The Importance of Having a Bold Voice

I love being a woman. When I was growing up I wasn’t aware that I was at any disadvantage as a woman born in a man’s world. At school, I actually thought it gave me an advantage; that the teachers trusted me more and that I would get better grades than most of the boys because I seemed to work harder. I am hugely grateful to my teachers who taught me how to think, not just how to pass exams, but how to be critical and analytical. These skills were cemented in the years of my undergraduate. But all this time I had my eyes firmly closed to the specific perception of the world that understands and sees structural gender inequality. I wonder how different my experiences would have been, and those of my friends, had we known these things earlier.

I didn’t embark on my MSc because I was this hugely passionate feminist, ready to take down the patriarchy (that came later). I had always been interested in alternative lenses through which to view the world, and to see how gender intersected with international relations struck me as fascinating. Whatever steps led to me sitting in that lecture hall late September, looking around for the green sticker that would signify someone else on the Gender and IR pathway, the result was the feminist awakening I had long needed. Looking back, I had always been a feminist but I hadn’t known it until this point.

In my first seminar I took in the twenty or so others embarking on Gender and IR; twenty fierce, smart, students each bringing their own experiences and feminist ideologies to the class. I heard them start to talk with authority about things I knew very little - structural inequality, the sex/gender divide, white supremacy and the intersections of class, race, religion, nationality and sexuality to what I had always ignorantly just thought of as ‘men and women are unequal’. As the gender lens filtered down, reaching all parts of relations and issues I had never imagined were affected, the realisation grew that oh wow, this is so real, so prevalent and the systematic oppressions became so obvious. In my cosy privileged bubble wilful blindness had been very easy.

My experience of education about gender inequality was so revelatory and transformative - it didn’t take long for me to become passionate about the fact that other people had to know about this too. And they’ve got to know about it way earlier than I did. Bold Voices was still a dot on the horizon at this point, so my need to tell people, educate people about what I was learning fell to my family and friends. In those first few months I was very torn between my old life and my new way of looking at the world. I was raised the daughter of an Army Officer and spent the best part of my university life as a very enthusiastic and happy member of the Officer Training Corps. I met my closest friends, my boyfriend, and had some of the best times of my life so far at dinners, playing sport and even, on exercise in the pouring rain and freezing cold. But the military can appear to be an introverted world where change is slow and often toxic masculinity breeds freely - I clashed hard with this and it’s something I’m still reconciling today.

The resistance I came up against when I shared my new-found passion and enthusiasm for talking about women’s rights and feminism evolved into the inspiration to found an organisation that educated people on the issues of gender inequality. Bold Voices is about inspiring people to have the uncomfortable conversations that we often shy away from, and it is about ensuring that when these conversations are had, they are from a position of knowledge and understanding, not ignorance and blinding privilege. It is about stirring in people a need to speak out against oppression, and to find whatever injustice it is that sets their blood boiling and to fight for that change. Bold Voices is not about churning out hundreds of gender activists (not that that wouldn’t be great…). Instead, it’s about producing a generation of gender allies. A generation of young people who can take their understanding of inequality into their families, friendships, relationships, work lives, and communities. Surely it is only when we can infiltrate gendered understandings and solutions into the deepest roots of how our world operates that inequality will truly be eradicated?