‘At the age of 22, Stephanie Davies joined a women’s peace camp outside a US military base at Greenham Common in Newbury, a life-changing experience that is at the heart of Other Girls Like Me‘
Today I am sharing an extract from a book, a coming of age memoir, that is receiving wonderful acclaim from many quarters. Other Girls Like Me by Stephanie Davies was published September 1st with Bedazzled Ink Publishing Company.
It is described as ‘a truly fascinating, insightful, evocative and lyrically prosed read on a massive women’s movement and lesbian activism at Greenham Common- a subject that has been hugely overlooked by history. There are moving and thought provoking reflections on Stephanie’s relationship with her Father- how she struggled to come to terms with her love for him and respect for his social progressiveness but also her disappointment at his lack of progressive views on gender equality. Stephanie beautifully describes the ways in which the women-only space allowed for them to explore their sexualities in a way that mainstream media didn’t allow at the time.’
[ About the Book ]
Till now, Stephanie has done her best to play by the rules—which seem to be stacked against girls like her. It doesn’t help that she wants to play football, dress like a boy, and fight apartheid in South Africa—despite living in rural middle England—as she struggles to find her voice in a world where everything is different for girls.
Then she hears them on the radio. Greenham women—an irreverent group of lesbians, punk rockers, mothers, and activists who have set up camp outside a US military base to protest nuclear war—are calling for backups in the face of imminent eviction from their muddy tents. She heads there immediately, where a series of adventures—from a break-in to a nuclear research centre to a doomed love affair with a punk rock singer in a girl band—changes the course of her life forever. But the sense of community she has found is challenged when she faces tragedy at home.
Extract – ‘Where you learn about my hero worship for my father and my introduction to apartheid, which sparked a lifetime of activism.‘
From Chapter One
FREE NELSON MANDELA The Specials
I BECAME AN activist—though not a feminist—with the blessings of the patriarchy—or at least of my father. I was fifteen and eating a bowl of cornflakes at the breakfast table one rainy, misty morning, when my father stood up abruptly and handed me The Guardian newspaper he’d just finished reading. He knew that, like him, I loved to follow current events, but his face was paler and more drawn than usual.
“Brace yourself,” he said.
On the front page was a photograph of a teenager, his body bloody and limp, in the arms of a young man wearing denim dungarees who was racing toward the camera, desperate to find help. The dead boy’s wailing sister, in the crisp white-collared dress and dark blazer of her school uniform, ran at his side, her arms spread out in horror, her face contorted in despair. Her brother’s name was Hector Pieterson, and he had been shot dead by the police in the township of Soweto, South Africa, for taking part in a peaceful student protest against the enforced use of the white man’s language, Afrikaans, in the classroom.
My father returned to the kitchen wearing his leather biker jacket, two helmets under his arm, and asked if I wanted a lift. I loved riding to school on the back of his BMW 750—along St. Mary Bourne’s village road, which wound along the banks of the river and past our three churches, which my family never attended, and three pubs, which we did, often. We sailed past the watercress beds and under the Victorian viaduct that strode across the outskirts of the village, then onto the single-track road that took us all the way to the market town of Whitchurch. I peered at the rolling hills over the high hedgerows filled with birds’ nests and flowers, the two of us leaning as one, almost flat to the ground with every curve. He normally pointed out rabbits hopping across the meadows, reminding me of those in Watership Down who crossed our village on their journey to find a new home. But today the rabbits went unnoticed.
When we arrived, I quickly hurried away from him. I didn’t want to bring attention to the fact that I was the headmaster’s daughter.
At school that day, I could think and talk of nothing but Hector’s photograph, which none of my classmates had seen. That night, my father and I sat riveted to the BBC six o’clock news in the living room of our 1960s bungalow, skipping the children’s program, The Magic Roundabout, which made my father chortle, because today was not a day to smile. The story was the very first one, and the broadcast devoted most of its half hour to it. It turned out that Hector had been shot in the head and that at least one other child had been killed. There appeared to be many more deaths, the newscaster told us, as protests erupted around the country and police waded in to crowds of children with batons, hoses, and bullets. Hector’s image flashed over and over on the screen.
“I’m going to give an assembly about this tomorrow,” my father said, and I was happy, because maybe now I wouldn’t be the only one in school who was paying attention; now they’d know what I was talking about. “I’ll read something by Gandhi and Malcolm X.”
Their books were on my shelves, alongside Che’s Guerrilla War, The Lord of the Rings, and The Last Unicorn, so I ran upstairs to my attic bedroom to find them and came back down to hand them to him, feeling important, a small part of a historic moment. My father didn’t do religious assemblies, because he was not religious and didn’t think religion belonged in schools, but by law he had to offer them. So he used assemblies to talk about social justice, poverty, war, bullying, and kindness. He quoted from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Bishop Desmond Tutu, George Orwell. I hung onto his every word. It was to please him that I called my dog Che, after the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara.
A proud socialist in the conservative county of Hampshire, my father was nicknamed locally the Red Head because his school was the first comprehensive in the county, accepting all children no matter their background, academic status, or parental wealth. He called our school Testbourne, for the River Bourne in our village, and the River Test in Whitchurch, famous for its trout. A strong critic of the traditional grammar school system, which weeded out children with higher grades at the age of eleven for a superior education, my dad’s school offered mixed ability classes, taught domestic science to boys and woodwork to girls, and had an egalitarian uniform of school sweatshirts with skirts or jeans. Interviewed by the Hampshire Chronicle, my father talked as much about the importance of the caretakers as he did the teachers. He was a true man of the people, at the helm of an educational experiment that believed all children deserved the same quality education. He was my hero.
He was my hero even though a few years earlier I’d been furious with him because he wouldn’t support me playing football at school—my favourite thing—because I was a girl. I so wanted to understand his socialist utopia, I yearned to have a place in the society he dreamed up with his progressive friends over pints of beer in the village pub, spurred on by the revolutionaries, writers, and “angry young men” they hero-worshipped.
[ Bio ]
Stephanie Davies is a communications consultant who worked for many years as the Director of Public Education for Doctors Without Borders. A UK native, Stephanie moved to New York in 1991, where she taught English Composition at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus and led research trips to Cuba. Before moving to New York, she co-edited a grassroots LGBT magazine in Brighton called A Queer Tribe.
Stephanie earned a teaching degree from Aberystwyth University in Wales, and a BA in European Studies from Bath University, England.
She grew up in a small rural village in Hampshire, where much of her first book, Other Girls Like Me, takes place.
Twitter ~ @Stephanie5Davie