Becoming an Ally

I am the senior sponsor for the Allies workstream to my employer’s Women’s Network. The key reason for doing it was that it was clearly the right thing to do, but I also had some experiences over the last year that exposed how narrow and privileged my world view was.

Here is the article I wrote for my employer’s intranet to explain some of my motivation (lightly edited to remove organisation specific details). I’m sharing it with my blog followers as a challenge for us all to find our blind spots.

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Working here I have grown accustomed to being the dumbest person in the room. We tell new recruits they’ll be working with really smart people, but we’re a bit coy about the implications.

Anyway, someone needs to ask the stupid questions. So it came as a shock, but no surprise, to learn during this year of gaping blind spots in my world view. Three incidents occurred which held up a mirror to show me what I had been missing.

The first was on the way home from a rare evening out with my wife. We were standing at an above-ground station, waiting for the tube. A train pulled in and pulled out opposite us, and my wife asked, “Did you see what just happened?”

I hadn’t noticed anything and said so.

“The woman on the opposite platform looked into the carriage, saw there was only one other person there, and walked up the train to a busier carriage.”

I’ve been commuting on the tube since I was eleven and never felt concerns over my personal safety. A near-empty carriage is an excuse to man-spread and put my bag on the seat beside me.

It hadn’t occurred to me that for some it was a risk that had to be mitigated. Mirror, blind spot.

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Eye-opening

The second incident was while packing for our summer holiday. With a few t-shirts and pairs of shorts getting my clothes sorted took less time than organising my photography equipment.

It was then that I encountered the organisational Rubik’s Cube that was packing for my daughters (14 & 12).

They’re very sweet, and for my sake maintain the fiction that all their problems can be solved with a hug and a kiss on the nose (then they go and talk to their mum).

But the inescapable truth is that they are young women now. Packing for them meant catering for the uncertainties of female physiology, which could defy both science and almanacs. Each potential outcome meant thinking through different sets of clothes, and contingencies.

I was academically aware of all this. I have a GCSE in biology and I’ve been married for a long time. Of course, by the time I met my wife she had all of this sorted out, and neatly, privately hidden away.

With my daughters, I was watching them learn how to manage for the first time. This time the mirror showed the reality that women live with, but which I had the privilege of never considering.

Behind every female colleague sitting beside me are additional layers of logistics, planning and preparation that I am free from. And that is just the surface level stuff I can wrap my head around.

Again?

The final incident came in the form of a book. My elder daughter did a solo speech at school based on Invisible Women (exposing data bias in a world designed for men) by Caroline Criado Perez. We talked a lot about Perez’s observations, for example she notes that:

“… when a woman is involved in a car crash she is 47% more likely to be seriously injured than a man … And it is all to do with how the car is designed – and for whom.” (p186)

Many years ago I worked for a multinational car manufacturer, planning the vehicles that were up to five years away from market.

We’d identified female buyers as a key demographic to target, and our research told us they were more interested in safety than men.

In all our discussions on safety features and NCAP ratings, not once did the thought arise to have a female crash test dummy.

The mirror (mumble mumble years later) showed what we did not think to question, which should be unacceptable.

Ask the stupid questions

I have learned this year that the world is more profoundly unequal than I had imagined. I’ve been the beneficiary of layers of privilege I have been blind to. This is why I’m standing up as an ally to the Women’s Network.

I’m not willing to accept my ignorance, and I want to learn how to change myself, and maybe nudge the world along a little as I do so.

Some of you may be reading this and thinking “he’s clearly an idiot, this is all obvious”. Don’t worry I get that a lot, like I said: someone has to ask the stupid questions. My challenge to you is – if you see it so clearly what are you doing about it? If you’re doing nothing, well maybe you need a different mirror.

The world doesn’t need another male voice telling women what to do. I’m getting involved to listen and to learn.

[the article then had a call to action to our Allies launch event]

END

More on this theme here:

The Diversity Deal

The Jedi Dad Trick

Aside

Return of the Queen published on Crimson Streets

Ambrien is a warrior serving the God-Queen. With her city besieged by a relentless foe, Ambrien’s unique abilities take her away from the battle to challenge everything she believes in order to bring an end to the war.

 

You can read, and I hope enjoy, Return of the Queen as a simple fantasy story on Crimson Streets – head over there to take a look.

 

Of course, there is a bit more to it. If you’re interested…

 

Getting it right

I wrote the first draft of Return of the Queen in a bit of a rush around March 2018. The deadline for a submission call loomed and I had left things a little late. One form rejection and one personal rejection (“it’s a bit slow to develop”) later and I decided to let my beloved beta locusts loose on it. I don’t do that with all my stories; their time is precious but this one seemed worth the candle.

 

It came back littered with comments. Structure, pacing and grammar were all thoroughly examined and thoughtful suggestions given on what to improve, what to cut, what to keep. We had a debate about whether the sacred knives in the story (kindjal, from khanjar) should be an invariant noun, I decided the plural should be kindjali to help the reader while accepting the technical point on invariance. And then the fighting details – style, weaponry, armour – getting these physically plausible and to a point of consistency with the setting.

 

My beta locusts are awesome. They did all that for the pleasure of doing it and I love them. Of course, I’m still seeing things in this story that I am itching to edit.

 

The next rejection showed the benefits of all that hard work: “terrific epic fantasy feel, with terrific magic and worldbuilding” just not quite right for that anthology.

 

Finding the right home

It gathered dust for almost a year, I tinkered every now and then, but the right opportunity didn’t come up, until I came across Crimson Streets. You can see the outcome of that and the interpretation of the brilliant artist Chlo’e Camonayan on their site.

 

The bigger themes

For me, Return of the Queen is more than a bit of fantasy escapism (nothing wrong with that!). We were deep into #metoo in 2018, I was curious to know if I had a legitimate voice to add, and what my contribution might be. That culminated in “Me and Me Too. Even You” late in the year. Return of the Queen precedes the poem but is part of the same thought process. The setting is a matriarchal society, a female deity, and no backhanded Steve Trevor’s to save the day. In this case I had two questions: is it power or masculinity that corrupts? and is there a path to redemption?

 

Guilt, forgiveness and redemption are themes I orbit around, and occasionally crash into, so this will come as no surprise to regular readers.

 

Now you know what I was trying to do go and add a comment on Crimson Streets and let me know if I got close to it (or here, talk to me people). If that dimension of the story doesn’t float your boat, I hope you appreciate the design of the battle skirt, the use of short spears instead of swords, the work that went into the detail, and Chlo’e’s awesome picture.

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Hilt detail from the “Splendours of the Subcontinent” exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery in Aug 2018

End

Find out more about my writing here.

There is a Ruswa Fatehpuri chapbook out there too