Stacey Shortall gives us her insights on 'dangerous women' and why she won't back down
March 8th is International Women's Day #IWD2020, a day we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, while also marking a call to action for accelerating gender equality. This year, after listening to Pat Mitchell's podcast "dangerous times call for dangerous woman" [click here to listen], Our Words Matter talked to a number of women who might call themselves 'dangerous' - women who embrace risk for the sake of advancing good, even if it's dangerous.
Each of us have our own way of describing what being a dangerous woman means. What does it mean to you?
It might be because I first heard the song in my formative teenage years, but I reckon Tom Petty pretty much nailed it in 1989 when he penned the lyrics to I Won’t Back Down:
“Well I know what’s right, I got just one life
in a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
but I’ll stand my ground, and I won’t back down”
In what way would you describe yourself as a dangerous woman?
I would not describe myself as a dangerous woman in any way actually. I would, however, say that I am a woman with strong convictions about fairness, and access to a platform to share them - which I acknowledge is a privilege and carries with it an opportunity to share that platform with others who have different voices that need to be heard. To the extent some people might feel that the combination of conviction and platform is threatening and creates danger, as to me, I say I am just a woman. If such people are willing to enable and listen to the voices of the other women around them - their mothers, sisters, spouses, partners, daughters, friends and/or colleagues - they will soon realise that there is no danger. Only common ground and opportunities for us all to live better.
Pat Mitchell talks about dutifully following her own grandmother’s words: “Falling on your face is at least falling forwards.” What are the words you have always lived by and why?
“It’s what you do when no one is watching that really matters” is something that I recall my parents saying when I was a child. The idea being that your actions away from any spotlight are the true measure. Especially in today’s world where technology enables us to curate how we let people watch so much more of our lives, this adage reminds me that it is how about I go about the quieter, everyday interactions with other people - about which there are no posts or photos - that is most important. Helping others in simple yet meaningful ways can make a big difference to outcomes for people. As can hurting or otherwise neglecting people. The potential for much good and for much harm exists when no one is watching. Deciding to do good then, just as we might when watched, is something that I try to instill in my own children.
In her book, Pat talks about how as a global community of women, we are at an intersection where the risks are bigger but so are the opportunities to lead toward a more just world. What opportunities, and risks, do you see yourself taking that will lead to positive change for future generations?
In my view, positive change for future generations starts in families. So creating and taking opportunities to better support families is a core focus for me. This is part of what drives our Who Did You Help Today charitable initiatives like Mothers Project and Homework Club. But I am acutely aware that my perspective on how best to support families is shaped by my background and lived experience. So there is a real risk that my perspective misses the mark in relation to families that live very different circumstances to my own. Mindful of that limitation, I believe the biggest opportunity that I can take to enable a more just world is to encourage more women with a broader diversity of experience to participate in efforts to better support families. This requires me to listen before speaking. And to understand before acting. And to lock elbows with other women who bring different perspectives before stepping forward.
The word ‘power’ takes on different dimensions depending on the lens you look through. Bella Abzug predicted that in the 21st century, women will change the nature of power rather than the power changing the nature of women. Ideally, how would you see women using and sharing their power and what impact do you see this having?
Using power in an inclusive way is fundamentally important to me. It will not be enough for women to take the power that we are increasingly obtaining through economic, reproductive and personal freedom. Unless we ensure that we exercise power in a way that includes the perspectives and needs of different women, we will repeat the same mistakes that our male counterparts have made - we will empower some women and disempower others. While matters get spoken about as “women’s issues” and “female power”, we are not a homogeneous group. Our experiences and needs as women are profoundly different depending on our circumstances. Acknowledging that point without fear, but seeing it as an opportunity to share power with women, who are different to us, to build change that reaches further and higher for everyone is key. When we get that right, more of us throughout more of our communities will get a better shot at improving our lives and - most importantly- the lives of our families.
We currently live in a very divisive and divided world. To mend our global community, we need innovative and creative solutions to challenging issues. What issue, or issues, concern you the most and what will it take to solve it.
I am most concerned by the silos in our communities. We have it here in New Zealand and the same issue arises globally. While our country and world is increasingly multicultural, I worry that we are less diverse. We tend to live, work and/or socialise with people who look and sound - and often think - like us. History tells us that this situation is ripe for misunderstandings and conflict. Having platforms to meaningfully interact more with each other, in each others’ parts of our communities, is an important first step. But taking those opportunities plainly is what really matters. Nothing I say here is novel or particularly innovative. We all know it. Yet we hesitate and find ourselves busy in our own lives. Busting out of our silos must be part of the solution. That is something we each can do in small ways by choosing where we go, who we choose to speak with and how we choose to interact. We as women have a particular ability to help change this for future directions because we are often very influential caregivers for the next generation. I am reminded of that good ‘ole saying - “Don’t tell me. Show me:”