Transcript of my speech at the Mary Anning Rocks Fundraising event, February 2019, Art University Bournemouth
Read the transcript below or listen to an audio of me practising my speech here.
Good evening everyone & thank you so much for having me.
I’m Naomi Wilcox-Lee and I founded and run Sheroes of History and Sheroes UK, which celebrate the lives of inspiring women, like Mary, with the hope of inspiring many more sheroes today.
I’ve been doing some reading about statues. As you may know, there are far fewer statues of women than of men. This is especially so when you look at statues of named women (ie women who actually lived as supposed to nymphs or random naked ladies which seem to quite popular in statued form). I could go into the figures, but you can find those out later yourself. Instead, I want to share with you one fact that stood out for me and summed up the situation: “there are more statues of men called John, and more statues of goats, than there are of women who actually existed”
And of course this sort of thing isn’t confined to statues.
There are also far more men called John leading the UK’s biggest companies than there are women; When it comes to Fortune 500 CEOs, there are 24 women and 23 men named John, but men named James still outnumber women – and that’s 24 overall: out of 500. America has had five presidents named John, NO women, (and one who may as well be a goat.)
You get the point.
We still see far fewer women in many, many areas including politics, TV, film, in STEM
careers, and in many other areas of life.
Why does any of this matter? Why does it matter if there’s a statue of Mary Anning or not?
It matters because of representation and visibility.
Or lack of representation and invisibility.
It matters because of the message that it sends, not only to girls, but also to boys and to
society in general. That women matter less. That women are not as worthy. That women’s achievements are not worth celebrating as much as mens. As Caroline Dougherty wrote, when discussing women’s representation in statues in the UK “The fact that women’s bodies and names are hardly represented creates a social identity where it is okay for women to be absent.”
Representation, be it in the world of commemorative statues, TV and media, top ranking
companies, politics, in books, OR ANYTHING ELSE, matters.
This was the reason I began the Sheroes of History blog nearly 5 years ago. There are
countless stories of successful and inspiring women which have been superseded and
drowned out by the stories of men. History has mostly been recorded by men, about men, with women falling to the wayside. Mary Anning, as you know, is the perfect example of this. As a woman, her discoveries and achievements were claimed by the men around her.
My greatest hope as I started sheroes was to begin to redress the balance. It’s awesome to
see that so many other people are doing the same thing, there are more books about
women in our bookshops now, there are slowly beginning to be more statues, and most
importantly, we’re talking about it and doing something about it.
Representation and visibility, as I see it, are circular. The more women we see in a particular position or field, the more other girls and women assume the belief that it’s something they can do to, if girls grow up with that belief, they are more likely to enter those fields/do those things, therefore the more women we have in those areas, thus the greater the visibility and so on (as an aside this is why I think quotas can be extremely useful).
I will always remember hearing about an exercise where a class of children were asked to draw a scientist – they all drew white men, in white coats, mostly old and greying. Then they met some real-life scientists and saw them working in their labs. They met women and men from diverse backgrounds. When asked to draw a scientist subsequently, their drawings reflected this diversity, and in turn reflected the diversity of their class – raising the aspirations that a person like them could be a scientist too if they wanted to be. This is just one small example of how representation matters.
I’m determined for people to hear stories about sheroes from far and wide, doing any
number of things. Stories which show courage and determination, stories which
demonstrate ingenuity and resilience, kindness, confidence and creativity, and of succeeding against the odds. And most of all, stories which make people believe ‘if she did it, then so