Category Archives: Friday 23rd

Dundee’s Four Marys, High Mill at Verdant Works – expanded review with photos, Friday 23rd and Sunday 25th October

Dundee's Four Marys (image by Erika Stevenson for Verdant Works)

Dundee’s Four Marys with American Mary (image by Erika Stevenson for Verdant Works)

Both performances of Dundee’s Four Marys at Verdant Works this week had sold out quickly.  It was apparent when large numbers of attendees started to assemble at High Mill, which has only just reopened after a beautiful refurbishment, that people of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds had found great appeal in some aspect of the play.  Taking it on face value, with limited knowledge of the subject matter, I was initially intrigued by the historic voices I would surely hear, by how four late women of Dundee from different time periods (some overlapping) would be brought to life, and how they might interact with each other in Eddie Small’s play.

With everyone gathered, Eddie gave a brief introduction to the setting, talking of the history of the Dundee Mills, and introducing one of the curators who also gave us some detail on the refurbishment of  High Mill itself. We then took our seats on the main floor of the Mill.  The Four Marys themselves were standing on plinths, each inscribed with their name and dates: Mary Ann Baxter (1801 – 1884), Mary Slessor (1848 – 1915), Mary Lily Walker (1863 – 1913) and Mary Brooksbank (1897 – 1978). I was impressed by the actresses’ ability to stand very still for quite a long time as we the audience got ourselves seated and settled (tall ones at the back, which was anyone over 4 foot 3, according to Eddie’s instructions).

Mary and Emily, image by Erika Stevenson for Verdant Works

Mary and Emily, (image by Erika Stevenson for Verdant Works)

The Four Marys kicks off with Julie Reilly’s entrance, as Maisie the Cleaner, who is dusting round the four statues and does a great job of setting the scene.  Then the modern day Mary, along with her pal Emily arrive, the story being that they are US tourists who have been locked in Scotland’s Jute Museum by mistake.

Mary Brooksbank (image by Erika Stevenson for Verdant Works

Mary Brooksbank (image by Erika Stevenson for Verdant Works

When Mary Brooksbank starts to sing – (a spirited and engaging performance throughout by Jane Campbell), the story of the Four Marys begins, and we are drawn into their characters and their worlds by the dialogue which is at first driven by Brooksbank – “the chattiest one”.  She tells us that she was sent to work in the Mill when she was “too young”. She complains about the poverty in Dundee, the inequality between the rich mill owners and poor workers, and how she had to fight for a better wage; all the different types of workers got different pay, so it was very hard to get them all to strike and be united in action.  Whilst she starts by expressing a rather low opinion of her fellow “statues”, as more and more detail of their good works and sacrifices is revealed, by themselves, and by each other, by the end of the play, Brooksbank is in full complimentary flow towards  her fellow women o’ Dundee, as they are towards her.

We hear more from each of the other Marys.  Mary Lily Walker, who “shone a light on the very darkest of days”, in a suitably restrained and finely judged portrayal, by Holly Whitfield. We learn that Walker had a comfortable background, her father was a solicitor, and she herself attended University College in Dundee.  She travelled to London to bring back ideas on social improvement, as she despaired at the prevalence of cholera and typhoid in poor communities in Dundee, and the existence of  poor houses – as well as the unequal treatment of men and women in the society of the time.  We find our that Walker spent many months compiling a factual report on 6000 houses in Dundee; the statistic that 2/5 of children did not survive until their first birthdays and the details of the the shocking conditions shamed the city,  We later hear that amongst Walker’s other achievements was to set up a milk depot and she also funded holidays for poor and crippled children.

Mary Lily Walker, as Mary Slessor listens (image by Erika Stevenson for Verdant Works)

Mary Lily Walker (foreground), and Mary Slessor  (image by Erika Stevenson for Verdant Works)

The choice that Mary Slessor had to make between the love of a good man and her calling to be a missionary in Nigeria is just one part of her story, and Lynne Binnie’s beautiful voice and gentle insistence of Slessor’s moral fortitude throughout a challenging life is a joy to behold. From the slums of Aberdeen, with an alcoholic father, Slessor went on to start at the mills aged eleven,  after moving to Dundee. She talked of the jute mills, “tainting your tastebuds” and the rancid fish smell in all the mills due to the jute being mixed with whale oil in the processing,  Slessor also explained how The Civil War in America helped trade in Dundee where the void for jute and linen for sailcloth, bags etc. could be filled due to blockading and lack of workforce in the USA.  In a moving and heartbreaking speech, Slessor talked of her time in Nigeria as a Missionary, when she eventually had nobody to send letters or stories to back home as her mother and sister had died whilst she was there.

Mary Ann Baxter talks of the 1830s in Dundee being a vibrant and exciting time, and further on in her lifetime, how The British Association for the Advancement of Science came to Dundee and delivered science lectures for workers – unheard of at the time. Baxter defends her family’s contribution to the setting up of the textile mills and offers an explanation of how the trade worked in Dundee – claiming that her family treated workers comparatively well.  She talks of the Dundee building boom in the 1850s and 60s, with 4 Railway stations in Dundee, and the Tay Bridge when it was built being the longest metal structure in world.  She also recognised the harsher conditions of the time – “diseases and pestilence….the drinking of spirits.”  There is also mention of her huge contribution to founding and funding the University of Dundee, and the part she played in having men and women educated in the same classrooms.  Marjory Robertson has a very hard job in presenting the modest character of Mary Ann Baxter, and it could so easily have become overplayed, underplayed, or just not credible.  Instead, her performance was an example in fine tuning; like a certain bowl of porridge, it was “just right”

Mary Ann Baxter (image by Erika Stevenson for Verdant Works)

Mary Ann Baxter (image by Erika Stevenson for Verdant Works)

The brief appearance by Gary Bottoms as the Guide who rescues the tourists from their historical lock-in is a finishing splurge of quality over quantity!

Essentially the play is an expositional exchange between the Four Marys, with the American tourists (ably and convincingly portrayed by Annie Bottoms and Gwen Teppett) providing links of steel between the bridges of history.  Whilst exposition is a tricky beast to tame or abandon in other forms of prose writing, the playwriting craft, in so many of its guises is often obliged to encompass the “e” word as an essential element, and it’s how the writer handles it that can make or break the finished work.  Along with the historic detail, we are shown the characters of the Marys through their words and the many excellent acting performances – in fact the dual layers of history and character are beautifully balanced.

Eddie Small has such a light yet deeply informed touch; the history of these four women, and, (at the risk of appearing in Private Eye),  Dundee itself is in his DNA, so we never feel as if the telling of their history is forced or contrived, instead we suddenly find, when the play is over all too soon, that we have learned a huge amount about the history of the city, and of course about the Four Marys.

I am not a native Dundonian, and I often find myself unable to remember where I put my keys or whatever was in my hand five minutes ago, but on the car journey back from Verdant Works, I was delighted to be able to regale my Dundonian husband with a slew of historical facts I had learned from the play, many of which were news to him.

An enthralled audience (image by Erkia Stevenson for Verdant Works)

An enthralled audience (image by Erkia Stevenson for Verdant Works)

Dundee’s Four Marys is a play which I am compelled to see again – listening to some of the comments afterwards, it was clear that others shared my desire.  After a wee speech from Eddie, ending with an emotional request for the audience to now applaud the women o’ Dundee throughout the ages, he invited Professor Kirsty Gunn up to speak a bit more about the  Mlitt in Study and Practice of Writing at the University of Dundee.  Kirsty, in fact took the opportunity simply to thank everyone involved for the wonderful evening, and to enthusiastically express the many positive thoughts  she had for the performance and the writing.  The very able and helpful staff at High Mill at Scotland’s Jute Museum finished off the evening perfectly with their professional and caring attention – allowing everyone to wander through the Mill at leisure before we headed out into the night, with some wonderful memories and a desire to return.

Bravi tutti!

Lorna Hanlon

Aftershock: The Untold Story of Surviving Peace: Matthew Green

4pm
Portobello Books Ltd, £16.59

There was a respectful hush in the room. An image of a soldier handling a mortar shell on the screen gave a hint of what was to come. Stuart Kelly began the session by confessing that he didn’t enjoy Aftershock. He found it difficult, harrowing and humbling and said that if it achieves one thing, it should effect political change.

Matthew began with a 90 second video. Technical glitches ruined the effect, but already the hairs on the back of my neck were beginning to stand on end.

There are two things, explained Matthew, which prevent discussion about this difficult subject of ex-soldiers re-adjusting to civilian life when they return home from war. One is the stigma of mental health problems and the other is our reluctance to talk about them.

To research the book Matthew embedded himself with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those who came forward wanted to be helped and to help others to heal by sharing their stories.
Features of PTSD are inability to control anger, anxiety and panic attacks. Small triggers in everyday situations can cause flashbacks which the person believes to be real. Memories play out again and again in the person’s mind. This is a complex subject which is explored further in the book. Many ex-soldiers seek comfort in alcohol or drugs to numb their pain. However, health authorities are reluctant to treat them until they are free of their addiction.

Matthew told us a harrowing story of a fit young man of 22 who came back from Afghanistan after witnessing his friend being killed. The council gave him a house which had been occupied by an old man and fitted with ramps and rails. The young man killed himself seven months after moving into the house. Adequate housing is usually only provided after much lobbying by the ex-soldiers’ families.

Despite this, says Matthew, Scotland is on the whole better at providing help for PTSD sufferers than England. NHS Tayside is developing a fascinating new therapy where the patient is asked to choose a powerful animal as a companion to help them deal with difficult situations. But simple talking therapy doesn’t help. These soldiers are a danger to themselves and others. One traumatised young man tried to cut off his own hand.

There was a question from the floor about whether ex-soldiers were more likely to commit crime. The answer was that there is a relationship between serving in combat and committing an offence, but what is shocking is that no figures exist to show exactly how many ex-soldiers are in prison.

What legacy did Matthew want the book to leave? He wants to paint an accurate picture of the suffering. He sees it as a manifesto – our current system for helping victims of post-war trauma is not fit for purpose. He hopes it will kick-start conversations and be a catalyst for change.

Why do some suffer and others not? Soldiers who have had trauma in the past are more likely to suffer PTSD. Matthew believes that the Government uses past trauma as an excuse, where actually they have a greater duty of care to these men.

Stuart closed the session by suggesting that Matthew sends a copy of the book to MPs to start conversations about this very difficult and complex subject.

Joanne Morley-Hill

Dundee’s Four Marys, High Mill at Scotland’s Jute Museum, Verdant Works, Friday 24th October

 

four marys

Both performances of Dundee’s Four Marys at Verdant Works this week had sold out quickly.  It was apparent when large numbers of attendees started to assemble at High Mill, which has only just reopened after a beautiful refurbishment, that people of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds had found great appeal in some aspect of the play.  Taking it on face value, with limited knowledge of the subject matter, I was initially intrigued by the historic voices I would surely hear, by how four late women of Dundee from different time periods (some overlapping) would be brought to life, and how they might interact with each other in Eddie Small’s play.

With everyone gathered, Eddie gave a brief introduction to the setting, talking of the history of the Dundee Mills, and introducing one of the curators who also gave us some detail on the refurbishment of  High Mill itself. We then took our seats on the main floor of the Mill.  The Four Marys themselves were standing on plinths, each inscribed with their name and dates: Mary Ann Baxter (1801 – 1884), Mary Slessor (1848 – 1915), Mary Lily Walker (1863 – 1913) and Mary Brooksbank (1897 – 1978). I was impressed by the actresses’ ability to stand very still for quite a long time as we the audience got ourselves seated and settled (tall ones at the back, which was anyone over 4 foot 3, according to Eddie’s instructions).

I am conscious that there is another presentation of the play on Sunday, and there may well be others in the future, such has been its success so far.  So do forgive me if this initial review has limited detail on the content of the play – I thought it only fair to hang back on the final version until after Sunday’s showing, which will also include a couple of better photos than my humble tech could manage!

The Four Marys kicks off with Julie Reilly’s entrance, as Maisie the Cleaner, who is dusting round the four statues and does a great job of setting the scene.  Then the modern day Mary, along with her pal Emily arrive, the story being that they are US tourists who have been locked in Scotland’s Jute Museum by mistake.

When Mary Brooksbank starts to sing – (a spirited and engaging performance throughout by Jane Campbell), the story of the Four Marys begins, and we are drawn into their characters and their worlds by the dialogue which is at first driven by Brooksbank – “the chattiest one”.  Whilst she starts by expressing a rather low opinion of her fellow “statues”, as more and more detail of their good works and sacrifices is revealed, by themselves, and by each other, by the end of the play, Brooksbank is in full complimentary flow towards  her fellow women o’ Dundee, as they are towards her.

Of course we learn a lot in between all that, as we hear more from each of the other Marys.  Mary Lily Walker, who “shone a light on the very darkest of days”, in a suitably restrained and finely judged portrayal, by Holly Whitfield.  The choice that Mary Slessor had to make between the love of a good man and her calling to be a missionary in Nigeria is just one part of her story, and Lynne Binnie’s beautiful voice and gentle insistence of Slessor’s moral fortitude throughout a challenging life is a joy to behold.

Marjory Robertson has a very hard job in presenting the modest character of Mary Ann Baxter, and it could so easily have become overplayed or unbelievable.  Instead, her performance was an example in fine tuning; like a certain bowl of porridge, it was “just right”.  The brief appearance by Gary Bottoms as the Guide who rescues the tourists from their historical lock-in is a finishing splurge of quality over quantity!

Essentially the play is an expositional exchange between the Four Marys, with the American tourists (ably and convincingly portrayed by Annie Bottoms and Gwen Teppett) providing links of steel between the bridges of history. Whilst exposition is a tricky beast to tame or abandon in other forms of prose writing, the playwriting craft, in so many of its guises is obliged to encompass the “e” word as an essential element, and it’s how the writer handles it that can make or break the finished work.

Eddie Small has such a light yet deeply informed touch; the history of these four women, and, (at the risk of appearing in Private Eye),  Dundee itself is in his DNA, so we never feel as if the telling of their history is forced or contrived, instead we suddenly find, when the play is over all too soon, that we have learned a huge amount about the history of the city, and of course about the Four Marys.

I am not a native Dundonian, and I often find myself unable to remember where I put my keys or whatever was in my hand five minutes ago, but on the car journey back from Verdant Works, I was delighted to be able to regale my Dundonian husband with a slew of historical facts I had learned from the play, many of which were news to him.

Dundee’s Four Marys is a play which I am compelled to see again – listening to some of the comments afterwards, it was clear that others shared my desire.  After a wee speech from Eddie, ending with an emotional request for the audience to now applaud the women o’ Dundee throughout the ages, he invited Professor Kirsty Gunn up to speak a bit more about the  Mlitt in Study and Practice of Writing at the University of Dundee.  Kirsty, in fact took the opportunity simply to thank everyone involved for the wonderful evening, and to enthusiastically express the many positive thoughts  she had for the performance and the writing.  The very able and helpful staff at High Mill at Scotland’s Jute Museum finished off the evening perfectly with their professional and caring attention – allowing everyone to wander through the Mill at leisure before we headed out into the night, with some wonderful memories and a desire to return.

Bravi tutti!

Lorna Hanlon

The Boy from Nowhere: Gregor Fisher and Melanie Reid

8 pm

My first introduction to the character Rab C. Nesbitt was as a young child when my brother dressed as the famous fictional Scot in our town’s annual civic week parade and won the first prize. However, Melanie Reid, the co-writer of Fisher’s memoir tells us that, “when you get to know Gregor Fisher you realise that he is a million miles away from Rab C. Nesbitt.” When people see Fisher, they ignorantly assume he is synonymous with the character, but like myself, they are wrong.

During the event there are three people on stage; Jenny Brown, a literary agent based in Edinburgh, Melanie Reid, a journalist and columnist for The Times, and Fisher himself. Brown chaired the event and asked several questions about the memoir, including a query into Fisher’s motives, as well as personal questions about his relationships with certain relatives and people growing up. But, she need not have been there. Fisher and Reid continually pushed each other and bounced back and forth in a humorous double act. Responding to Brown’s question asking when he discovered that he was adopted, Fisher replies that he was at a Christening when he was “about twelve or thirteen.” “You told me you were fourteen,” interjected Reid to which Fisher stared blankly. “It says you were fourteen in the book.” To which he responded comically, “I was about fourteen.” For all the ways in which their personalities seemed at odds (Fisher, laid back, playful, with a strong west coast accent and Reid, very composed and solemn, occasionally sarcastic in her comments), they perfectly balanced each other. It was obvious that they shared a real understanding of each other, extending to something more than a mere professional friendship. Another example of this is Fisher’s description of the unusual circumstances surrounding his birth and upbringing: “You could write this,” he jokes. “Now you know how I feel,” Reid cuts in, much to the amusement of the audience, one of the many laugh out loud moments that frequent the event.

Fisher and Reid’s relationship is not always harmonious, however, as Reid comments “you are quite difficult sometimes.” “In what way?” asks Fisher. “Tricky,” she replies. Fisher puts this down to his west coast upbringing and explains he has his own reservations about Reid, who he accuses of being “too emosh” and “girly”, much to the oohs and laughs of the audience.

Getting down to the book itself, Brown inquires as to why Fisher decided to write to the book, or have it written, as it were. He tells us that he wrote it in order to find out about his past, having been inspired by a conversation with one of his in laws, he dons a posh English accent (he tells us jokingly that he married above him) and impersonates the woman, shocked and thrilled at his upbringing. Reid confesses that she had never written a novel or tried her hand at ghost writing. Brown then describes the novel as both a detective piece and road novel, using one of Reid’s lines from the memoir describing Reid and Fisher on the road as “Dastardly and Muttley.” But it is Fisher himself who describes the memoir as “a great story of love and human kindness”, while Reid believes it to be “a story of survival.” Either way, I was completely sold, if not by the narrative, which sounds creatively written and fascinating in its exploration of Fisher’s turbulent childhood, then by the witty repartee of its two writers.

Kate McAuliffe

Lunchbox Talks: Designing Stories (With Prof. Mike Press & Holly Scanlan, Friday 23rd, 1pm)

“Designing Stories” is a rather vague title, being one of the classic examples of an event label that have little to no relation to the topic actually discussed. What I attended, was in fact a discussion of blogging – highlighting its merits, including a short reading of a number of blog entries. These were presented by Professor Mike Press, Holly Scanlan (a personal blogger and hairstylist) and three other bloggers who, despite contributing rather interesting points, didn’t quite make it to the Literary Festival guide. These three were Linda Isles, Lauren Currie and Jennifer Jones. Although, it is quite possible that due to the lack of reference material, I have completely butchered the spelling of their names.

Each guest in turn read a short extract from their blog and then answered questions, which ranged from why they felt the practice was generally important to how an individual new to the world of blogging could proceed. Video presentations were integrated seamlessly without appearing forced, but whilst offering interesting insights into the work of Currie and Jones, they didn’t add much else of note. The rest of this review will focus mainly on Press, Scanlan and Isles. These three all read well, yet their chosen extracts and more general discussion of their work revealed a disjunction between the different speakers’ material. Press read a well-structured story about his childhood that gave the impression of time having being put in, and multiple drafts having been written. This is perhaps unsurprising as his usual material is of an academic nature, discussing aspects of current movements in art and design. Scanlan and Isles’ extracts, however, were far more spontaneous, almost in the form of diary entries that, while providing a certain amount of energy, made their work also appear somewhat unpolished. While I am sure the intention of these two very different writing styles was to show the variety of voice and options open to a blogger, I felt it made the event seem somewhat unfocused. This continued into the general discussion where Scanlan’s personal and emotional approach to her work seemed very out of place with the more academic points being brought up by Press, with Isles’ comments alternating between the two standpoints. The mistake, at least in my eyes, was to have Press as both a member of the panel and the moderator, which meant his points overpowered those of the other speakers somewhat.

More generally, the problem seems to have been a lack of direction to the discussion. While each speaker had interesting points to make about their own work, these never seemed to build towards any sort of conclusion, which at moments gave the impression of the event simply being a chance for the guests to advertise their blogs. Deeper questions about the nature of the medium were brought up but were quickly glossed over. These included the worry that blogging is the ultimate expression of narcissism, and whether it created a “cult of amateur”.

Perhaps I am being too harsh in judgement. It was a “Lunchbox Talk” and perhaps its aim was simply to entertain an audience over a lunch hour, which it, of course, did perfectly adequately, always staying enjoyable and never becoming dull.  Yet I feel that the subject matter of the talk was worthy of a little more intellectual probing and thus I left the event somewhat unsatisfied.

Chris Gerrard

Literary Cooties: Publishing and Prejudice (11:30am)

The Bonar Hall had a very calming ambience this morning, with soft, dimmed lighting. As the (what turned out to be mainly female audience) gradually entered, everyone was warmly encouraged to sit near the front where the first two rows were made up of chairs around desks. I think this was to create a more relaxed atmosphere, breaking down the typical forward facing rigidity of the audience, and to encourage conversation amongst attendees. However, never being one to optionally sit at the front of a classroom, I sneaked into a seat in the row second from the back.

This discussion definitely had more of a panel like feel, rather than an interview talk show. Sasha de Buyl chaired the conversation with author Zoe Venditozzi, Claire Stewart (Co-Founder of Electric Bookshop and Board member of the Glasgow Women’s Library), and Chitra Ramaswamy who is an Edinburgh based columnist and freelance arts and features writer. These women were at the Dundee Literary Festival today to discuss the gender issues that unfortunately exist in today’s book industry. Sasha began by introducing each woman and then led the conversation by asking, what is the “core of the problem”?

The perception of women writers appears to be one of the answers. Zoe began to answer this question by reflecting on her own experience of writing about domestic settings and how work of this type is not deemed “exciting enough”. She joked about how she felt if she were to write a book titled, “Sparkly Golden Vagina” that it would become more widely recognised because it shocks. But, (and rightly so) Zoe doesn’t want to, and shouldn’t have to, change what it is she writes about or how she wants it presented just to fit into what apparently sells.

This led the conversation towards the issues of literary prizes and reviewing. These are the main avenues through which books gain recognition, and both areas, as pointed out by Claire and the other speakers, are dominated by males (both male writers and male reviewers). I found out something today that surprised me, as I didn’t realise that publishers are the ones who put books forward for prizes, (embarrassingly, I wasn’t sure how selection was organised) and so the lack of women writers and books about women being recognised this way is partly due to the publishing houses in this respect. Claire (only part jokingly) suggested a new prize, something like, “the Women’s Voice book prize”. Even though this initially seems like it would only encourage the division of the ‘woman writer’ and ‘the writer’ (the male, yet non gendered, title), Zoe commented how we need to “push it [women’s writing] forward so it becomes normalised” because unfortunately, as it stands, it is not.

Although around 70% (I’m sure Sasha noted) of the overall readership is female, there is still something that is seen to be icky about women writing about normative women’s experience. Chitra herself has actually written a collection of essays on pregnancy but she told us these have been deemed “too woman-y” to be good sellers – as she rightly put it, “you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t”.

Today’s discussion on “Literary Cooties” (a term I believe to have been coined by Nicola Griffith) was a fascinating discussion that questioned the book industry and its norms, and attempted in offering solutions to the gender problems that exist within it. Although there is a long way to go before reaching equality, I feel that confronting the problem, and talking about it, making people face it, as these women have, is the first step towards some positive change. What we need now are more male attendees.

Frances Kelly

Do it like a Woman: Caroline Criado-Perez

Friday 2 pm

Speaking to a predominantly gendered audience (one man for every fifteen women or so), Caroline opens rather controversially by stating that she has been an “anti-feminist longer than a feminist,” believing women to be “useless underachievers.” Fighting with the screeching microphone, she decides to “go natural” as Zoe Venditozzi (who chaired the event) puts it. “I bet a man designed that” retorts Caroline much to the amusement of the audience. Carrying on with talking about her previous anti-feminist beliefs, she tells us that she was first challenged by Deborah Cameron’s novel: Feminism and Linguistic Theory. Studying English Literature at the time, it was Cameron’s focus on grammar which fascinated her. Thinking about how language shapes our world, Caroline was struck by Cameron’s discussion on grammar as being gendered. Now, this was an idea she was not unfamiliar with, the default pronoun always being male e.g. mankind and he, but what struck a chord with Caroline were the studies mentioned, which showed that when people heard this default ‘he’ or ‘mankind’, they pictured men. It was then that Caroline started looking into feminism and how women were represented.

The next section of the presentation involves Caroline reciting statistics which highlight the underrepresentation of women in society. One mentioned is that women in Hollywood films make up 28% of all speaking roles and 17% of all crowd scenes. “Why is it that the stories we tell ourselves shouldn’t be gender equal?” Caroline asks us. But she doesn’t just throw these statistics at us to shame without reason, she evaluates these results and looks into the theory behind them. She tells us that in a study of mixed gender groups composed of 17% female and 83% male, the male participants perceived the ratio as 50/50. It is studies like this which have highlighted why sexism is still very much apparent in society if 17/83 is regarded by males as gender equal.

It is reasons like this, Caroline tells us, that she was so anti-feminist in the past since she “never saw women in any position of power [she] felt like she could not achieve anything without pretending to be a man.”
She then talks about stereotype threats and role models, explaining that in another survey, it was shown that women who were made to tick a box stating that they were female before sitting a mathematics test statistically did worse. Another, showed that women who gave speeches in rooms with portraits of powerful women (e.g. Angela Merkel), were judged better by themselves and the audience, highlighting the self-belief evident in their gender. Looking at marketing, male is again set to default as Walmart advertises ‘Deodorant and Female Deodorant.’ Similarly, BIC pens were thought to be gender neutral until the female version was released, a new hot pink colour being the only difference. (It is at this time that I look down to my hand, holding a similarly pink ballpoint and horror floods me until I realise that I stole this pen from my boyfriend several days ago.) Yes, this marketing, while infuriating, does seem relatively harmless on the scale of sexism – at least until Caroline later comments on the symptoms for heart attacks. Pain in the left chest and shooting pain down the left arm, right? Yes, something we all know from television dramas and health warnings to look out for and beware of. However, Caroline tells us, shockingly, that these are the male symptoms and countless women have been misdiagnosed, their symptoms appearing as heart burn and indigestion. This is another example of men as default, but in this case it can result, horrifically, in female death.

Ending her presentation with the story of Sheryl Sandberg’s pregnancy at Google, Caroline told us how the walk from the car park became too strenuous for Sheryl in her condition, and so she asked for a car park closer to the building for pregnant women. The idea was instantly taken up by head office, who had never thought of it and Sandberg confessed it had never occurred to her before she was pregnant. In telling this story, Caroline ended her presentation, not with hate towards or shaming of sexism, but an understanding of it. She understands that it’s hard to see the world from another perspective, which is often learned only from experience.

Kate McAuliffe