by Catherine Smith
So it’s Monday morning and I am starting the day with my usual dose of frustration and weary resignation as I listen to John Humphrys on BBC’s Today programme, discussing contraception for underage teenage girls with two men. Admittedly, one was the Headteacher of a school but even so. I’m not convinced that he has any real understanding of what it might feel like to be a teenage girl.
I let some steam off on twitter, sigh and go about my day.
Tuesday morning arrives and I switch on Radio 4. This time a discussion on breast cancer actually includes two women who have experienced it. But wait! What’s this John? Now we turn to the expert? A man?
Cue rage, exploding head and another rant on twitter, fuelled further by the BBC responding with a short statement saying they would like more female experts but can’t find them
‘Right’, I decide, ‘enough is enough. If the BBC can’t find experts, I’ll do it myself’.
Caroline Criado-Perez, a freelance journalist, responded by tweeting out asking for female experts in both of these subject areas and, within ten minutes, had a selection to choose from. A continued exchange with Caroline resulted in thewomensroom.org.uk being set up on November 1st with the able assistance of Jem & Jax, our long-suffering website team.
The response to the website was simply overwhelming.
Within hours of launching we were inundated with entries ranging from; lecturers in Film, Media, History and Architecture, to lawyers, zoologists and nurses, to survivors of domestic abuse, women who grew up in care and women who have been in forced marriages.
We simply couldn’t keep up with them and had to put a call out to our twitter followers to ask for assistance. Our twitter account is still gaining approximately 200 – 300 followers a day and we have, as of 7th November, received over 150,000 hits on the website from all over the world. We have clearly captured the imagination of women everywhere, many of whom say they feel silenced or ignored.
The response in the media has also been extremely positive and supportive, and our continued press coverage and sustained presence on twitter has also resulted in some high profile endorsements from such as Clare Balding, Alison Mitchell, Gaby Hinsliff and Chris Addison. We were even re-tweeted by Harriet Harman.
One of the aims of thewomensroom.org.uk is to challenge and re-define the general perception of an ‘expert’. It does appear that when an expert is called upon for their opinion, it tends to be someone who is formally qualified in their particular profession. And more often than not, they are male. We believe that an expert is someone who has experience or expertise in any area.
For example, with regard to the breast cancer debate on the Today programme, the two women who talked about their experiences are, as far as we can see, experts. They are able to give their unique insight into the impact that cancer has had on their lives, the lives of their families and how it feels to be in recovery.
It’s important to recognise that women’s experiences of domestic abuse, mental health, substance misuse, abortion, child care or rape are different from those of men. They may not be ‘qualified’ in the conventional sense, but they are very definitely experts so let’s start treating them as such.
Women have long been vocal about the inequalities, discrimination and, in many cases, institutionalised sexism that they experience. In the media, in politics, in the workplace, in daily life.
It’s the 21st century. It is time for women’s experiences and expertise to be acknowledged, and for them to be viewed as experts.
And Mr Humphrys? If you want to discuss an issue that primarily affects women, or any other issue for that matter; you know where to find us.
Co-Founder of The Women’s Room