Amazing Australian Women: Twelve Women Who Shaped History is released this month and here author Pamela Freeman shares with us why she believes these stories about women should be shared and celebrated.
Women’s history is important to us all – even boys! When I show Amazing Australian Women to people, so many say, ‘Oh, I must get that for my daughter/granddaughter/niece!’ Which is great – it is, indeed, a book which girls will love and be inspired by. But I say back: ‘What about your son/grandson/nephew?’ And they laugh, and nod, and reply, ‘Yes! The boys need to read this too.’
And they do.
Why? Because women’s history has been systematically obscured, and that needs to be redressed. I would wager most adults will have heard of only half of the women in this book – and then it will be mostly older adults. Children are surrounded by information showing the achievements of men, but somehow the achievements of women don’t feature so much. Girls have an incentive to notice and seek out stories of great women – but boys have a disincentive in our culture, and we have to change that. How can boys grow into men who respect a woman’s abilities if they’ve never heard about women’s achievements?
Let’s take one example.
We’ve all heard of Charles Kingsford-Smith – but what about Lores Bonney, who was just as fine an early aviator? Maybe better – she did it all herself, without a navigator, flying solo to South Africa in a one-engined plane. The only person ever to do so. She was the first woman to fly from Australia to London. She held the long-distance flying record in Australia for most of the 20thcentury (in face, she may still hold it – I haven’t been able to find out if it was ever broken). Where’s the airport named after her? Where’s the bank-note with her picture on it?
I was privileged to meet Lores Bonney when I worked at the Powerhouse Museum, to which she had donated her memorabilia. She was an extraordinary person – she patted my hand and said, ‘My motto has always been: Don’t let them tell you you can’t do it.’ I adopted that as my motto on the spot!
If you ask a child (pretty much any child) to draw a picture of a pilot, they will draw a man. But maybe they would think twice if they knew about Lores Bonney. And maybe a girl would decide to be a pilot; and maybe the male HR manager of the airline would hire her.
So often, it is implicit bias which impedes women’s success – not that people set out to be sexist, but that they have unexamined assumptions deep in their minds which work against equality. Stories like those in Amazing Australian Women are needed to counter those assumptions.
‘Pilots are men’ (but – Lores Bonney!). ‘Scientists are men’ (tell that to Ruby Payne-Scott, one of the first radio astronomers). ‘Medical breakthroughs are made by men’ (Sr Kenny would disagree). ‘Great geniuses, especially artists, are men’ (Emily Kame Kngwarreye is one of the most highly regarded Australian artists ever).
I hope that Amazing Australian Women will help to lay down a new assumption in the coming generation of both boys and girls: that women can, and have, done extraordinary, wonderful, amazing things, throughout history – and continue to do so.
Pamela Freeman has a Doctor of Creative Arts, has lectured in creative writing and won awards for children’s writing and biography. Pamela also writes for adults and her first adults fantasy The Castings Trilogy has recently been published. She lives in Sydney with her husband and son.