I met Marian a while ago through a network called the Gentlewoman’s club and needless to say, she appeared from the outset as a gentle, yet strong and independent woman indeed (I still love this expression, may it be or not overused). Marian is a Belgian woman working towards promoting the notion and implications of European democracy. She does so through her work at the Democratic society, where she stands as head of communications and development.
What’s the Democratic society? I asked her. ‘It is an organization of about 20 people and what we believe is that everything policy wise is better when you involve international organisations as well as citizens in policy making. There’s many reasons for doing that. When you involve citizens and educate them, they learn how to participate constructively and gain confidence in doing so. They can understand budgetary constraints, the real impact of technical policies and they start approaching politics differently in life. What we do is about: How does everyone stay sharp in democracy, how to make sure it is held between different people and that everyone has a say? Democracy is a living breathing thing between living beings.’
Why, that’s a beautiful engaged purpose, I thought. This woman clearly has a passion for human rights and for the concept of people expressing their voice.
Yet the interesting part about Marian is that beyond talking about her work; she got very real with me – switching topics from her professional experiences to her journey in becoming the woman that she dreamed of becoming – and of her avoiding becoming like a man she grew up with, but that she resented. At first.
(16:06) ‘My parents divorced when I was six years old. That in itself was not traumatic, as they managed to do it in a rather clean way. I don’t have a single memory of my parents fighting. But then came the difficulties, in the form of financial matters and stepparents.
I had a range of stepfathers at my mother’s place and one of them stayed for a very, very long time. I remember this image of him – when he started dating my mother – coming over the hill of our garden like Julius Caesar. He was a very dominant character. From when I was nine till I was eighteen years old, this man was a colossal obstacle in my life. He tried to control me, he wanted to control everything. As the years passed, he became angry, bitter and resentful – in plain words a mean person. We had an argument once and he became aggressive towards my sister and me. My opinion was that we needed to get out for safety reasons but my sister’s opinion was: we can’t leave our mother behind. I left the household for two months. I was a teenager then, so I was supposed to be out there, trying things and doing things, but instead this period had been about self reservation and the sad questioning of : How do I become a person despite this man?
The reality is that for us as children, that experience became a defining period in our lives, but in a very negative way. Still, I don’t want to spend my life like him : being aggressive and bullying others. On the contrary, I want to use my energy like that of a windmill and channel it towards positive things. This wasn’t easy but I spent most of my 20s doing this : processing every bit of anger and resentment that I had in me.
A year and a half ago, I started a relationship with a man who’s ten years older than me, divorced with three children from a previous marriage, which means I am the stepparent now. It’s …interesting. I love it actually. It’s a very human experience especially that his children are teenagers; three boys; they are living walking things, they ask a lot of deep questions, they even push back on stuff! (We both laughed). It’s an interesting experience because the tables have turned now.’
Now, what I found really mature of Marian is that, by her own words, she never became ‘a man hater’. On the contrary, despite this traumatic experience she decided to use anger and bullying as an example not to follow. She decided to overcome the resentment she had cumulated throughout the years and channel it into actually doing good for the world.
After gaining her majority, Marian started a job in London where, as a woman and as an introvert, she felt her voice was diminished, mostly pushed back by what she referred to as ‘corporate male sales people’. Again, instead of taking this as a possibility to ‘hate on corporate men and the patriarchy’ (this is my expression from my own feels, not hers), she instead interpreted this as a defining moment for her growth. This situation made her realise that ‘if men can succeed by making up things and being confident in their words, women as well can stop beating themselves up for saying the wrong things or making mistakes’
All in all, meeting Marian was inspiring because beyond the mention of gender imbalances, family matters and the harshness of the world we live in, her words and experience are to me a testimony that despite all difficulties – being the person you want to become is first and foremost an individual choice. That is (a definition of) freedom, isn’t it?
Marian ended with this note and with sparkles in her eyes: ‘I don’t see why the world cannot be changed.’ In other words, ‘be the change you want to see for the world’ – hey, yet another overused expression that I love.
(Story and photography by Soundous Boualam)