UPDATE: Since our interview, Caroline Criado-Perez has taken on the Bank of England and won. Her Keep A Woman On British Banknotes campaign has ensured that Jane Austen will appear on ten pound banknotes from 2017.
She is also challenging Twitter's policy on online abuse after receiving death and rape threats.
Both campaigns have seen huge support.
Six months ago, no one had heard of post-graduate student Caroline Criado-Perez. Now, she's becoming one of the most influential women in UK media.
The co-founder of The Women's Room, a website dedicated to putting women's opinions at the heart of mainstream news, has disrupted institutional media sexism with one deft stroke.
Now, if you need a woman to comment on any story, The Women's Room (which relaunched this week) can point you in the right direction.
But the trailblazing mind behind this much-needed resource, admits to HuffPost UK Lifestyle that she used to think women had no right to be heard.
“I used to think girls were rubbish,” reveals Caroline Criado-Perez, sounding slightly embarrassed. “Looking back, I’m ashamed of my younger self.”
While growing up, Caroline says that her opinions of women were largely shaped by a lack of female role models in the public eye.
“I didn’t recognise myself in the way women were presented to me. I was meant to be driven by consumerism and not care about anything more serious. I couldn’t relate to that.”
Fast-forward 10 years and the self-assured 28-year-old is hardly recognisable. A champion of female intelligence and generosity, Caroline believes women are "a force to be reckoned with" and is passionate about tackling gender imbalance in the media.
Hence her decision to set up a website that connects female experts with journalists.
Caroline says the idea for the site came back in October 2012, when for two consecutive days Radio 4’s 'The Today Programme' invited an all-male panel to discuss women’s issues, breast cancer and teenage contraception.
The programme came under fire from listeners who demanded to know why producers had failed to invite any women to the panel. The BBC claimed they had tried to find female experts to discuss matters, but had been unable to do so.
“That was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” says Caroline. “Of course there are female breast cancer experts, there must be hundreds of them.”
Within minutes of sending out a request on Twitter, Caroline and fellow co-founder Catherine Smith were inundated with responses from female experts able to comment on the subjects. And so The Women’s Room was born.
The site, which originally launched in November 2012, underwent a redesign that went live this week.
Feedback for the project has been “overwhelmingly positive” with both men and women offering their support. But Caroline is keen to avoid the site becoming a self-selecting mouthpiece for white, educated, middle-class women.
“Experts are not just people with academic expertise or professional qualifications, everyone has had experiences and are able to add an interesting or worthwhile dimension to a subject."
Experts currently include a lawyer who was the victim of domestic abuse and a forced marriage, a sex worker and the first Asian woman to sit on the National Executive Committee of the Scottish National Party.
Caroline also hopes to reach out to women who may not be aware of the project.
“We’re keen to approach women who might not use Twitter or even the internet. We’ve designed a flyer for people to put up in their gyms and community centres to help attract a more diverse range of women.”
Caroline understands the need for reaching out better than most.
After leaving education at 18 due to a lack of self-confidence (despite achieving high grades), she eventually went on to pursue an English Literature A-level, before enrolling for a degree in English Language and Literature as a mature student at Oxford University aged 25.
"I've read about imposter syndrome -- when you feel like when you do something well, it was just a fluke, and that you’ll get found out. That was what happened with me and English.
"I was always really good at it. Always top of my class. But I always thought I was really rubbish at it. So I quit, so I didn’t have to suffer the indignity of not coming top.
"Would a boy in my situation coming top of the class think, 'Oh I’m top of the class, I must be really good at English'? Or think. 'This is some kind of a mistake. This is a fluke. They’re going to find me out? This is going to be really embarrassing.'
"Who thinks like that? It’s madness."
She adds: "If we’ve got teenage girls who are already giving up then we don’t have equality and it’s not good enough."
Her feelings are clearly shared by others. The site’s relaunch was entirely crowd-funded, raising more than £1,800 through donations. In addition to this many women have volunteered their time to help with the website, particularly to compile the specialisms list, and 1,800 experts have already been recruited.
The site offers the following features:
- Specialisms: An extensive specialisms list, which categorises the most obscure specialism to help journalists navigate around the site easily.
- Forums Page: Where women can network online
- Profile Page: Women can upload audio and video clips themselves, allowing the site to be used as an online portfolio.
- Media Watch: Users will be encouraged to monitor the media’s use of female experts in a new feature.
“I hope that Media Watch will work as a carrot and stick,” Caroline explains. “We can celebrate programmes that are getting it right. But also equally to come down hard when they have an all-male panel to discuss something.”
Caroline will be taking part in our HuffPost Conversation Starters panel on feminism, which is being held at Wilderness Festival.
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