Tanya Day is a postgraduate student at Newcastle University, studying a Master’s degree in Museum Studies, currently volunteering with the Women of Tyneside project.
She loves to click-clack in wedged boots, but prefers to shuffle in slippers.
There’s no denying the power of a good ‘stomp-CLACK’! Hearing your heels slam and slap as you turn a corner and march down a corridor can make a woman feel she can conquer the world. But women’s high heels haven’t always carried this power, especially when worn to work. They could be seen as a symbol showing the lack of choice in what a woman could do.
For years, women wore shoes like these to work, because they had no choice. Even into the late 1900’s women were limited in what they could choose as a career, often being limited to clerical desk jobs. More often than not, a high heel was the expected, and often required, shoe for such ‘women’s jobs’. Scores of women wanted to do, and be, more. Yet, they had to continue to click around in heels, powerless to change their course, and unable to choose a different way.
Over the decades, and on the heels of many courageous women who tried to break societal expectations, this has slowly changed. Both World Wars had a big factor in eliciting this change as women undertook work in all kinds of factories in the absence of the usual male workforce. Finally, there were options, and those that wanted to break free could step into different shoes – literally, as well as figuratively. After each war, there were attempts to push women back into their old positions as the men returned, but they managed to keep a foot in the door; the door of change that broadened what women could do and achieve in their professional lives. These changes allowed for more choice. The choice to remain, listen and comply with society’s ideals, or the chance to make and follow their own destiny and ideas.
There’s nothing better than scoring a great new pair of heels. There’s also nothing like having the power to choose when and where you put them on. Now, women can choose to express their power in their careers with more sounds than ever before. Maybe you’ll choose to squelch in a pair of wellies as a geologist, an archaeologist, or a firefighter. You could choose to pad softly in plimsolls as a surgeon, or stomp in steel-toed boots as a construction worker. You could squeak in orthopedic shoes as a chef, tear along a running track in spiked trainers, or even shuffle in a full hazmat suit as you work to cure the world’s deadliest diseases.
Finally, women largely have the choice to truly be anything they wish to be. So rest assured that no longer are women limited to only wear high heels at a secretary’s desk. Now they can choose to slip on their stilettos, brogues or trainers, as they stalk around their office as the company CEO.
However, when Nicola Thorp was sent home from work in 2016 for refusing to wear her high heels at work, an examination into UK law took place as to whether this was legal. Whilst enforcing the wearing of heels or make-up is unlawful sex discrimination, the Government have not yet done enough to highlight that employers can not implement these dress codes. Have you ever been made to wear high heels in your workplace?
Within the Women of Tyneside project, we have worked around our 6 main themes: activism, opportunities and aspirations, body image, power and influence, health and wellbeing and female relationships.
From January we have been working with a group of women in Gateshead to explore the theme of health. We looked at objects from the museum such as health-care instruments, different menstrual products and items from female hospital wards. But we also looked at items like our scold’s bridle and archive images of women who had been arrested in North Shields in the early 1900s, to discuss how women’s health has been a thread that has continuously run through history and is rarely discussed or mentioned.
The women within our group then worked with a local singer-songwriter, Nicky Rushton, to reinterpret these items and talk about all of the prevalent health topics that are frequently deemed to be ‘taboo’: menopause, fertility, menstruation, mental health, to produce a series of songs to enter our Women’s Collection at the museum.
One of the songs which was borne from these sessions was ‘The Story of Peggy Pattison’; the women created a narrative about the life of one of the women within the ‘mug-shot’ archive photos. Helen, one of the incredible members of our group, has lent her creative writing skills to bring Peggy’s story fully to life…
I’ll introduce myself. My name’s Margaret. Or Peggy, depending on who you are. If you’re posh, then I’m Margaret, Margaret Pattison. Pleased to meet you, I’m sure. Aye, I can tip a curtsey as well. Just to keep you sweet. I know my place.
And if you’re one of us, from the fish quay, dragged up with countless other bairns whilst your Ma and Da worked their fingers to the bone, then Peggie’ll do nicely.
Becky Gee is the curator of the new collections display Watercolour At War at the Laing Art Gallery. For Becky, the most rewarding part of curating the exhibition was having the time to research artist Ruth Adams and to put on display a number of her works for the first time.
I knew very little about Ruth Adams (1893 – 1948) when I decided to include her 1937 double-sided watercolour The Eagles in the latest exhibition at the Laing Art Gallery. Watercolour at War examines the limitations faced by artists in wartime Britain and The Eagles perfectly illustrates how artists were reusing materials, Adams using both sides of the paper to experiment with seemingly entirely different ideas. It was only through a chance encounter in the paintings store at the Shipley Art Gallery, did I finally get the lead I’d been looking for, sparking a whirlwind of research that has resulted in a much clearer picture of this artist’s life, work and artistic connections.
Mandy Barker is the founder and Creative Director of independent branding studio Sail Creative, who puts social change and impact at the heart of all she does: “design doesn’t only need to look good – it can do good too”. Read on to find out what advice she would give to her 16 year-old self.
By Gemma Ashby (Project Co-ordinator for the Women of Tyneside project)
This blog was inspired by the incredible story of Jane Anne Cawthorn, a munitionette from Tyneside during World War I, shared with us recently by Jane’s great-granddaughter.
As many of us know, this year is the 100th anniversary of some women gaining the right to vote in the UK for the first time. Women’s changing roles in society, and more specifically the workplace, during the First World War is often cited as being one of the main reasons as to why this landmark legislation was passed in 1918.
Danni Gilbert is the Graphic Designer for independent branding studio Sail Creative, who have been behind the incredible branding of our project. Sail prioritise empowerment of their clients and work to inspire and create change with their designs for projects. Read on to find out what advice Danni would give to her 16 year-old self.