I am not usually one for writing down my feelings anymore. But when I got the call to let me know of Emma’s death, there were too many thoughts and memories in my head swirling round and I knew that putting it into words was the only way I could begin to process my grief.
When I first met Emma, back in 2017, I was working at an event looking at Tackling Violence Against Women. I was very new to my job, I’d only been there for about 3 months and I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do with my life. I watched Emma stand up and talk about feminism, gender inequality, violence against women and girls and of course, her favourite topic, CEDAW and I was blown away by her confidence, her intellect and her passion.
I got the chance to speak to her before she left, and mid-conversation a man who had been attending the event interrupted us to explain how she was actually wrong about a number of her points, and he’d love to point her in the right direction. I will never forget the look that we shared in that moment when we realised that indeed, this was mansplaining 101 in action, and the laugh we shared when he walked away after she politely listened to his argument but said that she did not agree. Newly enthused about all things feminism, I became a member of Engender and started attending feminist events in Scotland. Fast forward a few months, and I joined the Young Women Lead programme. At this point, I started to realise that when it came to the women’s sector in Scotland, Emma was a *big deal*. When I started thinking about what I wanted my future to look like, I thought about Emma. You could say that meeting Emma was the catalyst that led me to where I am today.
I met Emma again a couple of times, including at Engender’s 25th birthday party in June 2018 at the Scottish Parliament. I was sitting front row and gave her my cheesiest grin before she went on to give her speech, which she later would thank me for as “reassuring and sisterly”. Shortly after, I moved to Linlithgow and we became occasional commute buddies, in the front carriage of the Glasgow – Edinburgh via Falkirk High train (the only chance of getting a seat if you get on in Linlithgow) and we would always take the time to catch up on everything that was happening in the sector, as she knew I was looking to get a job there, and share definitely not discussed in confidence gossip we both heard about the going-ons of the Scottish political sphere.
When I was nominated for 30 Under 30 at the end of 2018, Emma included me in her tweet of congratulations alongside some very wonderful women (Amanda Stanley, Katie Horsburgh, Brenna Jessie and Eve Livingston). To be included in the list at all was an honour, to be singled out by Emma made it all that bit more special for me. Emma was the first person in the sector outwith our organisation that I told about getting the job at YWCA. I met her on the train to work and couldn’t contain myself. I explained that I was going part-time and going to freelance on the side and she hinted that there may be some freelance work going with Engender soon so to give her my email to add to their list of contacts. I pitched for and happily ended up doing that freelance gig, working on data collection for Sex and Power 2020.
I realise that writing about how important someone was to you after they’ve passed is par for the course, but I am happy to say that I did actually tell Emma that she was my inspiration and my role model. I also told her that she is who I want to be when I grow up. To which she responded, I should aim higher.
In every piece of research and work I’ve done since starting in this sector, young women have told us that they desperately need more role models. It’s not lost on me that I was so lucky to not only have one, in Emma, but also to have spent time with her. It is completely devastating to me that she will no longer slide into my DMs with an eye roll emoji at any current twitter discourse that relates to those definitely not shared in confidence gossip sessions in hushed tones on the train, or sending solidarity to one another during particularly tough days.
Over the next few days, we’re going to hear a lot about the impact Emma has had on professional spheres in Scotland; her dedication, her encyclopedic knowledge, her calm in the face of nonsense. But it’s important to me to share the personal effect that she has had on my life and my career. Despite the fact that she was completely in the wrong when it came to her opinions about Lord of the Rings, and honestly even in death I’m not sure I can forgive her, there is an Emma shaped void in my heart that cannot be filled. She inspired me to be true to myself and my values and not to settle for doing anything less than I am completely passionate about. That is her legacy to me. So thank you Emma. Thank you and I will miss you dreadfully.