I rarely draw on my identity as a mother in my professional self; you won’t see any photos of my children in presentations and you would be hard pushed to know any details about them from my social media postings. Yet, lying awake these nights reflecting on the turmoil across the world, I can’t help but be fearful of their somewhat near-futures as three wonderful and successful young women carving out their unique paths.
My upbringing was that of a church-based, traditional countryside hierarchy; children were seen but not heard, men worked the land as rulers of their own destiny and women stayed at home caring for children and husbands (my post from 2018 highlights how much this remains despite many of us now having full time jobs). Modesty and politeness were held high on pedestals with critical questioning of oppression and power structures forbidden; for fear of coming across as rude, difficult or, worse, ungrateful. Without causing major family rifts I railed against this my whole life whilst internalising many of the female orientated elements; my love of baking, gardening, being outdoors and sewing – all round maker of things. In many ways ending up the person I had tried so vehemently to resist. A complex entanglement of past, present and future identities and values.
Fast forward many decades and my girls are getting closer and closer to independence and I am still fighting the good fight around the messages they receive from family, from clothing retailers, from society in general that women need to, indeed should be caring, kind and immodest. The tension between holding these traits as invaluable in any human and the imbalance in the weight of undervalued roles within society is so taut that I often feel I may snap in two.
This post is not to bemoan our lot or express general angriness at the lack of progress. It is a celebration of the work of all those who push back whilst retaining their values, reaching for the sky, demanding to be seen and heard on their own terms, without defaulting back onto hierarchical approaches to professional lives. We can grow, achieve and succeed all the while lifting up others and bringing them along for the ride. In a world of meritocracy, male dominated power structures and a ‘fight to the top’ culture, punching down can be the default. Part of the solution to this has to be around language and putting value on care, empathy, creativity, kindness, mentoring, collaborating, vulnerability and we/our instead of innovation, impact, managing, transformation, leading, resilience and I/my. Caring vocations need to be better paid, recognised as valuable, as well as essential, jobs that attract diverse and, yes, ambitious souls. Less free labour, better distributed labour and more fair pay.
Throughout the pandemic I have been involved in amazing collaborative projects, with amazing people, around the care narrative and they have re-energised me as well as encouraging me to take a step back and question many aspects of life. Several outputs haven’t made it out into the world just yet so exciting times ahead. One space where I have yet to navigate this binary, of male-based versus female-based values is in Wikipedia work. I have several stub articles of fabulous women in healthcare still in Word documents as I don’t think they will meet notability thresholds. Biographical articles that are deemed to be insufficiently notable are removed by (male) editors and unsurprisingly biographies of women are flagged disproportionally and overall representation is far from equal (please do read this eye-opening article by Francesca Tripodi:
… biographies about women who meet Wikipedia’s criteria for inclusion are more frequently considered non-notable and nominated for deletion compared to men’s biographies. This disproportionate rate is another dimension of gender inequality previously unexplored by social scientists and provides broader insights into how women’s achievements are (under)valued.
Throughout my career I have benefited from the strength and support of many feminist spaces, groups and mentorships. From work to study these networks bring not only professional development gains but always joy and more importantly hope. They are formal, informal, tongue-in-cheek, serious, frivolous, dispersed, local, affective, virtual, physical and more. The media envelops us within never-ending dystopias but these spaces resist the narrative as hope-based utopias. We build one another up, we rewrite the rules (trying not conform to current rules) and we envisage new futures. We are strong but we are also fragile. We. should. not. have. to. be. resilient.
So today is the day in the annual cycle of missed achievements, fantastic achievements and possible achievements to celebrate and be an #ImmodestWoman (whether you hold a doctorate title or not). Be visible and be heard, quietly or loudly depending on your disposition. I am surrounded by inspirational women and feminist allies and haven’t room to thank each and every one, but I hope you recognise yourselves in this post. The future has to be bright for our children and equality will come, my girls will change the narratives and for the record sugary, submissive slogans on clothing enrages them and they despise unicorns (looking at you clothing designers) not to mention the pockets issue.
I’ll end with words from a paper published just yesterday exploring one of the networks I refer to above, #FemEdTech, which I am proud to feature in (check out the whole special edition of the journal if you can). It is a helpful prompt to rethink our reflex to busyness and what we consider productive. Happy IWD2022 one and all*
By engaging with the materials of networked practice in waves and pauses, we are modelling a ‘slow ontology’ and ‘writing that is not unproductive, but differently productive’
Beetham, Drumm, Bell, Mycroft & Forsythe
Beetham, Helen, Louise Drumm, Frances Bell, Lou Mycroft, and Giulia Forsythe. 2022. “Curation and collaboration as activism: emerging critical practices of #FemEdTech”.” Learning, Media and Technology 47 (1): 143–155.
Tripodi, F. (2021) ‘Ms. Categorized: Gender, notability, and inequality on Wikipedia’, New Media & Society. doi: 10.1177/14614448211023772.
*imagine me with my arms crossed as I loathe selfies.