Back at #OER17 in London I joined a small group of women meeting to sort out how we could support each other online where some of that group had experienced high levels of very unpleasant trolling simply because of their gender. I thought it as a great way to push back and ensure that online bullying could not prevail. I followed the @femedtech twitter account and some 18 months later it was my turn to curate the account for a fortnight. It felt fair to take my turn. I had no idea just how this small act would reframe my thinking and increase my reflection on what it means to be woman.
Clearly you don’t get a choice about your gender! I have memories of a childhood spent identifying as a tomboy, loving the outdoors and preferring horse riding and helping my dad with DIY to more traditional (for the 60’s) play with dolls and dressing up. Growing up during an era of growing expectations of equality, I believed that girls were just as good as boys and could “have it all”. However the messages I was picking up from popular culture were confusing – comedy shows played on stereotypes of dumb blonds and ugly old nags. I was largely educated in single sex schools and the ethos was one of achievement. I remember Rachael Heyhoe-Flint presenting prizes at my grammar school speech day. I got a prize for effort. My sense of competition was easily cultivated. The 70’s continued the confusing signals – girls were objects of desire and conquest. My teenage self struggled with the tension between wanted to be attractive to the boys from the boys school and maintaining friendships with my peers. I don’t think I did friendship very well in those days. I also didn’t do pink!
Some 30 years later and I had achieved a good deal in my professional and private life. I self identify as a feminist, someone who understands the injustices faced by women in their everyday lives. I had learned to use my femininity to my advantage, navigated the pressures of balancing career and motherhood, experienced the casual sexism of others, even weathered physical and psychological abuse from strangers and colleagues. I was older and much wiser about the “having it all” myth – I had broader shoulders.
Nearly a decade further on and this short 2 weeks of curation made me pay attention to something more profound. The warmth of human kindness which radiates from a community of like minded individuals who believe in mutual respect and support. I had taken it for granted that feminism would bring women together but I had not expected that a community such as #femedtech unites all those who believe in caring for each other’s wellbeing and are prepared to stand up for each other’s rights. Women, men, disabled and all marginalised people, the privileged and the excluded – all can coalesce to show the very best of human nature.
The #bookclub idea which emerged through conversations on twitter got me reading and paying attention to the struggles faced by others in the name of feminism and human rights. I started to realise what we have inherited. A legacy worth fighting for. The past 2 weeks have seen me feeling much more positive about being female. It no longer feels like the short straw but rather part of my identity I can cherish, some common ground between myself and many fabulous people. No better or worse than being male, just different and I’m slightly more proud of that fact.