Striving for power not perfection
I arrived at our 'DivaManc Switch-On', on 12 November, a cold wet Thursday evening, feeling rather bruised and shaken by Trump's electoral victory combined by a complete lack of sleep. I knew I wasn't alone.
I wondered at the outset whether Trump would hijack our evening, like a tsunami I pictured his big blonde quiff, sweeping away the optimism and aspirations that had kept our DivaManc boat afloat. I'm pleased to say he didn't. Tony Morrison wrote that day, 'This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal...'
And so we did. Within 15 minutes of entering the room, women, mostly new to each other, had gathered around issues of interest, and were preparing for action. I can't speak for others in the room but seeing the energy in the room grow over the course of the two hours and women plotting with purpose and passion, felt healing, creative and gave me strength. And that force has stayed with me since, emboldening me to step forward, speak out and take action in situations when I may otherwise have just looked on in quiet discomfort.
Fast forward one week, to 18th November, and I attended a conference on inclusive growth. I was delighted to be greeted by a gender balanced panel, to include strong women leaders in GM Jean Stretton and Donna Hall, Professor Ruth Lupin, Head of the Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit and Cara Kennedy from Reclaim. And high proportion of women in the audience from across academic, public, community, voluntary and business sector. This gave me further strength and hope that we in Greater Manchester could expect a brighter future.
The panelists were great and discussion in the workshops was informative and interesting.
Yet, even in this liberal, progressive crowd, I noticed that men managed to take up disproportionate amount of the air time and, whist participants discussed the contents of arguments put forward by the male panelists, when it came to the women, attention was given to tone of voice, style of leadership and whether or not they were 'liked'! A quick reminder of how ingrained our unconscious bias is and how far we have yet to go to achieve equality.
I tuned into twitter at the end of the day to discover a photo, of nine white men, signing the Liverpool City Region Devolution agreement, all smiling as if there was noting in the photo to be concerned about. Almost identical to 'that picture' that long dominated Greater Manchester's devolution debate. My reaction? After a horrified share on twitter and facebook, I decided it was time to share the alternative picture of power, so spent the rest of my Friday evening counting the number of women councillors we have in Greater Manchester and adding photos of some of the awesome women leaders we have to the DivaManc website.
The following day, a Saturday, I was grateful that Fawcett were providing a creche for women attending their 'Spirit of Women Change-Makers' conference. Rather reluctantly my 7 and 11 year old boys sat surrounded by board game and bean bags, casting me sulky looks. Three kids, lots of activism, and yet this was the first time I'd been aware of a creche. I remembered all the times I spent in creches or patiently colouring or reading in the corner throughout the 80s as my mum facilitated feminist or LGB action or youth and community residential. When did creches stop?
The day's events were well worth the evil looks from my nearly teen, the highlight for me being our suffragette inspired action, disrupting the conference with chants and protest led by the awesome Gail Heath CEO Manchester Women's Aid and the Pankhurst Centre, and Steph Pike, poet, feminist, activist. My takeaway from the workshop (alongside the chant which played earworm for at least a week) was how quickly, with good leadership, a large group of women, largely strangers, could agree on a common cause, and successfully disrupt. And have lots of fun at the same time. And just how powerful we can be when we stand together, united in purpose.
One of the final speakers of the day was Ayesha Hazarika, former Labour adviser, commentator, feminist. She made the point 'society doesn't like women who seek power, who plot and scheme for power. Just about abides those women who get it accidentally.'
As women and girls we are encouraged to strive for perfection. To get 100% in everything, To look perfect, behave perfectly, be the perfect mother, daughter, friend, colleague. It is expected of us and expected by us. And it goes deep. We are groomed to be self-critical and to pay attention to the imperfections in other women. It sticks. Time and time again I coach women who feel they need to know more, to do more and to be more to more people. Just writing that is exhausting! Yes there are men who experience similar insecurities and external judgement too but it is not as commonplace. And where does this pursuit of perfection get us? Well statistics show that it doesn't get us power. Whilst we are paying attention to being better at everything, men seemingly take the power.
I opened our event on 12 November with this quote from Alice Walker, 'The most common way we give up our power, is by believing we don't have any'. I'd decided that day to believe (despite all that was going on in the world) that we do as women have power, both individually and collectively, And by simply looking for and paying attention to such power I'd felt it grow inside me and around me as the week progressed.
And so, my learning from this week is to stop striving for perfection, in myself or in others, and to pay attention instead to what we are doing well, to our strength and to our power. I hope you will join me!