Yesterday was International Women’s Day and I was at a bit of a loss over what to do, rather than just let the current state of the world drown me in a terrible wave of apathy and despair. I’m a freelancer so nobody would notice if I went on strike, there were no demos near me, and so instead I just went on Twitter and posted about some of the amazing women creatives I know, and encouraged others to check them out. It wasn’t much, but it felt like positive action, and I’m pleased I did it. And it made me think of the other small ways in which you can help women creatives (and entrepreneurs) in a world where it’s generally harder for them to be heard, be reviewed, be taken seriously, and yet where female voices – and diverse female voices, at that – are needed now more than ever.
So, I had some thoughts…
Free stuff to do:
Almost every artist thrives on recognition: not only does it help spread the word to potential new audiences, it makes them feel less like they are throwing their hard work into a thankless void. (Trust me, if I had a quid for every time I thought ‘what’s the point of doing this? Nobody cares!’ I would be as rich as JK Rowling). So, if you read a book or see a show you like, review it (even a one line review on Amazon or Goodreads can be really helpful), tweet about it, tell the author/creative, post a picture of it on Instagram or Facebook. Click on links to articles by female writers, including those who work outside your comfort zone – for instance, who write about race, or sexuality, or disability, or gender. The only way people get to write those articles is if people read them. If you use Twitter, talk about TV shows that feature diverse casts, that aren’t just about maverick white guys.
I’m not saying turn yourself into a constant hawker for other people’s goods, but the occasional shout out can be more effective than you think. Tell people about the stuff you like, in whatever way that works for you: it’s not nothing. It all helps.
If you can afford it:
Buy a book by a female writer, download a song by a female artist, go see a play or a movie that’s written or directed by a woman, go to a show by a female artist or photographer. Go outside your comfort zone a little: buy a book by an indie author, support an unsigned musician, read someone or go see a play or a movie about someone who is very different to you. Support diversity in art when you can, especially when it comes from under-represented sectors. Go see a poetry night or comedy show where the majority of the acts are women. Download a woman-centred podcast. Subscribe to a magazine like Bitch or Mother Jones or Mslexia. Chuck a few quid into someone’s Kickstarter or Patreon. There are loads of ways to help, and few of them cost a lot of money.
We live in a culture where people increasingly expect not to pay for art – where people are reluctant to pay £2.99 for a book but OK with spending that on a coffee – but artists can’t live on air. Support the people whose work you enjoy so they can do more of it.
Change your habits:
As someone who uses Amazon Prime for pretty much everything, I am as much – or even more – guilty of this as anyone, but I am realising that while I will never abandon the convenience of the big guys completely, it’s relatively easy to tweak your habits so that at least some of the money you would have spent anyway goes to where it makes a lot of difference. Buy your greetings cards from an Etsy seller, or at a craft fair or indie shop. Buy your coffee from a non-chain, go into an indie bookshop occasionally. Make a resolution to buy a quarter of your Christmas presents from local stores, if you are lucky enough to live in a neighbourhood that has them, or from independent sellers online if you aren’t.
Celebrate other women’s success:
Women are taught early on to compete with one another: for men, for the only available ‘female’ space in a room full of blokes, for what we are told are limited resources. (I think it was Tina Fey who told a story in her biography about another woman joining her improv group and instantly panicking that they’d be competing over getting the female roles – even though their work was improv, so they actually created the roles themselves. And one of the actresses in excellent show Brooklyn 99 – I forget whether it was Melissa Fumero or Stephanie Beatriz, and of course can’t find the bloody quote now – said at the start of the show when she found out the other actress had been hired, she was instantly worried she’d be fired, assuming there was only room for one Latina woman in any given show).
We are told, women beware women. But the dynamic is changing, and we are seeing the amazing things women can achieve if we stand together, and I’m happy to see that is spilling into wider areas than just straight up political protest. You’re allowed to be human, of course, and have a little quiet cry if someone gets the prize you were after, the break you’ve been working for, the gig you would have died for: do that, if you need to. Then take a breath, and then wish them every success, and realise we are all better off for it.