Every day I walk around (very quickly) trying to make sense of the world around me. I play with my kids, am wowed by their imaginations and have a good laugh (and cry) in the world of parenthood. I help artists share their ideas with different people and am wowed by their imaginations and have a good laugh (and cry) in the world of arts producing.
Every day, I notice very fleetingly, that the positive stories being shared online, in galleries, theatres, on plaques, in statues are mostly about men. Today, I'm walking around in Los Angeles noticing that most of the freeways or plazas are named after men. The other day I was talking with my daughters about their observation that there are' boys' toys and 'girls' toys and about what a load of rubbish that is.
Every day, very frequently, I'm amazed by a brilliant piece of work or random act of kindness or unbelievably bold act undertaken by a woman. Ordinary folk going about their business and making a difference to this world. Like June Hautot, the 75 year old who in 2012 confronted the then UK Health Secretary Andrew Lansley about NHS waiting times outside Downing Street. Or the actor Rosemary Kingsley who was trafficked into the UK and now tells her story as part of the theatre project Marginal Voices.
Most days, I get disheartened that those small moments of speaking out are not enough. I want the changes to be big and to be quicker. I wonder if it's only people in positions of power that can really make a difference. And I am dismayed that it's still mostly men in those positions. Women from all walks of life are vilified online for eating, wearing clothes and sharing an opinion. Then I listen to the current political debates leading up to the General Election and am encouraged that there are three female party leaders who are battling, niggling and challenging in the mix of the other four men. I read with surprise and excitement that the new artistic director of the Globe Theatre in London is a brilliant woman. These things make a difference. The more diverse voices in the mix, the fairer our society will be. And anyway, I don't know how to make big changes without taking small steps first.
Kate McGrath (Co-director of Fuel) and I created Phenomenal People to develop a way to tell, share and create a record of stories about inspiring women. It is a celebration of inspiring women and what they do. We want women's stories to be celebrated and shared in all their multi-faceted and glorious differences more regularly and in more places. We feel strongly about enabling women and girls to share ideas, thoughts and contradictions about women's roles in society today. We feel passionately about enabling men and boys to share ideas, thoughts and contradictions about women's roles in society today.
Phenomenal People happens in two different but interconnected ways. One as a live performance project which takes place in an indoor garden installation; diverse and talented artists share stories of women that inspire them in ten minute performances and audiences sip lemonade and nibble on biscuits. A range of different styles celebrate a range of different people from spoken word and song to dance and puppetry. The second way is an online garden; a website where anyone can nominate a woman of their choice, find out about other inspiring women and find out more about the live events and people involved in the project.
It's a small way to celebrate the fact that there are millions of women making a difference to the world we live in and by recognising and celebrating them we can all be catalysts for change.
So here's how you can celebrate a phenomenal woman for free.
a) If they are still around, tell them in person that you think they are brilliant
b) Nominate them on the Phenomenal People website
c) Visit the indoor garden in Colchester on 14th & 15th May
I bet every one of you reading this can do at least two out of three of those things. Go on.
Photo credit: Sheila Burnett