I grew up surrounded by women who made themselves small. I learned to make myself small too, and the bigger I got, the smaller I made myself.
Went to great lengths to make sure I didn’t take up space in rooms. Laughed at boys’ jokes and listened to men playing songs on guitar that they wrote about girls who didn’t take up space.
I managed a feat of physics however, in making enough space inside myself for other people to get in: men who were lonely, men who wanted to be taken care of. I let them fill me right up, so that my own self was pressed tight against my own skin, and their thoughts, their words, their ideas, resided in me. They didn’t even pay rent.
I still sometimes make myself small in rooms now, and still sometimes I’ll laugh at a man’s joke even when it’s not funny, just because not-laughing would mean a short, terse, laughless silence, and maybe my tiredness on a given day means I’d rather skip that.
But more and more I try and make myself big.
Last Sunday I was doing a street stall with Together for Yes on Grafton St., handing out leaflets and chatting to anyone who wanted to about the upcoming referendum. I bumped into a woman I recognised. We chatted and then figured out where we’d met – I had delivered canvassing training to her constituency, Dublin Bay North, about two months prior. It was funny to think back – that felt more like two years ago now.
It felt like a long time ago to her too. She told me that she’d been so scared of canvassing before that, but the training that day had given her confidence, and she’d gone out knocking on doors straight afterwards. And she’d kept up canvassing and now was even delivering canvassing training to other people herself.
Her and her husband stood there in front of me in the glorious sunshine of that day, both talking about how far she’d come. He looked so proud of her and she looked so proud of herself too. And she looked like she filled every inch of her body, like she deserved to be there, deserved to be taking up space, like she was exactly where she was meant to be and doing exactly what she was meant to do. Sometimes you don’t realise when you see beauty in front of you, but sometimes you do.
I think of all the women now who are taking up space, all over the country – in offices at Together for Yes HQ, on street stalls in Leitrim, at fundraisers in Cork, knocking on doors in Carndonagh, giving lifts in Clonmel, chatting to a neighbour in Galway – everyone, everywhere, doing big things and doing small things, that are just all part of the same thing. All the work towards a Yes vote, a vote for love, compassion and care. And I think as well about the women who can’t talk or organise, and how they’re part of it too, how we’re campaigning for them more than anyone. I think about how if I ever have a little girl one day that I’ll want her to feel big. I’ll want her to take up space.
I think about voting Yes on May 25th. And I hope my hands won’t shake too much.