Influential Women

1890s Iowa Wedding Couple2I wonder if you have seen the invitation to nominate someone who would qualify as one of 100 Women of Influence. Applications close early August and the by-line explained that Australia should know the women who are changing it. The line of smiling women beneath the words looked confident enough to do just that, as well as cook a Masterchef style dinner. Well, maybe I exaggerate!

The women who are changing Australia come from a long line of women. They are linked not only physically, but spiritually as well, to all the women have come before them. Their mothers, grandmothers, friends, aunts, teachers, cousins and so on are threaded through their lives and have contributed to making them the women they are. As they step forward to pick up responsibility in law, industry, health and education, commerce and so on, they bring with them the strengths, talents, courage, enthusiasm, creativity and vulnerabilities that they have inherited from the women whose genes they carry.

Society, and even families, often ignore or trivialize women’s stories, their contributions taken for granted. Genealogies are traced through the male and female family names get lost or are seen as insignificant. We’ve all seen those late nineteenth century sepia toned wedding pictures of unsmiling women, standing beside their seated husband.  What the photo doesn’t show was the pain of leaving their birth family behind to accompany their husband to a new land. It totally misses the hardship these women experienced living in houses where running water was a luxury and childbirth carried with it the distinct possibility of death.

Social roles and the expectations and restrictions that went with them have changed over the years.  Australian women today, whether young and older, owe much to the grit and determination of the women who went before them. But unless you belong to a family with a strong tradition of storytelling, those stories never get told and much female wisdom is lost.

It’s up to older women to be the story-tellers.  Male stories about war and sport, power, achievement, and eccentricity are celebrated and embellished, whereas women’s lives and doings are remembered through ordinary things like recipes, old pieces of china, a pair of earrings or a bracelet passed down to a grand-daughter. Using all the audio-visual material at our disposal, we can leave a record of our own lives as well as tell the stories of the women who have influenced and mentored us.

While I can’t imagine telling my story without acknowledging the part both my Catholic religion and my personal spirituality have influenced me, I am aware that I no longer have the same devotional practices or share all of the doctrinal convictions that were important to my grandmothers. In the rapid change that characterises the twenty first century I wonder how many of my religious beliefs and values will be jettisoned in the name of progress.

I wonder, too, whether religious and spiritual values will be part of the criteria used to choose 100 Women of Influence.  Will religious Sisters be in the line-up?  Will a scarfed Muslim woman or an Anglican woman priest be recognised as an influential Australian woman?

Now seems like a good time for me to start naming the women who have influenced my life.