100 Years a Woman

More often than not it is the very resources I become involved in which play the biggest part in my own self development. Martha, the 100 year old lady who featured in this documentary had suffered physical pain for many years due to the fragility of her body. She had told me this between takes on a very long shoot day how she rarely slept at night due to the constant pain.

A couple of days later after the shoot, I received a phone call from her grandson who told me that she had told him that on the nights after the interview, she had slept with no pain and had the longest sleeps she can remember.

It was this call that reaffirmed to me one of my greatest beliefs, that its the painful experiences of our lives that if go untold, manifest into physical ailments and conditions that hinder our current situation. It is this belief that forms the foundation to many of my own projects.

Martha sadly passed away shortly after her 100th birthday, but I would like this opportunity to honour her memory and thank this amazing lady for participating in this story in the hope it will reach out to others and afford change in their circumstances and beliefs.

The Unlearned Lessons of History

With the wealth of experience of growing older I sometimes find myself looking back and drifting through the memories that make up the highs and lows of what made me the person I am today. In a perfect world we would all grow and become happier from our experiences, but unfortunately the cycles of self destruction deal far bigger blows on us than the ones of self awareness.

About a year ago I came across a heroin who for most had been lost in time. As I read over what little was left of her life story, with great sadness it reminded me that despite the atrocities of history, as a race we have hardly moved on.

Hypatia of Alexandria born c. 350–370; died 415 AD

Hypatia was a teacher of mathematics in the Museum of Alexandria in Egypt. She was born around 350 CE the daughter of Theon of Alexandria.  She became a salaried director of the Neoplatonist school of Philosophy in 400 AD. There is little historical record that survive of her life, but from what exists lies an omen of prophecy that unfortunately lives on to modern times.

Hypatia home 300 x 363.jpg

Hypatia was involved with the invention of the plane astrolabe, the graduated brass hydrometer and the hydroscope with Synesius of Greece- what these scientific creations do I haven't the foggiest, but I mention them as a measurement of her achievements.

"There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not infrequently appeared in public in the presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in going to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more."                                                                                                 

Socrates Scholasticus 450 AD

Despite the apparent honour and respect bestowed on her by her peers, Hypatia remained a virgin until her death. She rejected suitors saying that they demonstrated that there is 'nothing beautiful' about carnal lust, from a Christian point of view she became a symbol of virtue.

She was a popular lecturer drawing students from many parts of the empire much to the disdain of some. Hypatia dressed in the clothing of a scholar or teacher rather than in women's clothing, and moved about freely driving her own chariot, contrary to the norm for women's public behaviour.

Orestes, the Governor of Alexandria was an adversary of the new Christian Bishop, and like Hypatia was a Pagan. His opposition of the expulsion from the city of Jews lead to his murder by Christian monks, as an associate of Orestes Hypatia was seen as a woman who didn't know her place. This may go some way to explaining why 200 years later she was rewritten into history by the 7th-century Egyptian Coptic bishop John of Nikiû as a Hellenistic pagan and that:

 "she was devoted at all times to magic, astrolabes and instruments of music, and she beguiled many people through her Satanic wiles"

There is no way to disguise the violent death of Hypatia. Her chariot was attacked by a mob of fanatical Christian monks as she drove through Alexandria. They dragged her from her chariot, stripped her, killed her, stripped her flesh from her bones, scattered her body parts through the streets, and burned the remains of her body in the library of Caesareum.

How I sit here with unbearable sadness as I witness that history speaks to us not of a progressive society, but one which still lives immersed in fear, brutality and prejudice.

We only have to look more recently in 2012 at the story of fifteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai who was shot in the head at point blank range in the Swat Valley in Pakistan for advocating the right for girls to have education. We have all been made aware recently of how it is illegal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia and the horrific act of FGM still advocated in countries around the world.

Sometimes I think I'm stupid. I thought we lived in a different world. My ignorance, as I researched this became apparent.  The methods used to suppress such equality stretch from subtlety to absolute horror. Yet they exist in all walks of our community and start in such subtle ways.

In 2014, the Ban Bossy campaign which set out in Banning the word 'Bossy' was an American lead campaign fronted by Beyonce which was derided by many. On the surface it may have appeared to be a silly campaign and has certainly attracted some negative publicity.

But for me, it resonated with the absolute foundation of where we need to start. In my experience I have never heard a young boy being called 'bossy'. 'he has great leadership skills,' or 'you can tell he's going to get to the top' but as soon as a girl displays the attributes of assertiveness- 'bossy, a little madam, what a bitch' is quite often the narrative.

Just banning a word however is not enough, we need to understand and promote the negative implications behind such words. I have often witnessed the differing reactions to female managers compared to males, noticing that many female managers often take on the persona of a male manager as their first point of reference as they try to enforce their authority.

 

Only recently I spoke to some of my female students and heard how they had experienced sexist behaviour and differing attitudes to them when taking on a role of leadership because of their gender. I challenged them on this and asked whether it was their perception or a reality as I'd never experienced it, I was quickly rebuffed as they replied 'that's because you'r a man.'

There is no doubt that we need to keep an eye on this behaviour and maybe not deal with it in an equal way, as it would seem much of this attitude is delivered out of earshot and behind closed doors. As a teacher how can I become more aware and distinguish between sexist behaviour and over sensitive students who choose this opportunity to disguise their lack of leadership skill, or will I always be oblivious and ignorant to it 'because you're a man' as my students pointed out?

shutterstock_180473000.jpg

The fight for equality over the world seems to be one that, at best, is diluted into political correctness where even in Great Britain you only have to hear the phrase 'equal pay for women' to know we are not getting it right.

The fight for equality over the world seems to be one that, at best, is diluted into political correctness where even in Great Britain you only have to hear the phrase 'equal pay for women' to know we are not getting it right.

 

If we cannot even monitor and implement something as measurable as equal pay for women, an act which has been written in law since the 1970s, then something has to be seriously going wrong. Something systemic within our psyche must have corroded and been misplaced by something quite hypocritical and sinister.

The word equality however has always made me feel uncomfortable when referring to the sexes. We are clearly not equal, as the word 'equal' defines things in numbers and equations which cuts through gender and personal abilities with a harsh knife. 

Whilst at some point in history the word equality was necessary to hook into in order to create a campaign, I believe in order for us to develop and break away from old thought processes we must redefine our directive. Food and water are necessary to sustain life, without either of them the body would ceases to exist. But who would be found arguing that food is equal to water, and yet they are both of equal importance? It is with this view of equal importance, rather than arguing the why's and wherefores of equality as we know it, that I believe we should view the future.

Maybe as a male I am not best placed to fight this argument, but something is clearly going wrong and needs to be addressed. There are some incredible female role models that can be shown to young people, ones in history and ones in the present.

For my fear is if we cannot break up the fight and redefine the parameters of how we view equality  and how we fight to achieve those freedoms, then the experience of Hypatia and many others like her will continue to blight our history until as a species we realise and honour that we are not equal to each other, but on every level we need and rely on each other to progress- in equal measure.

If you have any teaching strategies on promoting such issues, then Teacher Central would love to hear from you.