Woman’s Hour is a long-running radio programme which goes out in the middle of the morning. Most people who are able to listen to the radio attentively in the middle of the morning are:
- professional drivers such as taxi drivers
- Builders, decorators etc though these in my experience prefer Kiss FM, very loud
- Parents at home looking after children.
When Woman’s Hour started it was aimed at the last of these groups because most women with children were indeed at home, getting on with chores around the house with the radio on. It was radio for ironing, basically. At some point quite early on in my life Woman’s Hour got all itchy and feminist, and felt that there was something infra dig about ironing. Its editors and producers secretly didn’t think much of women without paid jobs and it irked them to think that these flimsy mimsy retrogressive throwbacks formed their main audience. So it reduced down to a bare minimum any acknowledgement of the fact that its listeners were – most of them quite happily – fishing Duplo bricks out of the loo. For years now, Woman’s Hour has been a way of half-hearing Jenny Murray debating consciousness-raising with some academic who, if she needed such services, paid another woman to fish Duplo bricks out of her loo, while you yourself fished bricks out of your own loo. After all, any mother who is not fishing Duplo bricks out of the loo is out walking in the park, or has a job which probably does not permit the luxury of listening to Woman’s Hour. In the latter case, she may well be on the way to becoming a Woman of Power and Influence. And by the nature of her daily routine, she doesn’t listen to Woman’s Hour.
Now the programme is asking its listeners to nominate its top 100 Women of Power and Influence. You see where I am going here, don’t you? The programme makers are looking for names of women who, by the very nature of what they do, don’t listen to Woman’s Hour, and if you nominated someone who just raised her own children and did it pretty well, they would laugh at you. I can’t help finding this only mildly amusing. I have always liked being at home with my children, and I have always thought it was a very important job, but the hardest part of it was becoming a non-person, a person of absolutely no Power, let alone Influence, whatsoever, except over the poor little mites who by accident of birth ended up in my care.
So far the programme has interviewed a lot of people about influential women: politicians, campaigners, women in the City, in the “boardroom”, all those places where Power and Influence are supposed to reside. Yet for mothers – which is most women -among the most influential people in their lives are those who advised them at the time they gave birth to their children. The obstetricians, the midwives, the health visitors – these people have a million tiny little nudges of influence in the way we birth, and the way we raise our children. Our parenting of the next generation starts then, and the influences under which we come during that whole vulnerable, shell-off period of our lives are extremely important.
With this thought in mind I very much hope to see some woman on the final list of 100 who has something to do with birth and midwifery – preferably one of the pioneers of home birth, active birth and informed choice in maternity services. I am thinking of Janet Balaskas, perhaps, founder of the Active Birth Centre and, with Wendy Savage, a pioneer of the simple demand that we be allowed to labour in whatever position we choose; or Sheila Kitzinger, whose books changed the way many people thought of birth. Or Marjorie Tew, whose study of home birth safety turned upside down the lazy assumptions that doctors and hospitals always know better than women themselves what is good for them. Or perhaps Cathy Warwick, head of the Royal College of Midwives? Or a more local name – Annabel Bryant, who has changed the birthing experience at one of my local huge maternity units greatly for the better? What about Maggie Howell of NatalHypnotherapy? Katharine Graves, who founded the UK Hypnobirthing Association? Beverley Beech, chair of AIMS?
I am appealing to all my friends and colleagues to put foward any name they like to the list – just please make it someone who works in childbirth and midwifery. You can do so at this web address:
…or via Twitter using the hashtag #whpowerlist.