I recently gave a talk at a girls’ high school. I mention this not only because I am a virtue-signalling monster but also because one of the young women asked something that brought me up short: “How should we react, as young feminists, to older women who don’t seem to support us?”
I sat there and goldfished for a moment, keenly aware that these freshly minted teenage minds sat among their esteemed “older women” teachers. But this is one of the issues I have been grappling with in my debut play, 3Women, which is about three generations of the same family, aged 18, 40, and 65. They come together in an increasingly claustrophobic hotel suite the night before a wedding, ostensibly to enjoy some family bonding time. As more wine is ordered and drunk, the gloves come off, and there are old scores to settle.
The drama and comedy of three women getting tipsy and having it out is immensely enjoyable and satisfying to write. But I also wanted the characters – Eleanor, Suzanne and Laurie – to talk about feminism, from a baby boomer’s proud memories of her suffragette grandmother, via the Generation X-era of self-knowledge, self-determination, therapy and healing, to now, with the millennials’ gender fluidity and their future facing dreams of artificial wombs and true equality for all permutations of humanity.
So, in answer to the question regarding older women, my immediate response was: “Have a little empathy.” The women of Eleanor’s generation propelled feminism at an incredible pace through the postwar decades, and yet have not always been able to benefit personally and professionally in the ways I have, and those born after me. They were the architects of social change, but they couldn’t live in the house they built because they were still expected to conform to social stereotypes their mothers had to submit to. I can only imagine how frustrating that must be sometimes, even for the most generous of spirit. Let’s listen to those women. In fact, let’s all listen to each other, across the generations. We all have our stories to tell. If we fight, we can’t progress. And there are many vested interests in keeping us fighting.
3Women is a play I have been wanting to write for several years, but as is often the way, other projects came up. I got pregnant and had a baby, and then there are all the other little pressures that life throws at you. Suddenly, last September, I had a strong desire to write it, and write it quickly. And the timing was right. Because the past year has been an immensely inspiring time for me, and for many other women. For the first time ever, I properly reported an incident of sexual harassment. I told a man in the street who demanded a smile that I didn’t feel like it at that precise second. I cut my own hair. (That was a mistake, in hindsight, and a nice man called Engin sorted it out for me. Thanks, Engin – you did what you could.)
People keep asking me three things about 3Women. Is it autobiographical? (It’s not.) Is it part of the #MeToo movement? (It’s not about sexual assault, but I am very happy to be part of the broader tapestry of women finding their voices and using them, loudly.) What is the message? I’m not sure how I feel about messages in writing, and there are no thinly veiled agendas here. But there is a backlog of women’s stories to be told, and I am glad to be one of those with the opportunity to address the imbalance. Women don’t want to replace men – we just want equal airtime.
But to do that, we must take ownership of our lives – and it’s never too late. In 3Women, all three characters are starting a new chapter – higher education, marriage, a move to another country – because they believe it will make them happy. And, amazingly, the pursuit of happiness is still considered brave, selfish, or even subversive, especially for women. But this is a moment for roaring, for taking what we want, not for being meek and mild. It shouldn’t be an act of courage to have the life you want. It should be easy. It should be normal. It doesn’t have to be this hard.