The pulse of the needle stops as I set the cup on the table.
“Thanks,” she says, without looking up.
She pulls out another pin. The machine rattles on. Not the smallest deviation from the straight and narrow strip of binding. Stop. Pin. Start. I’m mesmerised. Holding my breath. Afraid to break the thread. I’ve always been in awe of anyone who can use a sewing machine. She comes to the last corner.
“Oh, I’ve finished. I thought there was another side to do.”
She sounds disappointed. I’d be punching the air if I’d done what she has. She runs the needle back and forth a couple of times. Cuts the thread. Shakes out the quilt.
“Another one done. Two more and we’ll have the money for the new machine.”
Susie’s been quietly making quilts for a couple of months now. Fund raising for a new sewing machine. Today, her determination reminds me of something Maya Angelou said. If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain. She didn’t like the fact we had only one sewing machine. She complained at first. Then she realised she had the power to change things. She and the late, wonderful Maya Angelou have a lot in common. Survivors of rape and abuse. Remaking their lives, in different ways. With attitude you get only when the world’s done the worst it can to you. And you’re still on your feet. Sticking two fingers in the air at the ones who tried to crush you.
In the week since Elliott Rodger went on a killing spree in California the internet’s been buzzing. The #YesAllWomen hashtag has trended on Twitter. Giving thousands of examples of harassment and abuse perpetrated by men. Darker, on Tumblr, is When Women Refuse. A rolling litany of violence toward and murder of women who refused the sexual advances of men. That Elliott Rodger had mental health issues is beyond dispute. It’s also beyond dispute that the society he lived in nurtured those issues. Fed and tended them. Gave them form and substance. A voice. And ultimately a horrific denouement. No doubt the whole saga will end up on the silver screen one day. An ironic twist. Since Rodger’s father was assistant director on The Hunger Games.
Now here’s a thing. A young man. A victim. Rejected. Turned down by the women he desired. Deserved. Filled with self-pity. Nursing a deep and wounded sense of entitlement to the sexual pleasure he thought everyone was enjoying. Apart from him. Woe was he. In fact he produced a lengthy manifesto detailing his woe. How does this happen? He had all the privilege that goes with being part of a well-to-do California family. A loving family by all accounts. Yet he acted as if he were the most hard-done-by creature on all the earth. And he felt he had a perfect right to do so.
I’m not planning an in-depth analysis of his relationship with the PUA (Pick-Up Artist) community online. Or its extreme misogynistic wing. I might take a brief diversion though. Seems this community gives advice to men on how to get sex. Without commitment or having to pay for it. We women are often given advice on how to change, to find the man of our dreams. The PUA community tells men it’s all our fault too. They’re entitled to sex. The only reason they’re not getting it is that women are depraved monsters incapable of rational thought. Scary stuff. Especially if you happen to be a woman. No wonder one tweet on #YesAllWomen quoted Margaret Attwood. Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.
No matter which way you dress it up, men are primary holders of power, privilege and wealth in the world. Yet they paint themselves so often as victims. There’s even a Men’s Rights movement, dedicated to removing female oppression of men. How do these people get it so wrong?
I’ve never been a driver. My life is tailored round how long it will take me to walk to an appointment. Bus timetables. The time of the last train. It’s become a lifestyle choice and I’m happy with it. I have the greatest respect for anyone who gives up a car when they’ve had one for a while, though. That’s hard. Most people can’t imagine life without their favourite tin box on wheels. The loss of freedom. Lifestyle overhaul. It’s unknown territory. In the space of my lifetime, car ownership has moved from the preserve of a minority to something we feel entitled to. And I’ll admit to feeling underprivileged at times. Usually when I’m walking home with two large bags of shopping. In the rain.
It’s odd how we take things for granted. Start believing we deserve them. We’re entitled to them. Once we feel that way it can be really hard to let go. Frightening. Bankers with obscene salaries think they’re entitled to six or seven-figure bonuses. Major corporations believe they’re entitled to tax breaks. Some British MPs have been genuinely shocked to find they’re not entitled to claim expenses for anything they happened to fancy spending the money on. Despite David Cameron’s denunciation of the culture of entitlement among the poor, it seems to me the rich, privileged and powerful are those most prone to it. They feel entitled to things the rest of us can only dream of. They have no insight into their own privilege. They’re terrified of losing their entitlement.
Maybe this was Elliott Rodger’s problem. Poor little rich boy. Brought up with privilege. Steeped in entitlement. He looked around. Thought he saw everyone getting the one thing he wanted. He was entitled to sex. He coveted. He killed. Nobody told him relationships don’t work that way. Women are people too. Entitled to respect. Seems the world is full of men who’ve never been taught this basic fact. Men like the ones who abused Susie and Maya.
But here’s another thing. Maya grew to be awe-inspiring. My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style, she said. Mission accomplished, a friend posted on Facebook the other day. Susie’s attitude takes my breath away. To borrow Maya’s words, she’s a Phenomenal Woman.
A privileged man goes on a killing spree fuelled by hate. Two women with every reason to hate bring blessing to the world. He’s always had everything. They’ve had what little they could call their own taken away. By force. He thinks the world owes him something. They know every breath is a gift from God. They’re thankful for life itself. They’ve been to been to hell. There’s nothing left to fear. That’s how Susie sews with such delight. How Maya wrote
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.