Building on work done through Her Inside: Women in the Lockdown over the past year, the new phase of work, Her Inside: Stepping Outside aims to help isolated women to articulate the experience of beginning to move outside, addressing the joys, threats, anxieties and challenges of negotiating the ‘new normal’.
In the UK, the confused, sometimes contradictory, and constantly changing government messaging around managing Covid has led to many of us feeling bewildered at the new demands on us to return to work outside the home, to using public transport and shopping to kickstart the economy, while safety precautions such as mask requirements are suspended, yet infection numbers stubbornly start to creep back up. There is a pressure towards business as usual, and in some quarters a cultural amnesia, which would have us forget our losses as those dead to the virus are reduced to numbers, as if thousands of dead was also merely business as usual, and massive government failures are unfortunate side-effects, to be moved on from.
A pressure also to forget our gains and the desire to hold onto them: the quietness some of us discovered in the first lockdown, the rebalancing of values that made us ask what really was essential, who were the essential workers? what goods did we really need – especially as we witnessed wildfires and floods of the accelerating climate crisis?; the discovery of community and the local, new activisms around old inequalities. Or an appreciation how the world of speed and the expectation of our racing around, producing and consuming, reflected an ableist vision of society in which those limited or confined by health needs were invisibilised; sometimes that discovery was forced upon us by Long Covid.
At the same time the domestic space could also be confining, isolating, alienating, trapping many of us in a narrative that felt historical, of female interiors, enclosed with the demands of caring responsibilities and little let-up we were also desperate to escape and connect with others.
But the exterior space can also be a dangerous one for women. Our earlier writing workshop in March responded to the question How Shall We Mark Our Losses? in a collective poem. Those losses included the recent killings of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer and of sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, and the police suppression of demonstrations in response to the killings that fought back with defiance of the implied narrative that women need to stay at home to remain ‘safe’. Since then that anger has grown with the revelations of police investigative failings and the complicity of other officers in a culture condoning sexual violence. We need to occupy those exterior spaces together, to not be confined by fear.
Her Inside: Stepping Outside creates a space and an invitation for writings and other artworks that respond, document, try to make sense of these experiences, ambivalences and confusions as we look and move outside, how we carry with us new joys we may have found while coming back together with others, locally, nationally and internationally. How can our creative process help us to confront and give voice to anxiety, loss and longing, but build resilience and resistance and rediscover pleasures of connection? What does Stepping Outside mean to you at this moment?
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Susan Croft, October 2021