Inspirational Woman – Heather Pearson (aka Grantidote)

I love making new friends, so was thrilled to meet Heather recently in Edinburgh. I was familiar with her website, The Grantidote (link at end) but we’d never met. Please allow me to introduce her to you, too. Once you’ve read her interview I’m sure you’ll see why we got on so well. Make yourself comfortable and enjoy her thoughts on feminism, and much more.

Jane: Heather, we met through a mutual friend, the novelist, Sara Sheridan, and you and Sara connected through a mutual love of writing and advancing women’s history. Sara quite rightly knew I would love the project you are working on. I am fascinated by your Grantidote project. Can you tell us about it, please? What prompted you to start it?
Heather: The Grantidote is an intervention to what passes for normal. We’re surrounded by men’s stories; men on plinths, plaques; men all over the world of storytelling for mass consumption and filling most seats at the levels where policies and power are decided in business and politics. Accordingly, men’s versions of experiences are still treated as more valuable than women’s. Horrifically, I see this surreal half-truth still extrapolating out to identity forming for boys and girls. From late 2014 to mid 2016, triggered largely by the political campaigns of the times, I felt western society was evoking a sinister answer to a global question about women’s rights to safety and how those rights are inaccessible when we have a public who’ve largely yet to acknowledge the brutal realities of endemic misogyny.

Throughout a lot of political darkness, I was writing two creative pieces about my grandmothers, each very different in tone. To help me ponder my writing, I asked a question on Twitter one morning about what people called their grandmothers. Well. Back came a flood of responses which rolled into discussions centering women’s experiences, 24/7, for almost an entire week. My timeline segued out of exasperation into a positive, empathic antidote of a different way of being just by inadvertently changing the gender of subjects of focus. Suddenly, people were talking about what they’d learned from life experiences relating to their grandmothers and other women in their lives and how that learning shaped their own personalities. I shit you not in saying it felt magical and like I’d stumbled on something phenomenal.

People were reflecting and listening, seeing how events across a lifetime connected to make a picture in which control was often dictated by circumstances. It was a discussion in which change felt not only possible but palpable and I knew then I had to build on it, fast, to create an online space providing retreat and re-route from negative downward spirals. I decided to collect one hundred women’s stories in all, over a period of year from summer 2017 to summer 2018. So now the race is on now to gather them and I need help from people interested in making change and history.

And if women have stories they would like to share with you, how do they get in touch? Do you need any particular format or length?
As long as a real woman’s experience and story is centered, The Grantidote’s wide open to however contributors of any gender want to tell a story. I offer private editorial support to those less sure about their writing style or who know what they want to say but aren’t quite sure how to say it. Feedback and support from contributors has been incredible, I’d urge anyone feeling nervous about getting involved to make the leap and know they’ll be caught. The Grantidote is a supportive community as well as an active archive; I pay huge attention to treating every story with the upmost integrity and love so contributors are happy at every step with their involvement.

You’ve had a varied career path. What was your very first job, and what was your last job? Did you plan a career?
The first thing here is I don’t have a career! I think I’ve done about 45 different jobs, at the last count… I guess the most impressive job that might’ve become a career was a brilliant role in creating communications materials for a technology company with corporate customers in my early twenties, which I loved. I traded that job for a radical relocation to live on a remote island with my husband (then fiancée) where we both played Castaway and got the bug for renovating older houses. On the island I made beds and breakfasts in a bunkhouse, job-shared the role of GP Practice Manager, worked in the craft shop and wrote a bit about teleworking for magazines who could see where internet possibilities might go for revolutionising workforces.

I had my kids relatively young, I was twenty-four when my first was born and he’s seventeen now. I think my very first job was as a Saturday girl at a hairdresser in Aberdeen, washing hair, sweeping up and making teas and coffees. I was kicked out of school at sixteen for being a difficult teenager, but I’m lucky in that I’ve always been able to write and wing my way through situations with a ‘nothing to lose’ attitude. The two things combined have helped me meet opportunity on the path a few times. Because of my lack of qualifications and long term experience combined with family life, my work life’s very informal and often frustrating; I fit in writing wherever I can and I guess, like many women, I’m in a transitional period before the kids hit independence.

I really focus on enjoying the present as much as possible but at the same time I’m chomping at the bit to do my own stuff; I have so many ideas and exciting publication successes for short pieces in the last four years have whetted my appetite for more. I’m excited about what might come in a ‘third act’ of life, from around forty-five and onwards. The Grantidote is an interesting intersection in the present because it’s teaching me to zoom out and see the big picture. It’s also very affirming for me to give a year to activism for women and equality in what feels like a tumultuous, dangerous and hopeful time. Looking forward, running The Grantidote has surprised me with how much I’ve enjoyed working on editing and how easy and refreshing it’s been to work with imagery and words to create content that challenges and inspires. These discoveries feel like sprouting seeds of possibility.

Heather, do you remember when the notion of inequality first struck you? What moulded your feminism?
When I was five I wanted to be a doctor. I’d say this in front of my paternal grandparents and they’d laugh, almost hysterically. I had no idea why. That Christmas I asked for a doctor’s outfit and instead unwrapped a nurse’s dress on Christmas morning. I remember being utterly confused and embarrassed for whoever had got it wrong and was surely about to be reprimanded in the North Pole. Worryingly though, my parents hadn’t spotted the problem and I didn’t want to seem ungrateful so I kept schtum. A few years after that, my best friend David moved schools to an all boy’s private school. Our teacher took great pains to tell us kids who missed him how clever David was to get into the school. I repeated this at home and my Dad countered with something along the lines of cleverness and richness being interchangeable. In both cases, I was super confused and aware that important things were sometimes unsaid, or communicated unclearly; the emotional imprints left on me by that meant I kept returning to those memories to understand them better as I got older.

Within increasingly complex lines of enquiry, I became aware of gender and social justice issues. It was my parents’ divorce, however, that really moulded my feminism. The disparity I saw in my parents’ lives post-divorce, particularly financially, was something I couldn’t normalise. Everything in the legal process favoured the man and disadvantaged the woman, even though it was my Dad who’d been unfaithful. I couldn’t unsee all the layers of subtle and overt discrimination adding up to chipping away at my Mum’s energies and power. I still can’t.

What are your views on what is happening now with women coming through in the media, things like the #Metoo campaign, etc? Do you think we will see lasting change?
Strangely, I’ve felt quite disengaged from #MeToo, overall. The things it’s revealing are topics feminists have been talking about for a long time so I’m finding it hard to get revved up about discussion that’s as routine as brushing my teeth. However, at the same time, having this discussion in the public sphere at last is a welcome thing, not least because it means the few women who’ve talked about their experiences publically before this point will face less exhausting clapback from those who’ve been uber resistant to trusting women’s perspectives.

I do think we’ll see lasting change now because I feel a tipping point across gender consciousness has been reached that can’t be rolled back. Also, because social media offers a voice to people without huge reserves of cash. There’s now an element of public discussion that can’t be shut down as easily as in the past. That said, I also think the hardest bit of the fight is just around the corner; resistance to change is greatest when the backward, entrenched thing it’s defending is most under threat. So, now’s the time to dig in and push harder to make change happen quicker, even if we’re exhausted; we owe it to all the women who’ve been at this stuff for a lifetime already. The more people who get involved, speaking and acting up, the shorter the battle will be and the safer women and children will be, now and in the future.

Who has been the biggest inspiration to you, personal or professional, or both?
Ah, such an easy question! My biggest inspiration is my Mum whom I lost to cancer a decade ago when she was just 57. She was a quiet revolution wrapped up in a person and everything I do to reinforce meaning in my life has my grief, love and respect for my Mum at its core. I have to try harder to touch contentment in life without my Mum in the world but loss has also made me appreciate everything so much more. Mum’s death has made me a better mother and partner, too. I take less for granted and know now I have to work to make the positive impacts I want to be remembered for. I’m hugely inspired and comforted by the work of artist Louise Bourgeois, as well. Her work was essentially a love letter to her mother and, for obvious reasons, I relate hugely and am encouraged and astounded by the enormous impact she made on the world by essentially following her urges.

And what is next for the Grantidote? Where do you see it going? What would be your best outcome?
What’s next is more gathering stories and building community, the latter bringing me such a lot of joy for its troublemaking, subversive glory. My best outcome would be to reach my goal of 100 diverse women’s stories on the site by summer 2018 and for the whole to be an archive adopted by an organisation with equality and empathy at its core. My dream outcome, as well as the archive resource, would be the creation of a piece of sculpture featuring the women in the stories first given to the site so the offline world might happen upon them and feel their huge relevance too.

Heather, you’re a woman who has had the courage to follow her heart, not necessarily her head. What advice would you share with any woman thinking of making a big change?
I’d say plan for the worst, hope and work for the best. There’s no better shield against negativity than persistence. Also, be realistic about protecting your time and health, if you’re pushing hard in a direction leading to a goal, saying no to non-essential requests on your time and energy is wise. Women are hugely encouraged in seemingly benign ways towards burnout; spotting that in action and putting boundaries in place to dissipate or re-route stress that’s not ours to bear is an essential skillset to acquire. Lastly, find whatever ways you can to make your work light and bring laughter to it. We’re all deserving of great happiness. Centering a woman’s story is a great way to reinforce that positivity and empathy to yourself and the world.

If you’d like to share your story with Heather (and please do, it’s a fabulous idea) the project email is thegrantidote@gmail.com and people can also get in touch through the website’s contact page. Here is the website link. You can also follow The Grantidote on Twitter.

If you’d like to ‘gift yourself’ some coaching to kick off 2018 in style (and why why not?) I have spaces available throughout December and January. More information on that here.

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Posted on November 29th, 2017 by

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