Women in History

by | Mar 8, 2022

Human beings are an ever-evolving species. Think about it… at one time, we carried spears, communicated through the design of wordless yet intricate hieroglyphs, and built a 13,000 miles stretch of the largest building construction known to man….or woman! Look at how we have moved on, as today, we carry smartphones, communicate with emojis and trip over building rubble because of our over-focus on that all-consuming 8 by 4 cm screen. Hang on a minute…let me re-think. For much of that intervening history, we also used to think that the world was flat. It was like an organic body that constantly reproduces itself to indefinitely provide a habitable world for humans, and it was not appropriate for women to have equality or the vote. 

With our most recent history, I can’t say with any conviction that the human species gets better and better all the time. I think we are often in a reverse spin. I saw something on that 8 by 4 screen last week that so strongly endorsed that feeling; it shook me to the core. It was an image of the Munich Security Conference lunch of CEOs, presented on just about every social media platform that I can think of, and each time, it was accompanied by a novel notion: the suggestion that even the presence of just one woman could reduce the tension and hostility that we have seen escalate beyond what is thinkable for the 21st century. 

Rather than becoming embroiled in speculation, let me present you with something less hypothetical to make this most crucial point: we need to look back at history to make the essential changes to securing our future. And we do need more than a whole month to celebrate women’s history. 

Icons was a brilliant TV programme shown just three years ago as an eight-part history series for BBC Two. It celebrated the achievements of some of the most significant figures of the 20th century. At the time, I was captivated by finding out about some of the heroes who changed the shape of the world, making it safer, guiding us through changes and challenges brought about by war or shifts in cultural values, and making significant advancements in science and technology. The eventual worthy winner was Alan Turing, nominated for deciphering the Enigma machine and aiding the allied victory in World War II. 

Prior to the final, an hour-long documentary argued the case for nominees representing different fields of human excellence – Leaders, Explorers, Scientists, Entertainers, Activists, Sports Stars, Artists & Writers. The criteria were: positive achievement and legacy, a degree of recognition for a British audience, and a spread of individuals across the century. Expert panels then met to decide on a shortlist of iconic pioneers for each category. Eventually, the viewers were asked to vote for favourites to select the greatest icon of them all. The live final was shown on the 5th of February 2019. 

Not one woman reached the final! 

The panels who shortlisted the nominees were asked to think about legacy, achievement, impact, influence, contribution to the field, and their profile or iconic status. There is no doubt that many women have left a powerful legacy, demonstrated significant achievement, and have influenced and contributed to the positive transformation of our world. But that last category feeds the continuing and, relatively, vast inequity where women are still not fully or fairly recognised for their contribution. Our profile and iconic status… 

Clare Balding, one of the celebrity advocates, offered her thoughts on why women weren’t represented. She described the 20th century as “the history of men told by men” and observed that women were only just starting to be recognised now. She added that you couldn’t be an icon unless you were allowed to have the limelight. I think it’s true to state that women have, in the face of enormous challenges and discrimination, had to fight a long way through shadowy dark wings and blackened auditoria to find any light on the world stage; to help not only themselves but the whole of humanity, to flourish. 

We are still having to fight our way through to find the light! 

I’d like to include Planck’s principle on science and use it to help illustrate why it is essential to focus on pioneering women in history; it gives me hope that we can continue to change the world for the better. He believed that scientific change does not occur because individual scientists change their minds, but rather that successive generations of scientists have different views. A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. 

Think about that! Suppose we can encourage our growing generations of children to be familiarised with equity, diversity and acceptance (not to mention peace and collaboration and love) from the beginning of their education. In that case, we can really change the world. Besides our youth activists like Malala and Greta, we have more and more examples to show that the secure future of the world lies with an unbiased, informed and critically thinking youth with a firm focus on the efforts and power in all of us – women and girls too. With each generation, we can choose to get better and move further away from the history or inaccuracies and wild thinking that created the challenging situations we now face. With each child born, there is an opportunity for a new way of seeing the world. So make sure your children recognise their power in it by celebrating women’s history month and learning about the women who changed our path.

Julie Chudleigh

About the Author

Julie continues to build on her relentless quest for innovative and impactful pedagogy and is motivated by growing knowledge of neuroscience and its impact on ways of learning. After 30 years in both the UK and schools around the globe, supporting inclusive, diverse learners and mentoring PGCE student teachers as a Headteacher, advisor and consultant, we’re absolutely thrilled to have Julie onboard.

She wholeheartedly supports the LifeWise mission to positively prepare children for life. Julie has been involved in opening trauma informed schools, classroom design and creating communication friendly spaces, growing student numbers, raising attainment. She is also a published author but ask her what her greatest accomplishments include and she’ll tell you the success of students thirty years down the line!

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