I cannot recall a single female role model that I was presented with during my time at school to aspire to. It was not until years later, living my own adventure in Cairo, that I discovered my love of biographies of historical women. A particular favourite, given my time spent in the region, is Gertrude Bell (1868-1926). Known as ‘the daughter of the desert’, she was an intrepid explorer of the Middle East, archeologist and writer who gained the respect of local tribesmen and the British government. Gertrude spent time working as an administrator for the British government in Iraq, where her extensive knowledge of the language, culture and customs was invaluable, and where she played an intergral part in the formation of the new government.
When we hear stories of women who fill their lives with risk and adventure, defying the social conventions of their times, we cannot help but be inspired. Experiencing culture in Egypt, I was immediately transported to her time in history and the immense challenges she must have faced. Her story of intelligence and fearlessness makes for some extremely inspiring reading, and reminds us that throughout history there have been women paving the way for us to be bold with change.
As part of The Hospital Club’s International Women’s Series, myself and co-creator of The Feminine Principle, Danielle Allen, will be exploring stories of inspiring women like Gertrude using poetry exercises and meaningful conversation.
“Sexual attributes are a biological given, but gender is a product of historial process.” – Gerda Lerner
It is a project about identity, unpacking some of the social constructs that are put upon us from birth, and challenging expectations around gender roles. Within the narrow confines of gender, we are conditioning children to conform to often harmful gender stereotypes; little girls are told they must be ‘perfect,’ and boys that they must be ‘brave.’ These children often grow up to be stigmatised for not fulfilling their traditional gender idenities, from women being labelled ‘bossy’ instead of ‘assertive’ and men seen as weak for showing emotion.
On the other hand, with so much debate around gender equality it often feels that men are excluded from the conversation. Whilst women have been fighting their own battles of sexual objectification, abuse and inequality, men live in a culture that encourages competition and normalises violence towards one another, often resulting in a lack of positive and supportive relationships. We aim to offer an alternative to the often divisive gender debate, by providing an inclusive creative platform for both men and women to explore and cultivate their full range of emotions and qualities; for women to be comfortable with their confidence, and for men to express their nurturing sides.
“The most important reason why we are out of balance with Nature is the fact that we have lost complete sight of this unifying aspect and have made the feminine principle as well as Life and our Earth our enemy.”- Marja de Vries
We should take inspiration from Gertrude Bell who, by refusing to allow gender expectations to dictate her path, paved the way for many women and men to do the same. We should recognise that the feminine qualities that both men and women have been repressing in modern society, such as compassion, kindness, creativity and togetherness, are the exact qualities that we so desperately need in our current times.