Hello. Get a cup of tea, this is not a short read.
It’s (‘was’ depending on when you read this) International Women’s Day. It’s been marked since the early 1900s and it’s even an official holiday in some countries.
Let’s talk about some women. I thought about this a lot in the past few weeks, as I have been pulling together women’s voices for a particular publication recently and I spend time considering how we can raise women’s voices in STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Maths) through media.
But, I am also shy of making sweeping statements about all women, mostly because of the obvious statement – we’re incredibly diverse and one size does not fit all.
So, from my personal point of view; I like International Women’s Day, because it gives me pause for thought on the women around me and around the world.
In the odd daydream (the one with the time machine and more stamina than would be human) I would have a soccer team sized family, all girls. (I was a teenage girl, I know that this would be a recipe for madness for me.) I’d encourage them to be whatever they liked and to work at it and then be proud. (So, that would be 11 girls – scientist, engineer, athlete, writer, activist, coder, actor, surgeon, mathlete, florist, etc – all terrifying!)
As a journalist, I spend a lot of my waking hours with my nose in the news. I see so many horrifying stories about women murdered, raped, captured, abused etc. I tremble with rage and wonder. By some chaotic action, the collection of renewable cells that is me, happened to occur in a society that makes me lucky. I can raise my voice, I can wear what I like, I can argue the case and fall in love every day. Not so for those who are aborted for being female in utero. Not so for those who are beaten and shamed or even killed for just one of those things.
I also think about what I can do and what I can’t do. I might not have the super-hero skills to save all of the women who suffer, or change a society in 24 hours. I’m not famous and so I don’t have the platform to publicise for change and I’m not rich enough to adopt everyone. But I can kinda help, I think we all can in the ways that use the skills we have to hand.
I get asked a lot to provide the names of women (particularly in STEM) who might be a good source of comment, quote and opinion in the media. I love doing this. There’s no way I’d have the time to do it myself for starters, but also, over the years I have collected knowledge about who I would ask in those cases.
This has many benefits. It helps some women with their careers by shining a spotlight on their accomplishments, it provides role models for girls who might be learning in an all-male environment and well, it makes me feel good too.
However, I also have a few hangups on this – let’s turn those into tips, something more positive.
Don’t ask women for the sake of their gender, ask them because of what they know.
This is a bit of an issue. I’ve been asked to appear at talks or on panels to talk about things I really don’t have a scooby-doo about. And I tend to say, ‘No thank you’. Of course I’d like to get up there and show off a bit, but it would be silly of me to try and describe say, sports physio or gardening. There’s plenty of women in each field to go around, do your homework.
Ask us about things other than being a woman.
Sounds basic right? You’d be surprised. The query ‘How does it feel to be a woman in … [insert career choice here] is one that not many of us can answer in comparison. How does it feel to be a woman in media? Well, I’ve not been anything else when it comes to gender. If that changes, I’ll get back to you. We have a lot to say, about a lot of things, ask us about the topic we’re in love with, we’ll talk to you all day if you like.
Helping the women you know
Not all of the women I know seem to need help. Not on a gender basis. But some of them could do with a metaphorical push or connection and asking for help is not always easy.
First up, you might be told ‘No’. It’s important that you log this tiny nugget of info and move on.
Secondly, being an arsehole is not gender-specific. I’ve helped women in media who have promptly turned around and done their best to crap all over me.
This doesn’t stop me from continuing to help where I can because, “he who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.” – Jefferson.
You can’t take my skills or my ideas from me. I just need to have a little faith in the ones that I have and keep going, regardless. Besides, I’m too busy to waste time getting pissy with you.
My personal hotlist
I’ve had help from all genders, and I do get a warm fuzzy feeling about this and hope that one day I can influence them right back. Sometimes it’s a kind word, sometimes it’s the infinite patience of putting up with me learning to code and sometimes it’s by being a good example.
Here’s a bit of a list – it’s never going to be complete, but these are some of the women who help me.
My family. Yes, cliche enacted, but there’s women in my family who through their lives showed me that I can do most things and that stereotypes are an amusing side story.
My mother sang in Vietnam. If I went to a war zone, it would be to panic and find my way home again. She strolled in and sang songs for people who needed to hear them. Although today she acknowledges the dangers of what could have been, she’s incredibly bold and confident – ‘I have the skills, so why would I not do this?’. (There’s a picture of her here in the Australian War Memorial Archive).
I have Aunts who never married. This is important to me. I have had no family pressures on how I should run my personal life. The single women I grew up with are artists and honest to goodness adventurers, traveling the world, learning things and making stuff. It never occurred to me that this should or would be judged. I love them for it.
Women I can’t do without
First one has a story – A tale of two stubborn women. I travel alone a lot, but sometimes I travel with others. I traveled with a women and we fought and then being headstrong and passionate as each other, we didn’t talk for a long time. It was one of the dumbest things I’ve done.
One grey Wednesday at work, I realised that I couldn’t do without her. A good friend that I was willing to harm myself by ignoring. So we met like she-wolves to sort things out. From the dumbest thing I ever did came one of my wiser decisions. I was frightened of being rebuffed, but I should have known better. Today I appreciate this more than ever,she’s taken care of me when I needed it most. I don’t recommend my methods for getting here though.
Second one has a story too – ‘Walk a mile in my shoes’.
It’s not often you’ll get to do this. Though I appreciate the process, I also wish away the pain the made it happen. A woman in my field has seen illness and pain, she also has shown incredible resilience and candour through it all. I found myself almost living part of her life – much more so than any other friend.
You know what your friends do at work right? Have you ever tried doing it? You kinda think you know what they do at home, have you ever tried it on for size?
I learned a great deal of empathy, I found out what she faces in her work day to some extent. Although I appreciate the position, and things that I’ve learned, it’s one of those times where you hope to never do it again, because that would mean they are well and they’re thriving.
Let’s have a third – rule of three right?
I grew up with a girl who has a sense of adventure. We lived in an outdoor paradise of fun. One day we’d be giving her mother heart failure as we climbed to the tops of all the trees and others we would be numbing our bare feet in a cold creek, fearing our toes would be set upon by yabbies.
I had to move to a different country. It was impossible to contemplate fully at that age, being away from your friend, forever. It had to be decades that passed before we were in touch again – yeah, social media – and it’s weird and wonderful.
I hear echoes of the girl I would be out with all day with catching lizards, and I learn from the woman today with a beautiful family. Oddly, those missing years make me feel both young and old. She reminds me of where we came from and what we can become and hopeful that other girls would have a similar best friend who likes to play in the mud.
The final story (to break the rule is to make the rule) is of a women I never knew, but is so similar we could be siblings. News headlines brought us together online, weird things happened. She lives nearly 5000 miles away and we can manage to have the same thought, meal, idea, at the same time. We laugh, we disagree, we speak with the frankness of family and sometimes weeks pass and we get on with our own thing, not concerned about the distance. I’m lucky to have made a passing connection that turned into a fierce feeling of family and protection.
Time is relevant and if you made it here, then thanks you! So a shorter list of women who get me by –
Rain. To know a woman who explores the frontiers of technology is a thing of great value. One that makes me laugh too? That’s just me showing off.
Sue. A woman who keeps me studying, asks the questions that make me want to find the answers in academia and beyond.
Jess. A woman who makes me think about those who are in need and a fierce editor who innately knows who to tell the story.
Ghislaine. Who teaches me that fire and passion sit comfortably within code and design.
Nik. Who makes me want to make beautiful things, almost as lovely as her illustrations.
Tracy. Teaches me complicated things about empathy and different lives, makes me feel guilty enough to go out running from time to time and still manages to be funny as all heck.
Vinoba. Teaches me that academic achievement, career excellence and family are not all exclusive choices for women. I feel tired thinking about it, but she shows me it is possible, and still finds time to create extraordinary cakes.
Jillian. Teaches me to speak up and speak out about things. A woman who is not afraid of fire and writes with clarity and passion I’d like to see more of in my own work.
Emma. Gets on with things, really big things that encourage young people to have fun while being brilliant. Teaches me to try and help the next generations.
Janey. She teaches me that you can probably sing through anything. Even the really rough stuff.
Elizabeth. Whose pragmatism I would love to bottle – we’d make a fortune.
Sydney. Who makes history enchanting and creates drawings I could look at all day. Makes me want to improve my skills with a pencil.
Molly. Who reminds me to quietly get my thoughts in order and do my research. Though she then takes this all the way to publishing something spectacular – I hope to do the same some day.
Jody. Teaches me to lighten the heck up. When I’m gazing at my navel for work, there’s always a different angle.
Linda. Not many people can make me laugh myself sick. A healthy practise. Also my much-needed editor when words fail me.
Tiffany. My childhood was a happier place with this adventuress.
Rusty. Creative resilience embodied. She finds things that open my mind – and writes about them.
Kate. My curiosity about humanity and robotics totally validated.
Natalie. Teaches me that being feminine is not a sartorial crime against being a strong willed woman of achievement (and travel!)
Cheri. Love comes in all sorts of ways. She reminds me to shut up, accept it and try to give as much back as I can.
There’s a lot more, but that’s a sample of me feeling lucky. If you’re not on the list, it’s because I am fallible.
A list of women I’d maybe be too shy to approach, but none the less, I look to for inspiration and sometimes wish I were a little more like them. Amanda Palmer, Kathleen Hanna, Margaret Atwood, Tula Lotay, Karen Berger, Maggie Aderin-Pocock…and so many more 🙂