Women Leading Change 2015

I had the incredible fortune of being invited to attend the Women Leading Change conference a couple of weeks ago run by The Wake Up Project.

The line up was impressive: Seane Corn, Yogin Activist; Petrea King, founder of Quest for Life; Tara Moss, Author Advocate; Claire Bowditch, Songwriter and founder of Big Hearted Business; Sarah Wilson, Author and founder of I Quit Sugar; Tami Simon, founder of Sounds True; and the inimitable Lucy Perry, former CEO of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia in Australia.

Each of these women impacted me in a different and profound way. I unfortunately missed Petrea’s session due to work commitments but managed to enjoy all of the other speakers humour and grounded wisdom. Here’s what I gleaned.

Tara Moss was impressive; she is a beautiful, intelligent woman in full voice of the feminine. She spoke of her ambitions to be Stephen King in primary school, of the tragic early death of her mother, and the journey into modelling of a grieving young woman. She lit up when she spoke of her eight published crime novels and first industry-recognised non-fiction work, The Fictional Woman.

What I found most interesting about her analytical approach to why women’s voices matter, were the statistics on female representation in film and children’s books, gender-biased word choices, and social labels. What I liked about the delivery of this was the lack of vitriol. It was an even-handed discussion of facts, impact and possibility. She furthered this when sharing her work in advocacy for domestic and sexual violence. I felt charged with a positive mission by her message without feeling like I have to alienate the men in my life I love so dearly. Can’t wait to read the book.

It was also very precious to hear in Tara’s discussion on self-care the quirky ways those suffering vicarious trauma of counselling and emergency care find levity and joy. One example was doggy wedding dress ups. Tara herself prefers vintage caravans and a hair flower to lift her spirits and encourage those around her to smile. I love this message: bring some light into each day for yourself and for others.

Sarah Wilson was, by her own admission, more intense than I had expected. She shared stories of being bullied at school and of contemporary ‘snippeties’ on the internet.  Snippeties aren’t the faceless trolls we are familiar with, they are named bloggers and detractors that betray more-than-a-little obsession with deconstructing her business and her arguments.  She talked about how she managed this and, in one example at least, invited her detractor to lunch to make peace.

Sarah was also concerned about modern consumptive lifestyles. She spoke about her early family hippy life in Byron, her time as editor at Cosmopoliton, and her subsequent auto-immune illness being the catalyst for I Quit Sugar. But she also spoke about continuing to minimise her possessions in her adult life, wearing clothes until they fall off, and not owning a car. She also spoke briefly of her decision after eight years to ‘own her single status’, a declaration to which many in the audience applauded.

I was really interested in what Sarah had to say. I was impressed with her drive, achievements, and ability to act on her convictions. What’s next for her? She wants to change the way we think about leftovers. Sounds like a great example of minimising waste and maximising reuse and I can’t wait to see what she creates.

Claire Bowditch is a force of nature: energetic; funny; expletive-loving; and incredibly talented. She entered from stage left and immediately took off her shoes. She spoke about the inane questions she gets asked in the supermarket, alluded to a fascinating mentorship with Leonard Cohen, and made us laugh about her appearance in Offspring with her appreciation of fellow actor Matthew Le Nevez. She also spoke about the judgements, fears, and insecurities of life playing themselves out on the body and about the love and humour of being a wife and mother. 

Then she sang. It filled the hall and she cajoled us into voice. It was funny, liberating and a beautiful metaphor for finding our voices as women.

Tami Simon conversely sat down to speak to us. She embodies her Buddhist training and is intelligent, pensive, still and warm. She adheres to the Buddhist truths: Nothing is permanent; The Self, too, is not solid; Suffering arises from attachment as if solid to something impermanent. I related deeply to her spiritual wisdom and love for the truth. 

I also appreciated that she spoke for much of her presentation about listening, wanting to know more about others but also listening to the guidance she receives in meditation. She received strong signals to love her partner, ‘love Julie’. Being so accomplished and successful, she doubted the simplicity of this message but it was profoundly her partner that clarified it for her.  It is less about loving one individual and more about cultivating love as a personal expression of her life.

Tami then spoke about providing a warm space for others and acknowledged there is no end to the spiritual journey – no arriving. She reiterated that everything depends on how much you trust and that we cannot underestimate how much friendship means.

Lucy Perry changed the pace significantly. She was incredibly funny and frank. She shared news of her recent dismissal as CEO by the Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia Board and that she was dismissed by text message. As anyone who has ever been fired or suffered the indignity of a poorly handled departure can relate, this is a time of self-doubt and confusion and it was powerful to hear this from someone so accomplished.

Lucy saluted her mother in the audience and shared stories of her time in business, large, small and non-profit. She regaled us with tales of her Beer + Bubs childbirth education program for men and the birth of one of her children at the family Christmas party. I also liked Lucy’s references to men for someone so immersed in women’s issues. She welcomed men at the conference (there were not many!) and she spoke fondly and frequently of her husband.

While I missed her morning session, in the afternoon Seane Corne spoke of her 80s activism, its origins, and the realisation that the expression she chose at the time fed her own fears and (OCD) insecurities. A poignant example she gave resonated to me: looking at a photo at an abortion rally of the time she observed everyone in the photo, including herself with mouths open and eyes shut.

Seane’s deeply personal accounts of questioning, choice and healing in her practice, her community and her family hit home. She spoke about her father’s passing with visceral honesty, about his confusing about-faith in his last days culminating in a catholic priest leading the service for her otherwise Jewish family.  The priest shared his own story of grief of his fathers death leading him to question his faith and meditate on a mound of dirt on his father’s boat for several days, before a dragonfly broke through and took flight. The moral of this tale? Even in our darkest despair, new light is born.

These were the types of revelations during the day: meditations on love; the value (and humour) of a woman’s voice; the multifaceted nature of courage; the importance of self-care; and as a woman, your life matters. I came away feeling energised, positive, connected and full of stories to share with Murray. Highly recommended for next year and check out what else The Wake Up Project has coming up next.  

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