Welcome to our blog! This is a platform where the rich diversity of women's voices can be heard and where we can come together to turn attention on the myriad of issues that affect a variety of women. We celebrate where things are good, and focus a spotlight on areas where they aren't. If you want to write something for this space please just get in touch!
Before sending us your blog, please note: We publish articles that are written by women, pro all women & not for profit in their intention. We welcome lighter pieces as well as articles on more serious issues. There is no specific word count, but most pieces are around the 700 word mark.
Our latest post is by Karla McLaren, Campaign Manager: Women’s Rights in Afghanistan for Amnesty International UK who are campaigning for women in Afghanistan.
Encouragement and Self-Belief
A regular trait I recognise in myself and see in the other women I know is a lack in self confidence. This is an outward manifestation of a response to a society that undermines women in virtually every aspect of their lives, from appearance through to career path, life choices and aspirations. On this basis it is not surprising that there are so many women who do not fully realise their potential; it is manifold, a combination of endemic discrimination coupled with generations of women avoiding putting themselves in the firing line when they believe instinctively that they will be shot down anyway.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in volunteering for The Women’s Room and have seen firsthand the type of women who have registered. Many are established, well educated, experienced women in their field. There are women registered who would not be classed as experts in the traditional sense of the word, but have a wealth of experience having either lived the experience, or have a genuinely informed knowledge of it. But the one thing that struck me was the number of women asking the same question “but I don’t have expertise or enough experience in any one thing”.
Oh I beg to differ.
Let’s just say that there was a Newsnight panel discussing the repercussions of reduced pain relief availability during childbirth, would I as a viewer prefer to hear from a male doctor, who may have been on a delivery ward, but would not a) have given birth or b) been subject to what it actually means to rely on pain relief during birth? I would want to hear from the person with a truly vested interest in the change and someone who could speak with experience and conviction on the impacts. Or how about the changes to benefits, the bedroom tax or winter fuel allowance reduction. Would a male politician versus a mother of a disabled child, at the coal face of the cuts be a better talking head? I know who I’d rather listen to and learn more from. And this is what The Women’s Room is first and foremost about, women being heard, listened to, driving and contributing to the debate, setting the agenda.
But what of self confidence? It’s a tough thing to just switch on and it doesn’t come easily, but doing small things every day can start to make a difference. Highlighting the great work of other women, congratulating them and celebrating their successes breeds a culture where women can start to be truly supportive without fearing competition or rejection. Hobbies, interests outside your work or regular home life can breed confidence, not everyone can do this, but reading and writing can broaden one’s horizons immeasurably. Encouragement goes a really long way, so I try to encourage other women in their endeavours. Ultimately, we have a long way to go to have equal representation in society but recognising this and doing practical things to change the face of the media is a really great approach. I’m proud to be part of this movement and believe that every voice counts; as a collective chorus real change can definitely be made.
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Should news organisations reflect the status quo or try to influence the gender balance?
-Tami Hoffman, Sky News Interviews Editor
It’s the key question in the debate about getting more female voices into news bulletins and articles. Should 78% of the politicians we use be male, because that’s the ratio in the Commons? Should 98% of business leaders interviewed be men to reflect the make-up of the FTSE 100? Or should news channels actively discriminate to bring some balance to the screen?
At a recent event about women in the media, one of the participants said that the problem would eventually be resolved by ‘evolution’. Her argument was that advancements in equality would lead to more women gaining senior positions, which in turn would lead to more women in the news. But evolution isn’t quick and the march of progress has proved sluggish when it comes to Women and Power.
As Interviews Editor at Sky News my job is to secure news-making interviews for the channel and to ensure that our experts are articulate and authoritative speakers. I don’t believe that this precludes getting more women on, quite the reverse – to engage with an audience that is 46% female we need to reflect their concerns on the screen. We’ve made big strides in the past 18 months, improving our ratio from 1:4 to 1:2, but it’s still an uphill struggle.
Fortunately there are now more resources than ever to help broadcasters like Sky reshape the TV landscape. Websites such as this are useful, as are networking events, but even at these evenings of crisps and chat, I find myself having to work hard to persuade eloquent, well qualified women to put themselves forward. So after many crisps and much chat here’s my compilation of why so many women say no, and why they should say yes.
1. “I don’t know enough about the subject”
Most live interviews are 3-4 minutes long. Interviews for a package usually require just a 30 second sound bite. Chances are that if a researcher has called you, there’s information out there that suggests you are qualified to talk about the subject. We often do several interviews on each subject during the day, so we can tailor the interview to areas you are comfortable with.
2. “Someone else in my organisation is more qualified”.
Maybe – but it was you we called, and you can bet that a man would not pass on the opportunity.
3. “I’m going to get tripped up”
Unless you are a cabinet minister, the boss of an oil company or Boris Johnson, it’s unlikely that the interview will be anything other than polite. You’ve been asked to come on to be informative, to help viewers understand your area of expertise. The exceptional interviews like Jeremy Paxman v Michael Howard are remembered because they are so unusual – they really are not the norm.
4. “No-one has ever asked me”
TV stations have limited resources. At Sky News one guest producer might book 8 or 9 guests in one day. Make it easy for us to find you and be pro-active. If a news event plays to your expertise, tweet or blog about it, even email us direct.
5. “I’m wearing the wrong clothes to come on TV today”
You are only going to be seen from the waist upwards. If you are really worried ask to borrow one of the ‘obituary jackets’ – it may sound morbid, but there are always a couple of black jackets around.
So if you are browsing this website, musing on whether to sign up - stop making excuses, take the plunge and do it.
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Beyond the Flopsy Bunnies
Beatrix Potter: Scientist, Entrepreneur and Environmentalist
“You may go into the fields and down the lane, but don’t go into Mr McGregor’s garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put into a pie by Mrs McGregor.”
Less than fifty words into The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Beatrix Potter leaves us in no doubt we are in a world where the price of failure is death, with extra gravy.
Hitchcock would have been hard pressed to convey so much menace with such economy of effort.
Precision is the hall-mark of her work. The coat “of cherry-coloured corded silk embroidered with pansies and roses, and a cream coloured satin waistcoat—trimmed with gauze and green worsted chenille” which she illustrated in The Tailor of Gloucester was drawn from an exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Many years later, a family arrived at the museum begging to see the original. Armed with her illustrations, the museum had little difficulty finding the right coat in their vast storage rooms. It is now on display again.
Peter Rabbit and his friends have inspired a ballet by Frederick Ashton, a film starring Rene Zellweger and Ewan MacGregor, and numerous cartoon adaptations. However, though her books still sell over two million copies a year, and it seems impossible to visit the Lake District without being inundated with Peter Rabbit merchandise ranging from duvet covers to cereal bowls, Beatrix Potter was far more than simply a beloved children’s author.
In fact, Potter - scientist, linguist, artist, merchandising rights pioneer, hill-farmer, breeder of prize-winning sheep and early environmentalist - was a true polymath, despite the limits imposed by her Victorian upbringing and domineering parents.
For a young woman from her background - the professional upper-middle class, with solid Lancashire cotton money on both sides of the family - going away to school, let alone University, was virtually unthinkable. She was educated by governesses, who seems to have done an outstanding job.
It was a period when gifted amateurs could still make their mark. Despite her lack of formal qualifications, Potter was very gifted indeed. In the 1890s she became particularly interested in mycology, the study of fungi and lichens.
She cultivated algal cells and fungal spores, subjected them to microscopic examination and drew them at all points in their life cycle. Her observations tended to support the theory (originally advanced by a Swiss botanist, Simon Schwendener, in 1869) that lichens, rather than being a single, simple organism, were a symbiote, combining an algae and a fungus in one entity. This theory (not finally accepted until 1939) required a radical re-evaluation of how life could develop, and was, as a result, hugely controversial.
Potter began working on a paper documenting her spore germination experiments.
Her uncle, Sir Henry Enfield Roscoe, formerly professor in chemistry at Manchester University and now vice-chancellor of the University of London, secured her an introduction to George Massee, the leading mycologist at Kew Botanical Gardens. The relationship seems to have started uneasily. She observed,
“I do not quite like to give the paper to Mr Massee because I am afraid I have rather contradicted him. Uncle Harry is satisfied with my way of working but we wish very much that someone would take it up at Kew to try it, if they do not believe my drawings. Mr Massee took objection to my slides, but the things exist, and will be all done by the Germans.”
However, Massee came round. Though the Linnaean Society, the leading scientific body in the field, refused to let a woman attend their meetings, he acted as her proxy in presenting her 1897 paper, “Germination of the spores of the Agaricineae” to the Society.
The paper has unfortunately been lost, although several hundred of Potter’s scientific drawings can be seen in the Arnitt Museum in the Lake District, where they are still used by mycologists to identify fungi.
Whether through frustration with the Linnaean Society, or because other things were taking up too much time, Potter did not return to her work on fungi. After the publication of Peter Rabbit in 1901 she concentrated not only on writing and illustrating its sequels, but on merchandising.
Like many British other authors, including Tolkien half a century later, she fell foul of the US copyright system, failing to register Peter Rabbit at the Library of Congress and so losing out to pirates. Determined not to be caught again, in 1903 she hand-stitched a Peter Rabbit doll and registered it at the Patent Office, making Peter the first literary character to be patented. This was the start of the multi-billion pound character merchandising industry we know today; even the vast Disney corporation has to follow in a small rabbit’s pawprints.
The royalties from her books and merchandise enabled her to buy a farm in the Lake District, where she became increasingly concerned about the danger to the environment from unchecked development. She had known Canon Rawnsley, co-founder of the National Trust, since meeting him when she holidayed in the Lake District as a girl. He provided much needed support when, later, she was struggling to find a publisher for Peter Rabbit. Now it was her turn to help him.
First alone, and then with the support of her husband, William Heelis, a local solicitor whom she married in 1913, at the age of 47, she threw herself into the work of conservation. Her strategic purchases of land threatened by development, both on her own and in cooperation with the National Trust, ensured the preservation of much of what is now the Lake District National Park.
For Potter, preservation emphatically did not imply stagnation. Her vision was for the Lake District as a living landscape in which traditional ways of life could flourish and be built upon by judicious and sensitive innovation.
Her farm management style was extremely hands on; she was known for going out in all weathers, and being familiar with every last inch of her land and boundaries. Her scientific interests found an outlet in breeding Herdwick sheep, including by pioneering new remedies for sheep diseases. She built a prize-winning herd and, at the time of her death in December 1943, was due to take office as the first ever female President of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders Association.
On her death and that of her husband, a year later, their estate passed to the National Trust. It was the largest single bequest to the Trust at that date, and comprised some seventeen farms, all of which continue to support Herdwick sheep to this day.
Without Mrs Heelis, the physical landscape we know would have been changed beyond all recognition. Without Beatrix Potter our imaginative landscape would be greatly the poorer. Anyone inclined to write her off as simply a twee producer of fluffy bunny books is strongly advised to take a moment, pause - and look underneath the pie-crust.
 Massee’s first response had been to fob her off by sending her away to read the works of Professor Brefeld on spore germination, a series of heavy tomes all in the original German. Fortunately, this was a language in which Potter was fluent.
 We would now use the registered design system to achieve the same results.
 In a familiar story, publishers repeatedly turned her down. Potter self-published a limited edition of 250 copies, at Rawnsley’s suggestion, which finally gained the attention of publisher Frederick Warne & Co.
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