Friday, July 22, 2016

Follow Friday - Calendar Women

A while back, when I was first really getting the hang of Tumblr, I came across a wonderful blog there that told the story of one amazing woman every day. Of course I immediately followed it! And every day since I have been happy I did. While the daily posts are on hiatus for a while, she is still sharing great posts found elsewhere, and thus my timeline is continually filled with inspirational stories of women have done great things.

Recently, I was fortunate to be able to chat with Caitlin, the creator and driving force behind Calendar Women.

SRPS: First of all, can you tell me a little bit about yourself? What's your background? What inspires you?

CW: My name is Caitlin and I am a film and television graduate and history buff. My passion is factual programming and documentaries as they offer us a glimpse into worlds that we would never otherwise experience or understand, though depending on who is telling the story certain details can get warped. True stories from history have always fascinated me as often they are much stranger than fiction. I love trying to understand the strength or fortitude of women who have faced down oppressive regimes, liberated people, or defied expectations and forged a new life for themselves – I often find myself wondering what I would have done if I found myself in their situations.

SRPS: What is Calendar Women? What inspired you to create it?

CW: Calendar Women started out as a daily blog with posts about various women both from history and women who are still alive, from all across the world. I began it for several reasons; the first reason was to develop my writing skills. I am not a confident writer by any means and as my New Year's resolution I wanted to write every day about something that fascinated me – the lives of women. I'm happy to say that it's the first resolution I've ever kept and I'd like to think my writing skills have somewhat improved along the way!

My second reason for starting a blog was the absolute dearth of information about women from our past – through history lessons at school we predominantly learn about the achievements of men, with the assumption being that women were passively waiting at home with the children. The few women we do learn about tend to be Queens or martyrs and yet there have been so many incredible women from all walks of life, with different ideals, different achievements and certainly different ideas of the role of women in society. They give us a new perspective on cultures, events or stories we think we know, and combined with the more 'popular' details of male exploits give us a richer view of history.

It is a shame that we learn so little from conventional education, and even researching this I found myself frustrated by the lack of information freely available online about many of the women I was looking into. Tumblr has several blogs dedicated to the contributions of women, both past and present, and I think it's incredibly important that we use the resources we have now to make sure that we keep researching and sharing the stories of these women lest they be completely forgotten.

SRPS: What has been the response to your blog?

CW: The response to my blog so far has been overwhelmingly positive. I have been fortunate in that I have received constructive criticism, which as a hesitant writer is always appreciated, as well as suggestions for women to investigate. I was quite surprised by which posts were the most popular – often it was less well known women, or women from cultures that no longer exist.

SRPS: What has been the most surprising thing you've encountered on Tumblr?

CW: Tumblr is an interesting community because you are able to so completely shape your view of the site by which blogs you chose to follow. It's easy to convince yourself that your world views, and those of the people you follow, are the majority because you are able to choose exactly which version of the site you see. Though not exactly surprising, I think one of the best things I have encountered on Tumblr is of people sharing and boosting posts about world events that you might not hear about or are neglected by the media; tragedies that are ignored because they are not in Western countries, or inspirational stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I think it's incredibly important to keep our minds open, and not simply follow or read blogs that fit neatly in your pre-approved bubble.

SRPS: You share a lot of posts about different types of women, from different eras and backgrounds. Why is that important to you?

CW: They say that everyone has a story to tell and I totally believe that. I'm not interested in elevating women on to a platform simply because they are women, or to only write about women that are inherently 'good' or only belong to a particular subset. I want to explore the lives of women from across the world and throughout history because that's exactly what 'women from history' means to me. Every person lives such a unique life and by looking at their stories and adventures we can find out more about the world and, by extension, ourselves.

It was very much a conscious decision to cast the net wide when deciding who to write about – 365 women out of the whole of human history requires some whittling down and when I was planning each post I would try to make sure I looked at different eras and continents from one day to the next. Due to the nature of historical records, it would be very easy to simply write a whole year's worth of posts about 'Western Women' or 'Women of the 1920s' but that would give an incomplete picture and suggest that their contributions or lives were somehow worth more than that of, say, Asian women during the 1400s. I have always found that traditional schooling tends to focus exclusively on the nation in which a child is being taught and I very much wanted to go against this notion – we shouldn't limit ourselves to only understanding our own culture when we look at the world.

SRPS: Do you have a short list of women whose lives have inspired you during difficult times?

CW: I don't actually have a short list as I keep finding out about more and more women that I want to include! I often find female explorers aspirational though I am most inspired by women who have faced adversity with strength and bravery that I don't know I would possess. There are too many to name here but women such as Rukhsana Kausar, who stood up to terrorists in her own home, Harriet Tubman, who regularly returned to the very place she had escaped from in order to free others, and Sophie Scholl, who defied an entire regime, remind me that while it doesn't always pay to do what is right, but it is important not to be cowed by fear. It can be so easy to get caught up in the little things in life that these women and the many others that undertook equally inspirational actions remind me of what is important, such as not looking away when you see a wrong being committed, and having the strength to stand by your convictions.

SRPS: Where else can folks find you online?

CW: I'm not hugely active online, I suppose I'm a bit of an internet recluse. I've found Tumblr to be a welcoming community I keep somewhat separate from my day to day life and I enjoy the anonymity. While I have taken a year off writing daily posts due to work commitments I am preparing for next year when I will be looking at key events that happened for women on each day of the year – starting with the marriage of the Empress Regent Eudokia Makrembolitissa to Romanos IV Diogenes on 1st January, 1068 – so watch this space!

Yes! do keep watching for new posts from Calendar Women, and in the meantime follow her for some great shares about women from around the world and throughout history.

And if you know of another great blog on Tumblr I should be following, please leave a note in the comments!

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