Just over a week ago, the universe with gifted with a new hero.
Small in stature, but mighty in swag, Marion Kelly burst into our lives when she burst into her father’s office during what is possibly now the most famous BBC interview of all time. Charming the world with her half-walk-half-dance hybrid, those glasses and the quite literal spring in her step, in that moment Marion had arrived.
Marion is only four years old. And because Marion is only four years old, I don’t really know how much she’ll understand what a meme is, or what “going viral" means, or how grown-ups like to “steal” other women’s “style” – especially when they arrive at the family press conference in a trench with a black velvet bow. But Marion doesn’t look like she needs any schooling from us mere mortals; sitting facing the world’s press with a lollipop in her mouth and all the attitude of Rihanna on a super-yacht in the Bahamas, Marion does not seem fazed by international stardom or, in fact, anything.
And, all this time, walking through doors has been an ordeal – they’ve been locked or barricaded from the other side. They’ve been hidden
And I’ve been thinking about that a lot about since we’ve all calmed down from the global collective giggles – surely a moment of mass hysteria which felt like some sort of valve letting off the tensions of our troubled times. (Although, I fear the new Evening Standard appointment has kicked it all off again…) Yet, once I’d dried my tears and stopped mouthing, “IT”S THE BABY,” the real star shone. And it was little Marion. Yes, the parents' reactions were outrageously stupid and funny, and, yes, the baby on wheels gives Morecambe and Wise a run for their money, but the way Marion walked into that room as if she was off to see the wizard, or off to London to make her fortune, or off to collect her Academy Award for Best Walk, was really quite something.
So, when did we – and by "we", I mean women – stop walking into rooms like that? Yes, we might all start wearing yellow jumpers and white-rimmed glasses, and, no, maybe after the age of four, using your elbows that aggressively isn’t always so appropriate, but Marion walked in without a split second of self-doubt. Now, a split second of feeling like Marion seems impossible.
And it’s not just Marion. There’s something about little girls. They are bossy and confident and oh so sure of themselves. And this may be a pretty big generalisation but, on the whole, most little girls are’t born with self-doubt, self-loathing and a total lack of self-worth and value. For a lot of little girls – the lucky ones, with loving adults around them and a strong sense of stability – the way Marion walked into that room is just how they walk into any room.
Which is why it is so heartbreaking to see it evaporate, as it does, typically around puberty, ever faster thanks to the internet and YouTube stars selling prepubescent girls foundation, or giving them tricks on contouring. If one of the most famous teenagers in the world sells “lip kits”, does that mean 12-year-olds are pouting and saving their pocket money for lipo? And, with the playground being extended to social-media spaces, girls have no respite from the relentlessness of school corridors and mean boys and even meaner girls and Snapchat asking you to send pictures of your not-quite-there breasts.
And, if we make it through school in one piece, with a few acne scars and a few battle scars, and we creep into adulthood, we’re still sent subtle messages to remind us that we’re not that good. If we want to study economics or maths and we’re really good at it, we still might find that our male tutor isn’t quite so sure. And we might find we don't get on the graduate scheme, even though we're overqualified. Or, we might find ourselves in an office where the pretty, posh girl – the really confident one with the great job – went to one of the best schools in the country and keeps telling you how busy and stressed she is, but she’s never had a part-time job and we wonder how anyone can be that pretty or that posh and how easy paying the rent would be if we were.
And maybe, just as we think we’re leaving the insecurities of youth behind, we’re being told we might be infertile or single for ever, because we're in our thirties, and that means a big, fat F on the test of life. So, we wonder why we’re single and consider maybe it’s because we’re not pretty or posh enough. And we’ll wonder what on earth we’ll have to do to have Instagram boyfriends who drink flat whites and become #thisguy / love-heart emoji face.
And then, maybe, we’ll find #aguy or #anyguy and then we might even get pregnant, but then our boss will look at us funny. And people will start talking to us like we’re tourists – lost and not fluent in the same language. And then we will have the baby and it won’t be like the girl on Instagram, and we’ll wonder why our weight hasn’t dropped off, and when we go back to work we’ll wonder why we have dropped off emailing lists and meeting invites and work drinks.
And then we’ll be really busy and work really hard and be really good at our jobs, but not so good that we should be paid as much as a man, or be promoted, or be asked as an expert and invited on the radio to talk about things we know about. And then we’ll start to disintegrate, like a picture book with big white spaces, because women like you, women your age, have all suddenly vanished.
And, all this time, walking through doors has been an ordeal – they’ve been locked or barricaded from the other side. They’ve been hidden. They’ve had a secret passcode that nobody told you about. They have opened with a loud creak to a room of silence when you’ve put forward an idea or had an opinion or said no or asked for flexible working hours. They have taken you to perilous ledges, wide expanses with tumbleweed or thorny paths. They’ve led you to relationships with men who made you feel worthless. They’ve led to decisions you don’t know why you made.
And so you walk through doors now with trepidation, with caution, with a slight embarrassment for being there. You walk through doors at the last possible minute; sneak in the back, don’t let the door bang, keep your eyes on the floor. You walk through the door uneasy, a lack of conviction – should I be doing this? Can I be doing this? (If, of course, you’re not running through doors trying to stop your children from ambushing your husband’s very important BBC Skype interview on live TV.)
And isn’t it so very sad to think that little Marion, one day, might not walk through a door with her elbows higher than her ears, her tummy protruding and her little legs a-marching? And isn’t it remarkable to think we once walked through doors like that, too?