In the ’80s, not long after finishing up her college degree, Stephanie Davies joined the Greenham common peace camp in Great Britain. This was an activist movement of considerable magnitude involving at times tens of thousands of women that lasted for nearly ten years, attracting women of all ages who erected dwellings there—a living protest movement, demanding that the American base be moved, that the missiles be removed.
Davies had been raised not far from Newbury, the town where American cruise missiles were stored. It was an American base on loan—since World War II—from the RAF. Situated west of London, it was positioned close enough, apparently, to the Soviet Union to discharge in the event the Cold War got hot.
It’s this historical movement that crystalizes Davies’s coming of age, coming-out memoir, Other Girls Like Me.
It pulls the narrative, just as it has pulled Davies into a reimagining of self and helps her to heal the exacerbated relationship with her family, especially her father, caused by what they—and societal norms—deem to be her rebellious nature.
Early on, she is drawn to clothes boys wear, along with pursuits like soccer (football for the Brits), that she must transfer to hockey, and serious involvement in political causes—she has a pup named “Che,” after the Argentine revolutionary.
In college, she speaks up against apartheid, a childhood cause of hers, where she begins to find language for “the deep misogyny that ran through everything around me as I grew up—T.V. shows, literature, politics, sports.”
It is not easy to be in conflict with a beloved family, and Davies generously draws us in—but it’s with the Greenham women that Davies happens upon her people. Hers is the struggle to find and be herself, in a world that wants her to conform to performances of gender that don’t resonate with her, and for a while, she acquiesces.
Yet, even as she acquiesces, she is resentful, she takes note, she contests, fights back and eventually breaks ranks—leaves her boyfriend and joins the women in Greenham common, where she not only exercises her power as a woman—and as an activist, but discovers her predilection for women.
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How many of us in the U.S. really remember or even know about the Greenham peace camp? This alone might be reason enough for reading, although I wish there were more to ground the reader—something more than just Davies’s experience among these women—but there’s more than sufficient material in her experience to make this book come alive.
The narrative compels, the fullness of her descriptions and re-enactment of one action after another does its job of conjuring the setting and culture of those camping outside the fenced-in base, with its “gates”—the interests of the group differing according to the color of the gate, meant to evoke a rainbow.
Not only do the women of the Greenham common camp exemplify the epitome of a support system—they are powerfully drawn here as individuals. There is drama among the women and between them and the military and official authorities—both U.S. and British. Not to mention the surrounding townspeople.
Stephanie had attended demonstrations at the camp with her mother. Her father, a socialist and headmaster of a school, is someone with whom she is quite close, if often at odds, early on, with his gender politics.
As I read I often thought I was in the company of fiction.
Here is the tale of a woman’s awakening—and while it effectually ends with the resolution of what was both an extremely whimsical and dangerous action among the Greenham common folk, Davies offers an epilogue that leaps to a more current moment, namely January 20, 2017—a date we citizens in the U.S. know well, still living in the dark of a Trump administration. There she is, after having spent many years working with Doctors Without Borders, now living and teaching in the U.S., with her wife, attending the women’s march in Washington.
While this book presents itself as Davies’ education of what it means to be female in this world of ours, it is also very much a story about the tenderness of a family. Davies paints full portraits of her siblings and her parents, and she lyrically describes the English—and even the French countryside, as she hitchhikes about—offering her observations, her experiences.
And most of this book takes place in the ’80s—a time when college aged kids in the U.S. are not hitchhiking anymore. One reads about police who are brutal and police who are kind, willing to drive her home to a dying father—and even in France, the lesbian couple are tenderly cared for, their rides offering shelter and food.
In many ways, it’s a kinder world than the one we currently inhabit.
Other Girls Like Me by Stephanie Davies was released September 1.
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