Each Thursday as I sit down to write this blog, I’ve usually got an idea of what I want to focus on. On Monday, as it was International Women’s Day, I thought this week I might write about the women that inspire me, both creatively and in business – but as the week has progressed and further details have been released of the murder of Sarah Everard, it felt wrong to celebrate women but not to acknowledge the inequalities and dangers we still face.
I used to live close to the place where Sarah Everard disappeared – I’ve walked that route between Clapham and Tulse Hill many times, during the day and at night time. I didn’t feel any more in danger there than anywhere else – but really, that is the point: I (all women) have completely normalised the precautions we take to keep ourselves safe. Women will rarely part from a night out together without a ‘let me know when you’re home’; we plan the shortest and best lit route back; we carry our keys in hand; feel our quickening heart rate and creeping disquiet if someone approaches, the flood of relief as we unlock the door and step inside. Every time we set off for home, we have to tell ourselves that it’s all going to be fine.
But it isn’t fine. We shouldn’t have to feel fear, or make adjustments, put plans in place, or change our behaviour in order to simply get home safely.
Coming in the same week as vocal broadcasters accusing another woman of lying about her mental health challenges, and it feels like just being female is enough to provoke attack of one kind or another. I don’t think it’s a stretch to see the two incidents as points on the same pathway; they may be very different streams, but they flow into the same ocean.
In response to women sharing their experiences of being fearful when walking home alone, there has been a deluge of men (and women) across social media saying that it’s ‘not all men’ – of course we know that not all men will kill or commit violent crimes towards women, but just as with the Black Lives Matter movement, it isn’t enough to say ‘well, I’m not doing that’. If we want things to change we must all act. That means changing behaviours, however small: calling out ‘everyday’ sexism, recognising what is unwanted attention, believing women when they report assaults.
This week at times, it has felt like there is an unwillingness to listen to women or to empathise. The same is of course true when lived experiences of race, disability and sexuality are shared. If we don’t try to understand the experiences of others, and then change our behaviour in response, equality isn’t really possible.
I’ve written before about how reading and doing creative activities can help develop empathy – and how it’s something that can be learnt and developed at any age. All forms of art offer a way of sharing stories and better understanding someone else’s point of view. Stories are powerful; creating art in response to the story can help you to consider another’s experiences more deeply, to relate it to your own, and perhaps to reflect on how you might change in response.
That’s why it is so important to read stories of people different to you – whether that’s their gender, culture, sexuality, political views, even their age. It’s also why it’s so vital that we value and teach creativity, so that we learn to think beyond a story, so we can more easily imagine walking in someone else’s shoes, and to connect ideas to make positive changes in the real world.
One big problem is that over the last decade Arts subjects have been squeezed out of the National Curriculum across all age groups, resulting in the take up of Arts subjects at GCSE falling by close to 40% between 2010 and 2019.
Creativity is really only seen as necessary if you wish to pursue a career as an artist, not as something that is integral to all of our lives, and to a happier, more cohesive society.
It’s not just about Arts subjects – creative thinking has been stripped out of all subject areas. Instead, we’ve seen the return of fact recall and the labelling of parts over more creative responses. For some exam boards the curriculums in subjects such History and English have narrowed, the diversity of texts has decreased or barely altered, and across all subjects testing methods have been reduced to written exams, which disadvantages neurodiverse learners as well as those that simply don’t have a quiet place at home in which to study.
The last decade of English Education policy has actively reduced our potential to develop the creative thinking and empathy that might lead to a fairer society. In comparison, Scotland and Wales (as well as countries such as Finland, Canada and Singapore) are currently making changes that actually foreground creativity, so it isn’t all bad news.
When I talk about Bumblebee inspiring your creativity, I do so with the hope that it brings you joy, and fun, as well as making you think – but behind the creative inspiration sent to monthly subscribers is a more serious reason for Bumblebee’s existence. It feels like a drop in the ocean, but it’s a way of talking about why creativity matters, and a way to offer what is missing from mainstream education.
If we can read more widely, value creativity and use it to develop our empathy, perhaps we can change how we treat each other; and then hopefully everyone might get home safely.
For more on the positive impact that including creativity in the National Curriculum could have, take a look at The Durham Commission Report on Creativity and Education.