Oh, Theresa May, I’ve been there: one minute you’re just a woman trying to do your job; the next, a man is touching you in a way that is definitely not appropriate, but hard to explain and difficult to prevent. They’re good at it, these men: they touch you with purpose but in a way that could be a mistake. They touch you that way because they know you wouldn’t want to make a scene: you wouldn’t want to be awkward. They touch you this way – those men, who know that you won’t make a fuss – not just to be sleazy, or to make you uncomfortable, but to demonstrate that they are in control.
I wonder if that was what you were thinking today, Mrs May – “I must not make a fuss” – when before your joint press conference, Donald J Trump lead you down the White House colonnade holding your hand as if he was pretending to be Barack Obama and you were Michelle.
I get it: you’ve said you were “goody two-shoes” at school, and everyone knows that goody two-shoes doesn’t tell a powerful man to fuck off when he takes her hand. Even if he’s a man who has consistently demonstrated his lack of respect for women and their bodies. I get what it’s like to feel threatened: to be in the presence of a man who has expressed his freedom to grab women by their genitals and perhaps feel relieved that he only clasps your fingers in his clammy, small palm. This is the best I can hope for you, Mrs May: that there was an involuntary element to this hand holding. Because you were meeting with a man who has never demonstrated his ability to respect women’s personal space in the past. Because the alternative fact in this scenario – that you agreed to hold Trump’s hand as a sign of unity – is a grim one indeed.
Your predecessor Tony Blair – whom no one really likes anymore, remember – famously emphasized the ‘special relationship’ between the United States and the UK when George W Bush was in power, and no doubt that played a part in landing us where you are today: holding hands with a president who has clearly articulated his intent to violate principles that most Britons might have believed to be firmly enshrined.
Dare I call them British values? Opposing torture under all circumstances, rather than believing that “it works”. Allowing women the freedom to have control over their bodies, and for people who need healthcare to be provided with healthcare regardless of their wealth or pre-existing conditions. Sure, you’ve made it clear that you are also willing to take a dim view of the world beyond the borders of the country that you live in, but unlike your new American pal, you’re yet to wholly turn away all of the desperate refugees who are fleeing wars of which our countries have fanned the flames.
Mrs May, you were the first world leader to have an official meeting with the American president. You could have taken it as an opportunity to show that Britain will not meekly pander to his outrageous, racist edicts. Instead, when a BBC journalist asked you to speak to the question of how you will allay the fears of British people who dread the global impact of the Trump regime, you responded by explaining to her what the purpose of “a conversation and a dialogue” is. As a proud citizen of both the UK and the US, I have rarely felt such simultaneous shame.
I get it, Mrs May: no one voted for you to be the prime minister. That would make me nervous, too, as would the presence of a man who has called for another woman in politics to be jailed. But pandering to demagogues has rarely been a British value, either, albeit with rare exceptions. After Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich agreement in 1938, my grandfather, a Jewish Air Force veteran, never carried an umbrella again. How we giggled when his hat got wet, but he insisted: to him, it would always recall the image of a man who participation in appeasement helped pave the way for the genocide of 6 million people. Mrs May: how will history remember your accessories?
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