Caroline Criado-Perez has famously fought for better female representation in the media, won the Liberty Human Rights Award, and attained an OBE in 2015 for Services to Quality of Diversity. She is also confident and smiley, who demonstrated throughout the talk incredible resilience and humour. She is a normal woman, who at the beginning of the lecture reasserted this fact by briefly discussing her past; she was a ‘horrible’ and even sexist teenager, and has faced the same looming question of ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ as the rest of us. These indications of normality were both comforting and inspiring. She was not born with a protest sign in her hand, and yet she has achieved so much. In essence, she is only human, and it is on the importance of normal women, and everyday actions taken against patriarchal ideology that she was speaking.
Her new book Do it Like a Woman…And Change the World is described in the blurb as an ‘inspiring celebration of private heroisms and public triumphs’, and ‘a manifesto for women everywhere’. It is essentially a collection of interviews with women from around the world, in which their lives and achievements are celebrated. The lecture predominantly revolved around the issues raised by this text, namely, the importance of individual assertion, the reinvention of gender identity, and the necessity for female role models in provoking change. Specific focus was placed on her campaign to re-introduce a female on bank notes, after the only woman, Elizabeth Fry, had been removed and replaced with yet another man. Using her own teenage years as an example of the negative effects of absent female role models, she stated that sexism can manifest itself without conscious effort. For Criado-Perez, the lack of female representation resulted in her associating success and power with masculinity, and thus rejecting females as useless. She spoke of how too often in our society, if women are represented at all, they seem to embody a generic female identity. Rather than being portrayed as individuals, they seem defined by their gender.
She reinforced throughout the lecture the importance of refusing to be silent. Across the world, and across time, women communicating and expressing themselves has been a taboo. The horrific treatment she was subjected to over social media throughout her bank note campaign demonstrated a prevailing desire to inhibit female communication. Criado-Perez also considered the negative consequences of socially idealised masculinity which she termed ‘psychopathic’, where men are expected to be ruthless, detached and career-orientated. This version of masculinity is, she states, inherently dependent on the suppression of women.
Criado-Perez ended her talk with a consideration of what can be done. The answer is understandably complex, but she reassured the audience it is not all doom and gloom. Every individual has power to enact change, and that can be done in everyday life. She especially emphasises the importance of sisterhood – supporting and encouraging other women, and realising that our attitudes to others matter. Whenever we criticise a girl’s clothing, call maths and science ‘male subjects’, deny a young girl the chance to play with a toy car or frown upon a boy playing with dolls, we perpetuate patriarchy. This lecture was fascinating, empowering and educational, hopefully demonstrating to all the un-believers, that there is still a need for feminism, that it is for everyone and that, as Criado-Perez asserts, ‘Women’s rights are human rights’.
Written for the Ilkley Literature Festival