Our Stories Matter
“Sapiens rule the world, because we are the only animal that can cooperate flexibly in large numbers. We can create mass cooperation networks, in which thousands and millions of complete strangers work together towards common goals. One-on-one, even ten-on-ten, we humans are embarrassingly similar to chimpanzees. Any attempt to understand our unique role in the world by studying our brains, our bodies, or our family relations, is doomed to failure. The real difference between us and chimpanzees is the mysterious glue that enables millions of humans to cooperate effectively.
This mysterious glue is made of stories, not genes. We cooperate effectively with strangers because we believe in things like gods, nations, money and human rights. Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money and no human rights — except in the common imagination of human beings. You can never convince a chimpanzee to give you a banana by promising him that after he dies, he will get limitless bananas in chimpanzee Heaven. Only Sapiens can believe such stories. This is why we rule the world, and chimpanzees are locked up in zoos and research laboratories.”
Yuval Noah Harari
If stories are so important, what happens when we silence women?
When we don’t share their stories?
A lot has changed in 100 years but we have so much further to go. And we believe that it starts with storytelling. Not everyone will represent our stories authentically — sometimes the truth will be masked by another’s own narrative and we can’t afford for that to happen anymore. We need our stories told.
Throughout history, we have only ever been told one type of story. The one where the white male leads. From the bible to modern life, the white male is leader, the rescuer, he saves us from mythical harm. The problem with this narrative is that people start to believe it. It goes from folklore to fake reality and we know what that leads to…
The black squares on our social media right now represent the gap in our own history. Where it could have been filled with our stories but was instead filled with those of our male peers.
We want to change this… and we need YOUR help…
“The single story creates stereotype and the problem with stereotype is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete, they make one story become the only story.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
We’re had enough. Now is the time we claim back our stories and help share more of others. If the digital age has taught us anything, it is that without truth, we all suffer. Without all of our stories, the truth — whatever it might be — dies, and with that, a legacy, and a tool to inspire and empower others that look like us.
This year is also an important year and thus the perfect time for change. It marks 100 years since some women first got the opportunity to have their voices heard in the UK. Having gone to a school which had been “the first institution in the world to award academic qualifications to women”, that really meant something to me. We were aware of the sacrifices the suffragettes, and women like them, had made in order for our generation to have basic rights — a voice.
And this year is already proving to be a pivotal year for women— one where we reached a tipping point in terms of our voices being finally heard. We have seen the MeToo and TimesUp movements gain momentum as survivors’ stories flood social media. And, as a result, men have finally been held accountable for their actions— from Larry Nassar, to Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby. We can no longer be ignored. Our stories can no longer be covered up or brushed aside.
Telling women’s stories has always been the heart of what we do at F =. It is also the reason I wrote Female Innovators at Work: Women on Top of Tech. We — both professionally and personally — are wholly committed to telling the untold stories of women.
When we started out, we did so with a committed vision of making women more visible and to show the world what we were capable of when it was too busy reading stories about men. We wanted to inspire and empower the next generation and we did this through fashion and stories — the two things we knew could permeate society both quickly and effectively if done right.
Emotionally charged stories are the baseline of all morality. What we believe in is what drives us. It is what defines us.
We are wired to make sense of the world — our own existence and others’ — via the power of stories. They are utterly essential to the existence of human connection and that is why I believe all stories should be told. I believe the historic hatred shown towards other races, religions could be lessened greatly by the distribution of honest, authentic, stories which will inspire, empower and, most importantly, educate.
“Even the simplest and most static of human cultures is an engine of inventive mutual influence and change. Furthermore, at least orally, human cultures preserve historical record, imaginative or real, couched in a human language. The past pervades human consciousness to some degree even in the simplest societies, and discussions of past events — narrating, sometimes dramatically, commenting on the narration, challenging points of fact or logic, and co-constructing a suite of stories — occupied many an evening for perhaps 300,000 years, but not for millions of years before that. And while our ancestors were arguing, many ape communities not far away in the forest were making their — yes, traditional — nests and drifting off to sleep. The only modern apes that have learned language learned it from human teachers, and none of their wild counterparts has anything like it. Even if their individual minds preserve some private history, it is difficult to see how they could have a collective one without being able to tell it to each other and to their young. All human cultures can, do, and probably must.”
Melvin Konner, The Evolution of Childhood (2010)
We have now shared over 200 interviews with incredible women from all fields including — from (L to R below) — Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade Dany Cotton to entrepreneur Lauren Napier, England and Arsenal Footballer Rachel Yankey to Olympic Gold Medalist Hockey Player Helen Richardson-Walsh, Presenter, Photographer and Founder and CEO of The Conversation and Girlgaze Amanda de Cadenet to Social Entrepreneur Yael Braun Cohen.
But why is telling these stories so important?
The idea of storytelling has existed since the dawn of humankind. It is the basis of all that we know and all that we are. It is the original form of communication used in caves to coffee houses. Humans are merely storytelling apes — we arrange our thoughts and feelings into the narratives we can process. We look for purpose based on a sequence of stringed words with a clear, defined beginning, middle and an end. When these narratives have endings cut short, we suffer. The consequential anxiety, hurt and mental anguish is derived from the lack of a natural ending. Why ill-predicted breakups and deaths disturb us so much are because of such endings. We need order. We work to order. We understand order. Without it, we are lost. We are without meaning and purpose.We want to let the legacy of women be known. And we want all women’s stories to be told — their full stories. They deserve to be told and they deserve to be told well. It is one of the reasons we fell in love with Vashti Harrison’s Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History because it is not only the most beautiful children’s book but it details the stories of “Bold Women in Black History” (more on this later) — something still not covered in most classrooms. (Worth reading Black History Month Matters Because for Many of Us, It Is the Only History We Have.)
Also we can no longer rely on others, including traditional press, to tell our stories. Most of the time we are covered, it is with the “victim” lens. But what about all the heroines our children deserve to see and look up to whose stories deserve to be told? In the era of “fake news”, we know that by telling them ourselves, that the truth will out. Our legacy will be based on authenticity, not someone else’s narrative.
“The paradigm shift from the age of information to the age of reputation must be taken into account when we try to defend ourselves from ‘fake news’ and other misinformation and disinformation techniques that are proliferating through contemporary societies. What a mature citizen of the digital age should be competent at is not spotting and confirming the veracity of the news. Rather, she should be competent at reconstructing the reputational path of the piece of information in question, evaluating the intentions of those who circulated it, and figuring out the agendas of those authorities that leant it credibility” Gloria Origgi.
We know that when women tell their stories, they effect change. The sisterhood is very real. And we need to keep telling our stories and the stories of other women whose voices are muffled by the media noise around bad men. We need to change the narrative — this only happens when we tell our stories. We are our own keepers. We are in charge and we are here to take the power back. We carry the weight of our stories and it is up to us to share them. By being authentic in our storytelling, we become the storytellers.
“Those who tell the stories rule the world.” — Hopi American Indian proverb
The Future of Storytelling
“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world.”
I am a strong believer that the stories we share today will write our future. So it has to be inclusive. In a world filled with fear, we must inspire and empower all with the untold stories we have inside us. This is why we are starting something new…
Today, we are launching Our Stories Matter campaign to further reach people with great women’s stories — we will be selling Our Stories Matter t-shirts alongside books about fab women in history. We want to make the books as inclusive and diverse as possible so will crowdsource the titles we add to this bundle but we are delighted to kick off the campaign with both Vashti Harrisons’s Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History and Kate Pankhurst’s Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World. (Please do find us on instagram and suggest others you think we should include — the more inclusive, the better.)
The idea is that by wearing the t-shirts, we spark conversations around our own stories, and the books that accompany the tees — we ask customers to donate them to local schools and libraries to inform, inspire and empower the next generation with the stories of incredible women which have gone before them. If each school had these books on their shelves and hundreds of thousands of children had access to them, we know what a difference it would make.
And we are not stopping there. We want to use the power of the sisterhood to populate the internet with stories of inspiring women who forged their own paths. We will be increasing the number of stories we put on on our site with daily news stories about awesome women and our book club will run giveaways with some of the fantastic women we interview.
Finally, we are urging all women to share your own stories on social media with #ourstoriesmatter. Whether it is success or surviving, we want to hear from you. Each week, we will collate some of these stories and share across our 100,000 community too. And if you are looking for even more inspiration, we will have a section on our site dedicated to some of these stories which will run alongside our usual interviews with kickass women. The more stories we can share, the better.
Because we can no longer rely on others to tell these important stories. We know that our stories matter. They always have and they always will.
And they deserve to be told, now moreso than ever.