I read about, listen to and watch lots of interviews with successful women. They're inspiring and empowering and I take a lot away from them but, and it's a big but, I've noticed that the majority of the women in question are successful in a conventional sense - they're wealthy, powerful, influential or all three. Don't get me wrong, the fact that these women exist makes my heart sing. I love living in a world where it's possible for women to be those things but it's not model of success that we can all follow.
I am lucky to know lots of women who are successful but in a variety of different ways on a more everyday level. They're all making a difference and achieving extraordinary things but they're not necessarily rich or powerful and they don't always get recognition for what they do.
In the 'Everyday Greatness' series I will celebrate these women, women I am honoured to call friends and exceptionally proud to know. I will talk to them, find out what makes them tick and share their alternative versions of success with you. I hope you will find their stories inspiring, empowering and reassuring.
First up, Martha Crawford. A small person of formidable strength, who has helped me to see that talking about change isn't enough and who can kick as hard as any seasoned martial artist.
KW: Currently you’ve got a full time job, you’re studying for an MA, you lead a run group for homeless women, you find time for active campaigning and regular exercise, which is a lot for one person. What motivates you to do all these things?
MC: Ok so number one my Mum. Growing up I saw how much she did and continues to do, she had a full time job, she was involved and embedded within her community whilst raising four children with my Dad working away a lot. It showed me how you can do loads of things if you set your mind to it and if they’re things that you care about.
The things you mentioned are all things I care quite deeply about so it makes doing them easy, not easy but it makes doing them necessary.
With the running group…when I discovered exercise it changed my life. Watching it change the life of other women, women who have seen a lot in their lives and have experienced a lot of pain, is really important to me because I feel like I was given a gift; the gift of exercise and the gift of wellness by people who loved me and I like to pass that gift on to people that I care about. I have come to care a lot about the women that I run with in a more than just a turning out sort of way.
KW: I was going to ask this question later but it makes sense to bring it up now. We talk a lot about our body image and how exercise has given us a new confidence. You haven’t always been as confident as you are now, how much has exercise played a part in that change and have you seen it change the women you run with?
MC: It has transformed the women that I run with, I was talking to one woman the other day her life is incredibly complicated, she’s recovering from a number of addictions and a number of traumas and she said that it has increased her wellness and her sense of self and it has empowered her to be good to herself, which is really important for someone who has got a history of not being incredibly kind to themselves.
For me...I’ve got a lot stronger and a lot more muscly and I’m more confident because I know the things my body can do. When I put my mind to it I can run half marathons and run up the heron tower. If you're talking about the everyday then my body does amazing things for me.
By getting stronger and more powerful I’ve realised what a load of bullshit it is - the way that women supposed to think about their bodies; solely as this thing to be looked at, only for show. And that’s not just about men, we’re our own worse critics. And rejecting that…I’m not saying it’s possible all the time, I mean some mornings I wake up and I think, “aaaah I’ve inherited the family farms (fatty arms)” but I think that slowly but surely I’m realising that it’s such a weird thing to preoccupy yourself about.
KW: It really is and from my point of view the achievement of running 6 miles is so much greater than the achievement of losing half a stone or something. The way it made me feel afterwards and for a long time was really powerful.
MC: And your son and your partner watched you do that, watched you achieve that.
Doing all the running stuff and the martial arts stuff…women always look so beautiful to me in that situation. Watching people try so hard is really attractive, you know when they really bring mind over matter. I know it’s cheesy what Kes says at the end of our sessions but it is emotional. You accomplish something together.
KW: Yeah it’s very bonding. I feel my best at the end of those classes, that’s when I feel like I could do anything. When do you feel your best?
MC: Actually it usually is after those classes and I’m back on my bike going to the next thing I’m going to and I feel like a massive badass. You really feel like you could do anything.
I also feel at my best when I’m with my friends, I’m really lucky in that I’ve somehow managed to develop this incredible group of friends, who aren’t just women, who are so brilliant and supportive and funny and intelligent. Just being with those kind of people really nourishes me.
KW: I know you've got a lot of very close and strong female friendships what they bring to your life? You’ve just said that they nourish you…
MC: But also challenge me as well. It’s good to have a really broad range of friends who push you. Sometimes I can run away with ideas, I can be on the extreme side of things and my friends help me to see how sometimes you need to be strategic rather than always taking one side of things. Also my friends show me alternative forms of success, I mean you’ve done that, you’re similar to me in terms of being career driven and ambitious. Seeing you become a mother, that has been quite eye opening for me, it has been a really enlightening process. It has made me realise I have a really strong maternal instinct and watching you do all the things you’re able to do has been really inspirational.
KW: Thanks. We can all have it all. It’s just quite tiring.
MC: Do you think that’s true?
KW: Yeah. I think you become less concerned about certain aspects of your life and you have to let those things go but that’s just a natural process of developing. It becomes much clearer what you actually want to do, it’s a clarification process.
MC: I think that we shouldn’t feel the pressure to have it all though. I see these people who are so set on the idea of having it all that the one thing they don’t have, is fun.
KW: That's absolutely true. You just have to do things softly. You can’t go for everything aggressively you have to let things happen and roll with it.
Ok so...back to you, you’re very openly feminist; a lot more than some people are brave enough to be. What does an egalitarian society look like to you and how is it different to the one we live in now.
MC: Mmmm. What does would that look like? (Martha paused for a while here)
KW: Or maybe if it’s easier to answer what’s the next step in getting there?
MC: Maybe trying, on whatever level you think you’re able to do, to participate within your community is a step that we can all take. Slowly, we would reach a more equal society if people removed their gaze from their internal, “what’s going on?” and looked a little externally. I think that by doing that you encounter people who you might not otherwise encounter and you can see what life might be like through the eyes of someone who is other to you. That’s always a strength because in that make up you can do incredible things together. Maybe people just stop talking about it, I get more and more frustrated by people talking about change. Sometimes I just want to say, I think you like it like this, you like being able to stand on your pedestal, you like to be able to say you think about and support this alternative life. People on the left are the worst for it, they like to argue out these nuances.
By participating you're choosing not to do what the people in power want us to do, which is keep our heads down and think, "shit there's not much little old me can do about it".
By finding something and it has to be something you care about and doing that one thing you can make a difference.
KW: I am definitely guilty of talking about change. Before I met you I talked all the time but I didn't do anything. Then slowly, I've started to do things, tiny things but they lead to bigger things. Talking is not enough
MC: No it's not. You need to analyse what kind of impact you want to have on the world.
KW: Which leads me on to my final question. If you could change one thing about the world right now what would it be?
MC: oh god. I want to think strategically about this....
I would make it compulsory to vote in this country. I would make it compulsory for people to have to take some kind of decision, they would have an option to give a vote of no confidence and spoiling ballots would be an official say. I think that's what I would do.