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Show up however you can: there’s no place for guilt in the ‘Girl Code’…

What if we can’t actually be there? As the ibuprofen wears off, Awards Alumni Coordinator Gemma Higgins contemplates the guilt of not showing up for Stevie Martin and what the ‘Girl Code’ really means…

Photo Credit: Florian Klauer

Do you have to show up to be there?

With Emma Thompson having made a dramatic call for us to join the #extintionrebellion climate change protest on Friday and both the Pride Parade and Brexit marches drawing what was claimed to be a million people into the capital, the question feels rather timely. And when it comes to comedy, you have to hand it to us Brits – we have seriously good sign game. Laugh-out-loud funny sign game. At #PutItToThePeople, the iterations of “It’s so bad even the introverts are here”, won my vote. Because they demonstrated just how much of a shit people gave about the issue. And as an introvert, I know you really need to give a shit about an issue to voluntarily spend the day with several hundreds of thousands of other people within touching distance.

Still, as much as I loved the sentiment, and as much as I retweeted the placards every single time they found their way into my feed (which, given my unsurprisingly large number of my followers being fellow introverts, was a lot), I have to admit it stung a bit. Because I wasn’t there. As strongly as I felt about the issue, as someone with high (at times utterly debilitating) social anxiety, a fear of crowds and a predisposition for panic attacks, I couldn’t have made it onto the public transport in central that day, let alone stand amongst the masses. And as I watched it play out online, championing the cause and voicing my support as loudly as Twitter would allow me, I was wracked with guilt. Because, while I was emotionally there with every breath in my body, I hadn’t actually shown up.

And tonight, I can’t show up for Stevie Martin. It’s her final ever show of Vol:1 at Soho Theatre. My hip has gone. Like, really gone. Cannot physically walk gone. And although I spent most of the night in tears on the phone to NHS 111 (who, I must say, deal with wailing single women utterly convinced their entire upper leg has crumbled for no apparent reason extremely well) and had to crawl down the stairs to take the dog out and don’t actually know Stevie, I told her I’d be there, so all I can think about right now is that I’m letting her down. And that it’s unlikely my entire upper leg actually has crumbled. Which, if anything, makes me feel more guilty.

Where does this guilt come from? I must say it seems to me to be more of female thing. Or certainly more extreme for women. There’s something about having made a ‘commitment’, that women seem to be be less able to break without beating themselves up about it to levels of irrationality not all that far removed from putting bacon, a fried egg, maple syrup, spinach and tomato ketchup in a hot cross bun. Because breaking a commitment, and breaking a commitment to another woman however valid a reason you have for doing so, feels like something you just don’t do. You’ve not done what you said you would. You’ve let another woman down. You’ve let the side down. You’ve broken the ‘Girl Code’. Because you said you’d be there, but you’ve not shown up.

The guilt is even more paralysing if someone else has been implicated in the commitment you made. They’ve booked the tickets, or organised the logistics, or made themselves free or scheduled their day around your plans or are just quite simply counting on you to be there. To show up when you said you would. To accompany them. To support them. To be there. Because they want you to be. Because it means something to them that you are. Because you told them you’d be.

And as I write this in the only comfortable position I’ve been able to find today: seated and unmoving, I realise I’m genuinely contemplating what I should say in the email I send to Stevie apologising for letting her down I realise just how damn ridiculous that is.

I realise I need to park this guilt because it doesn’t help me and it doesn’t help Stevie and it doesn’t help the amazing little sister I’d been due to go with who has instead offered to come round and keep me company. And I can show up to that. And I can show up for her by being present and enjoying every moment we have together. By laughing and crying and talking shit and drinking far more wine than is sensible given the amount of ibuprofen in my system because that’s what the ‘Girl Code’ really means: to show up when, or where, or however you can.

Because you know what? When you can’t – genuinely can’t, they will. Even if they have to bring their own wine glass as you only have to be within three feet of one for it to seemingly break of its own accord as if preempting the inevitable…I mean there really should be a word for this level of clumsy.

And you know why? Because that’s what you’d do. That’s what the ‘Girl Code’ really means.

I didn’t email Stevie in the end. I thought about how I’d feel if it was me. And I wouldn’t have wanted an email. I wouldn’t have needed one (in all honesty I’d probably feel a bit weird and uncomfortable about getting one from – to all intents and purposes – someone I don’t actually know). But I did tweet her to remind her I’d wanted to show up. And, less than an hour before the final show of her Vol:1 run at Soho Theatre, Stevie replied to wish me well. She knew I wanted to be there. And so I was. Stevie Martin knows what the ‘Girl Code’ really means.

Dates for her next show, Hot Content! are still to be announced. But you can be sure I’m getting tickets. Because I’m going to be there. Even if I can’t physically show up*. I’ll be there when, and where, and however I can. And that will be enough. Because if it was me, and someone couldn’t actually show up, if I knew they’d wanted to be there, they still would be. 

If I do make it, I won’t go anywhere near her wine glass. I’m pretty sure that’s covered in the ‘Girl Code’. But not showing up? Stop it with the guilt: you’re breaking nothing.

*Although if my hip goes again the night before the show I’ll probably email the doctor’s note. I mean don’t want her thinking it’s her…

Keep an eye out for Hot Content! dates and ticket information on the Underbelly Festival website. Maybe see you there…

Beating yourself up for not showing up (or anything else)? Entirely coincidentally, Stevie has your back…check out this week’s episode of Nobody Panic Podcast on – yep, you guessed it: GUILThere.

Feel it, but for one night only. Show up however you can: there’s no place for guilt in the ‘Girl Code’…