My parents were very taken with this LEGO advert in the 80s. When I look at it I see a kid being creative, not an ad campaign directed at a specific gender. Here is a child who likes to make things, not a girl in a pink dress playing with dolls or a boy in blue with a football. In fact it’s refreshing to see a girl wearing jeans and a t-shirt, creating something from nothing.
Both my brother and I played with LEGO, and we both did ballet. It didn’t really occur to me that some people thought there were things girls and boys ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ do until I got a bit older, but by then that LEGO building girl in jeans and a t-shirt was so engrained in me, my family, and my upbringing, I’m not sure being a woman held me back from any of my life choices.
Growing up my Mum was a nurse and my Dad worked in local government. My paternal grandparents were both GPs, so I never had any idea that women couldn’t have a job, especially something that back then was in such a male-dominated environment. GO GRANNIE SHIELDS!
My maternal grandparents, having spent a transient Naval existence, retired the Navy to run an art shop and picture framing and restoration business, with my Granny also directing the community theatre company I was to grow up with. Aged 6, the first musical I was in had a book & lyrics written by her. Along with my aunts, cousins and family friends, I was surrounded by bold women who, to put it bluntly, kicked ass.
‘Be Bold for Change’ is the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day. Campaigning that everyone joins forces (regardless of their gender) and makes a bold action to accelerate gender parity.
While I was raised with an ‘I can do anything’ attitude, since setting up Starling Arts Emily and I have encountered barriers and prejudice on account of being women in business, and as women who write musicals. In our younger years, many people admired us for being bold entrepreneurs. Now we’re in our 30s, it’s interesting that even some of our (often female) peers have a view that it’s time we stopped working while we’re in our childbearing prime. When Emily got married two years ago, we were shocked when someone assumed our partnership would end on account of her new marital status! There are constant reminders that we are still far from gender parity and that ‘traditional’ male and female stereotypes live on.
We still live in a world where friends of mine have hidden their engagement ring in job interviews for fear that prospective employers will think they’re only fit for work for a couple of years, at which point they’ll stop to become a mother. WE CAN BE BOTH! It doesn’t make us weak, or bad parents if we choose to work and bring up a child. Loving your job AND your family is okay. As is choosing not to have a family at all.
We still live in a world where Emily & I can enter a male-dominated corporate environment for one of our singing projects and feel somewhat disregarded on account of our gender.
We still live in a world where I can't go for a run without being heckled by men driving by.
We still live in a world where paternity leave for men is often restricted to just two weeks, and those choosing to take it for any significant length of time are considered brave, rather than loving partners and parents.
Of course there are areas where great strides towards parity have been taken but, in a world where the once trail-blazing LEGO now sells a line just for girls, it makes you wonder if wider attitudes about gender parity have actually changed all that much.
So, I thought I’d nod to some of the people who have been bold for me. Those who have showcased their own or other women’s successes in their field, those who have overcome barriers to get there, those who have encouraged me to be the woman I am today, and those who have shown me that you can be a woman AND wear jeans and play with any coloured LEGO brick you like.
MY BOLD LIST
Thank you for showing me that women can be leaders, can be intelligent, can pioneer, can write and can be heroes to their community. To me you are the epitome of inspiration.
Thank you for teaching me that putting kindness, love and everyone’s wellbeing at the forefront of every decision makes for a strong head, a burning drive, and the best heart. Thank you for raising me with music, laughter and faith in the world, and for trusting in all my ideas, even if some of them seem a bit out there!
Thank you for being a feminist. Thank you for being the Pantomime Dame! For filling my life with music, open-mindedness, understanding and reason, and for being the most rational and calm person in my life. Every man should be like you.
Thank you for taking on the Starling Arts adventure with me. You are brave, strong and more driven than anyone I know. You set the bar for how life should be lived, and I hope I reach it as we continue to build the Starling Arts community for years to come.
Thank you for writing musicals that speak to me. Thank you for proving that you can compose music and be a mum. Thank you for blazing a trail for those women amongst us who write and conduct music. Thank you for your TONY speech, which still fills me with inspiration when I need it.
I grew up on your lyrics. Thank you for being a bold woman who made it in a man’s world - as depicted in Al Hirshfield’s Great American Songwriters cartoon, holding her own amongst Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael, George & Ira Gershwin, and Duke Ellington.
Thank you for filling your website with inspiring content about women working in theatre. I bow down to them all and to the message that in order to be the best friend, partner, wife, mother, sibling, child and human we can, we should allow ourselves to do what we love, so that that love radiates into every area of our life, and those we love feel just as fulfilled.
There are many others whose actions and example have inspired me to be bold. Collaborators, friends, academics, politicians; hundreds of people throughout history who have paved the way so that my path might be smoother. So this year, let’s be bolder still. Set more examples, shout about our successes and failures, praise women and men of all ages, backgrounds, professions and ability for the work they do, and keep paving that path… together.