Despite the cold weather Oxford is a particularly brilliant place to be at this time of the year. We have just finished up with the Oxford Literary Festival which last year was bathed in gorgeous spring sunlight and this year has been a winter wonderland with the 'dreaming spires' covered in snow. Each year I take myself to a few events, whatever takes my fancy from the catalogue, and hope to expand my mind and outlook a little.
This year, in my quest to 'Be True' about being female today, I went to a couple of discussion groups by notable feminists. As it's University Easter vacation I've also had the immense pleasure of being able to read some of the books I've been stockpiling over the term that essay deadlines have prevented me from getting in to. This week I've been in a world of the history of Feminism reading about Catherine of Sienna, Mary Wollstonecroft, Jospehine Butler, Emmeline Pankhurst and Simone De Beauviour to name but a few. None of their stories are of a perfect person who always gets it right but they are all of extraordinarily brave women who sought truth and spoke out in the face of conflict, resistance and personal attack. Their legacy is our personal freedoms that they only imagined.
As I read these stories, and move on to reading a social history about women's lives in England from 1750 onwards, there is the inevitable tinge of sadness. The wasted opportunities, the cries that leap straight of the page at you from centuries back from women being seen as less that human, incapable of contribution and so painfully lost because of this. Perhaps in this modern age we don't feel we have much time for this. What is the point of reading and knowing the stories of the women that came before us and made all of the many freedoms we enjoy possible? Why not just enjoy what we have?
Two simple reasons spring from a sober evaluation of where we really are. So many women still live in these kinds of situations around the world and face violence and oppression simply for being female. And, secondly, I sincerely believe that we do ourselves, and the girls coming behind us. a massive disservice if we ignore the situation in our own culture. We are the culture that presents a body image for women that is destroying our teenagers, annorexia is a western phenomenon. We are still being paid less than men for doing the same jobs, we are under represented in nearly all businesses, and in politics at all levels. Don't even get me started on the Church.
Most of all I seriously wonder, how often women's voices are really being heard. What stories are we telling about being female? What role models are being laid down? That we need to be thin, pretty and able to juggle everything? But woe betide you if you are thin, pretty and aspiring for leadership, then you need to be masculine to be taken seriously. These short reflections are simply a drop in the ocean, look closely at a women's magazine and ask, what are we really saying about being a woman today?
The history of being female may not always be a pretty one but it is there, it both empowers and causes despairs but it is true. This is our story whether we hear it or not and I really think we need to hear it. And so I am wearing my pendant round my neck to remind myself to 'Be True'. To remind myself to seek truth and hear it. And I am wearing it alongside a pendant that reminds me to 'Be Kind' to listen with patience to stories as I encounter them, to always see others as fully human and to approach their points of view and tangled lives with the gentleness that I approach mine. Be Kind, Be True. What is your motto for the week?