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ODN Europe London and South East Gathering, 25 June 2021

Caroline Criado Perez’s book called Invisible Women provided the material for some very rich conversations in our June gathering.  Sharon Green and Julian Burton shared how reading the book had raised their awareness of ‘the world according to men’.  With their reflections reverberating in our thoughts, we explored: so, what might this mean for our practice?  We then thought about action.  Now what?

Sharon reflected on the new words in her vocabulary – ‘default male’ and ‘unpaid labour’ – car safety designed for the average male; the negative impact on women’s health and the environment of cooking on open fires in the developing world.

Julian shared his astonishment about blatant male bias in car design and google maps designed to bring up the fastest rather than the safest route (let alone using average male cycling or walking times, no doubt).  Listening to Julian was a reminder of Charles Handy’s frog analogy.  ‘If we are comfortable (as men), we don’t notice what is happening around us’.

Both Sharon and Julian said if nothing else, be curious.  Face into the unpleasant truths.

We explored unrecognised contributions; the metaphorical quietness of the woman’s voice.  ‘Invisible women’, being invisible and ‘coming out’… If we talk about what has been invisible, we start to see.

The nature of the conversation is triggering.  What we say can be misunderstood and if we comment on how it feels, it is difficult for the other person not to defend or explain.  How do we honour the impact and manage our own desire to react?  How do we hear one ‘side’ and not allow the other to disappear?  Frustration will develop.  How do we use this energy to stimulate change?

We acknowledged the role so many women play in ‘mopping up’.  They placate, build bridges, smooth ruffles… their work is so often ignored or underplayed.  Are women seen?  Are women understood?  Can we catch our own implicit bias?

Having explored what is going on, we turned our attention to: So what are the implications of this for our role as practitioners?  With raised awareness, what might our role be in the work we do?  (Giving a voice?  Educating?  Informing?  Noticing/bringing attention to the data?)

Frustration or anger are useful in compelling us to act, but be mindful of the need for self-care too.  Be intentional and be realistic.  There is much that needs to shift at a systemic level.  For women of colour, gender is unlikely to be the only priority. The conversation opened up the area of intersectionality.

So, can we take action now?  Be more attentive?  Create the space to bring in the voices or women and ensure voices are heard?  Each step needs attention.  Bring women into the space; create a safe space for women to speak; support women to be heard; pull yourself up again (‘turn myself on again’) when challenged by a defensive response.  Daniel Scott talked about encouraging declarations of ‘Oops’ and ‘Ouch’ in an NHS Trust.  Oops, I shouldn’t have said that; or Ouch, I expect you didn’t mean it; that didn’t land well…  We can all take responsibility (use my big self or my small self) in some way.

We left the gathering more aware.  The conversations left us challenged, heavy, turned on, encouraged, thoughtful, reflective, responsible, exhausted, appreciative, curious and excited…  What about you?

If you are interested in following up on some resources, you’ll find some useful references in the attached.

With good wishes from Rhian, Maureen, Sarah Bond and others in the planning team

Jean Neumann
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