When I started thinking about this post a couple of weeks ago I didn’t recall having had any female role models in the first decades of my life. I was too old for Girl Power, and the Spice Girls lacked ‘Head Girl Spice’ anyway. Darrell Rivers was full of school spirit, but her school was private whilst mine was distinctly comprehensive. I was already in my early 20s by the time Hermione Granger made it okay to love school, books, homework and being responsible.
I might have spent my teenage years devoid of celebrity input but at least I didn’t feel that society had some gender defined silo for me until I was out in the working world. It seems now that from birth, girls and young women are overwhelmed with the world telling them who they should be, how they should look and how they should behave; from pink princess to Kardashian in one leap from childhood into tweenage.
I asked my girlfriends who inspired and influenced them as we grew up and got some silence, then a smattering of older sisters, fictional characters and singers of dubious quality. Only one came back with an impressive list of writers and journalists, but then she was reading her poetry on Radio 4 when the rest of us were still working on legible handwriting. As I’ve thought more about those childhood and teenage years I’ve realised that those that influenced and inspired me most were my peers, the girls I grew up with and am privileged to still call my friends. From encouraging my first campaign – Cruelty Out the Window (COW) – to ensuring I survived our A’ levels, my friends were the ones I looked to for advice, support and inspiration. Unfortunately, the support to purchase snow-washed denim was misplaced and I’m grateful for the lack of photographic evidence in that pre-digital age..
I’m now on the dark side of 40* but I’m still awed and inspired by the women that I know. In the world of cycling you only have to dig a little deeper than the #allmalepanels of the average cycling conference to find the packed field of women that are thought leaders on cycling for utility, campaigning for cycle infrastructure, academics, adventure cyclists, festival organisers, community workers, entrepreneurs, bloggers, campaigners and environmental advocates. I’m fortunate enough to have met all these incredible women, and many more, that keep me campaigning and inspire me to cycle further and more adventurously than I’ve done before. Women in cycling are getting louder and today, International Women’s Day, Women’s Cycle Forum Scotland will be celebrating both well known, and the less familiar, women that are changing the cycling narrative.
Outside in the mainstream media it’s great to see the new #ThisGirlCan campaign diversify their age and ability range, and focus on the benefits of activity not the objectifying of women through physical activity, although many would rather see it focus on #thiswomandoes. Gender inequality is so entrenched that some people barely notice it until it’s pointed out but we’re talking more about how women are using strategies to support each other in the workplace and how to lose that toxic competition that prevents us from encouraging each other. If we are to #beboldforchange we need to support all women, not just women ‘like us’, so that we aren’t improving the situation of some women at the expense of others, or ignoring the multi-faceted identities women have. And yes, as the mother of a son that has come home to tell me that the girls said he shouldn’t wear a dress, I know that we need #aboycantoo.
Over the last 6 months I’ve also been involved in a worldwide social movement, ULab, where I’ve found another group of inspirational women (and two men..) that are creating real and positive changes in their communities. It’s shown me that incredible women can be found working, uncelebrated, everywhere if you just take some time to look and listen.
I hope that this International Women’s Day we’ll all take some time to reach out to other women and tell them that they are amazing, and then tell someone else about them too.
*Since I crashed through the door of 40 I’ve been regularly reflecting on which women will be showing me a way into the next decade of my life, trying to be positive about those years that lay ahead in the distance. I recently came across this picture of Blanca, a 59 year old woman cycling round the world, looking fit, strong and radiating joy. I felt like I’d glimpsed some of my future inspiration and perhaps have reason to be ‘bold for change’ about ageing too..