When I was younger, I was obsessed with America. I loved the films, the music, the iconic scenery, the celebrities, the food. If you asked me what era I would go back in time to, I would say 1980s America – I could have my teenage years living like I was in The Goonies, going to high school like I was in The Breakfast Club before moving to New York to live out my 20s Friends style and have a Father of The Bride inspired wedding. I still would say that. Those films, those eras, that American influence shaped me as a person.
When I first visited New York, my love for the place only increased. Everything was as big as I had expected, the accents as strong, the pace as fast. I loved it. I wanted it. I ran around like it was one big playground, dreaming of being Carrie Bradshaw, Rachel Green, anyone who got to live out the American Dream.
When I grew up, America had so much influence on my life in rainy England and what was deemed as ‘good’. How were my teeth meant to look? Like a Hollywood movie star, of course! Who were the best female musicians? It’s Britney vs Christina, pick a team and get on board! What drink should I have? Coca Cola – why is that even a question you have to ask?! America was the leader, the place with all of the cool stuff and the people you envied.
Over the last year, my opinion seems to have shifted slightly. Don’t get me wrong – I still love America, but I can’t pretend I have loved all of my experiences there.
I visited New York in October and all of our phones buzzed at once, alerting us to the fact that a suspicious package had been found at the CNN building a few blocks away from where we stood. It had been sent by a Trump supporter to CNN and other ‘anti-Trump’ locations. We were urged to go indoors for safety until the package was disposed of.
When I visited San Francisco in December, my friend Sarah and I stepped off the train a few minutes after a shooting. We were surrounded by police and special units, wondering what the hell had happened. No more trains to where we were staying that day ran. If we’d have made the one earlier, who knows what we would have witnessed.
After going out for a few cocktails in New York, we went to buy some snacks for the room from a nearby deli. The men behind the counter were asking us where we were going, if they could close early and come with us. Their comments were clearly unwelcome, but they didn’t stop questioning and pressuring us. It was uncomfortable and, quite frankly, it felt predatory. What scared me more was that their line of questioning felt well rehearsed, almost as if we weren’t the first people they had questioned like that.
I still love America, but my later visits ensured that I wasn’t so blinded by the shine of it as I had been when I was a child. I realised that the present threats I had read about were real here. Nowhere is perfect and bad things happened back home in England too, I know that, but I’d never experienced things like that before. I had never had a run in with a shooting or been so scared by an everyday experience like going to a shop.
Then I read about another threat, a threat to women’s rights and freedom, a threat so inhumane and regressive that it made me think ‘not America, surely not America’.
The recent abortion bills in America seem illogical to me, the Alabama one in particular. For starters, it was decided by people who don’t even have the physical anatomy to undergo the procedure. It was also the most whitewashed lineup I have ever seen. You’re telling me that those men had any understanding of the real world, real life implications of their decision? Think again.
I’m left baffled.
How can a place that for so long seemed to me to be so exciting and to show a lifestyle I was told to want be so incredibly backwards? How can you say you’re a world leader when you aren’t leading a charge but running backwards to an era we have moved past? In a world that is progressing, how can America be forcing one half of it’s population to regress?
People are calling it a war on women. Some people say that that’s extreme, but banning abortion for a rape victim seems extreme to me. Banning abortion access for a successful woman who doesn’t want children and was failed by birth control seems extreme to me. Banning abortion for a fourteen year old who lost her virginity and ended up pregnant with no way to emotionally or financially support the child seems extreme to me. Banning abortion to a victim of incest… do we really have to argue that that’s extreme?
Religion should not make laws. You cannot and should not force your ideology onto someone else. That’s a dictatorship. You might disagree with abortion and that’s fine – you don’t have to have one – but don’t tell someone else that they can’t have one just because you don’t like it. It’s like having two choices on a menu but because you only like one of them forcefully making everyone else have the one you like without even considering if the other people have things like allergies or intolerances. ‘That analogy is absurd, you’re talking about food and we are talking about a potential child’ people might say, but is it really that absurd? It’s the same principle – I don’t like this so I’m taking it away and you have no choice no matter what your circumstance is.
Looking back at photos for this article made me fall for America all over again. It really is an amazing place. Everything about it feels iconic, even walking around the aisles of a supermarket. It’s like a living, breathing pop culture meme. I saw and experienced some incredible bucket list things. Most of the people I met were amazing and I feel so, so lucky to have had the experience of visiting it. In so many ways, it is the country of my childhood ideological dreams.
But I’m glad I visited America before my dad had to sign a slip of paper agreeing for me to travel or I had to hire private security to escort me around to make sure I was safe. I’m glad that when I travelled around I didn’t have to check with my fiancé that I was okay to answer a question or that my outfits didn’t have to be approved by women’s clothing guidelines. These ideas might sound extreme to you, but if you’d have told me three months ago that some states would have banned abortion, I wouldn’t have believed you. I’d have said that was extreme. I’d have told you that to control women’s rights in that way was unbelievable. America wouldn’t do that, not the land of the free and the home of the brave.
But here we are, the men of America being the free and the women fighting against these regressive bills being the brave.
How did they get here? How did we all get here?