionally in a wheelchair. She told me of the shock and anger she now feels in public, as her mother is shoved and pushed as she walks slower and less steadily than those around her. No apologies, no acknowledgement of her mother’s existence, let alone her humanity.
Another woman came to me almost as soon as I stood still at my spot, stood by me and told me of her book club, where she had had to read some awful old ‘classic’ which she hated, but which left its final words in her conscious. “as he removed her hat and saw all her grey hair, his passion for her died.” The invisibility of the old, so similar to that of the disabled and often for the same reasons. To see that which you fear to be is confronting, but it should invite compassion, understanding and empathy, not fear.
So many other people stood as well, and we moved occasionally to speak with each other and to groups of onlookers. So many photos taken, so many interesting and inspiring stories told and to tell. We just stated want we wanted; openly, honestly, no matter what it was. From a want of publishers, to floor tiles, to being able not to know what you want, to smaller boobs, it was witty and sometimes poignant. All the truth.
I wore the sandwich board for an hour. Once, a man yelled “right wing!” at me, a comment which still has me and possibly him confused as to what he actually meant. Mostly it was big smiles, “I like what you’ve said”, and other positive comments. From other people with disabilities that were visible, the smiles were bigger, the nods more meaningful. The comment I was not expecting, and which still leaves me humbled and grateful, was from an old lady. Small, wrinkled and spare, with long luscious grey hair, she looked at me and said “I really appreciate you writing that. Thank you.”
I did not expect that, but that’s why I did it. I don’t know why anyone else did it but I imagine it is because so often women put others first, we are taught that our wants are secondary and not to be expressed without embarrassment or a feeling of greed. I did it because people are made invisible for so many different reasons and I want to speak up for myself and them. I did it because I could. I did it to tell my truth.
I did it because it is what I want.