International Women’s Day: Prepare to be awed by stories about iconic women

Bite-sized facts and huge tales come together in the Scottish storytelling tradition to educate and entertain. By Miriam Morris, Ruth Kirkpatrick and Claire MacNicol

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

As part of International Women’s Day, the Scottish Storytelling Forum is running an event to mark the occasion. Storytelling True Facts: Iconic Women will celebrate women in art, music and literature while unearthing interesting facts in the hopes of prompting “oohs” from the audience. Ahead of the event, National Storytelling Co-ordinator Miriam Morris and storytellers Ruth Kirkpatrick and Claire MacNicol share some tasters and give an insight into the Scottish Storytelling Forum.

The Forum and The Facts By Miriam Morris

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The Scottish Storytelling Forum is a diverse network of storytellers and individuals supporting Scotland’s vibrant storytelling community. Facilitated by Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland (TRACS), we’re based at the Scottish Storytelling Centre – the perfect venue to get some interesting storytelling gigs off the ground.

Do you know that the word “gig”, as in music gig, is an acronym for “God is Good”? Jazz players would claim God is Good when they got a stint in a club, thus, the acronym “gig” was formed. I heard that within a story once and it kind of sums up how stories are the perfect vehicle to deliver bite-sized facts.

Storytelling is such a varied spectrum: a champion of traditional myths in a contemporary world; an aid in education; a means to support mental health and wellbeing; a tool to help businesses communicate. And storytelling also simply provides an arena to kick back, socialise and hear some interesting tales.

We’ve got some great events lined up that will allow you to kick back and hear some tales, but also discover some interesting facts. Storyteller Jan Bee Brown will be sharing Trailblazer tales on Friday (which is International Women’s Day), and the inaugural theme of Storytelling True Facts tonight, will unearth facts such as how Madonna got into the groove and celebrate local stories such as The Edinburgh Seven.

The Edinburgh Seven were the first group of matriculated undergraduate female students at any British university. They matriculated in 1869 to study medicine – however, the university promptly charged them higher fees. And a loophole where university teachers were permitted but not required to teach women meant the women had to arrange lectures for themselves.

These fine women kick-started a campaign to allow women to have a university education that gained national attention and won them many supporters, including Charles Darwin.

What Would Sheryl Do? By Ruth Kirkpatrick

My niece, who is 32, has always been an inspiration to me in the confident way that she embraces life. She is a lovely person but has also been very successful in her career, in a field generally dominated by men. A few years ago, I asked how she coped with all the men she worked with. She said: “I ask myself, What Would Sheryl Do?”

After getting an explanation, I got to Googling Sheryl Kara Sandberg.

(The internet is such a great resource for research for the modern storyteller. Did you know that reliable search engine we all know and love, Google, was originally called BackRub? The creators, Page and Brin named it BackRub but in 1997, the domain Google was born and is a nod to the word “googol,” a mathematical term represented by the numeral one followed by 100 zeros.)

Sheryl Kara Sandberg is an American technology executive, activist, author, and billionaire. Once an executive at Google, she is now chief operating officer at Facebook and the first woman on its board.

Among other stories, I’ll be sharing her tale at Storytelling True Facts: She’s fascinating and an inspiration. As well as being a kick-ass businesswoman, Sheryl is an activist talking about the need for women to have equal opportunities to excel in the workplace and in their personal relationships.

She says women should pursue their professional goals without hesitation or apology. By overcoming internalised sexism and a lack of confidence, they could rise to the top of their fields, and they could bring other women up with them. If enough women “sit at the table” and “lean in”, they might be able to forge not just better careers for themselves but a more just society.

Sandberg released her first book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, co-authored by Nell Scovell in 2013.

What’s in a Bloomin’ name? By Claire MacNicol

What I have found most interesting in researching stories for this evening is how women’s lives are often so interconnected. A recent example being Olivia Colman’s speech at the Oscars and her acknowledgment of how fellow nominee Glenn Close’s oeuvre helped shape her own career.

Knickers are another fine example of this – well, the invention of bloomers to be exact. Bloomers were developed in the 19th century as a healthy and comfortable alternative to the heavy, constricting dresses worn by American women of that time. But how did they get their name? The abolitionist and suffragist Elizabeth Smith Millar wore a pair to the home of her friend Amelia Jenks Bloomer one evening and the first ripple in their story began.

Bloomer was an American women’s rights and temperance advocate. Even though she did not create the women’s clothing reform style known as bloomers, her name became associated with it because of her early and strong advocacy of the apparel and what it stood for.

Do you know that she became the first woman to own, operate and edit a newspaper for women? It was called The Lily and after Smith’s visit, Bloomer announced to her readers she had adopted the dress and, in response to many inquiries, printed a description of her apparel and instructions on how to make it.

By June, many newspapers had dubbed it the “Bloomer dress”, helping to kick-start a craze. Hence her name was forever attributed to the under garments.

The Bloomer became a symbol of women’s rights in the early 1850s. Suffragettes who adopted the new form of dress also advocated women’s right to vote and it became known as The Freedom Dress. Crowds gathered to not only hear these women’s radical words, but also to see their “scandalous” mode of dress. Fashion does get us talking!

In 1893, the Woman’s Congress of the World’s Columbian Exposition revived interest in the bloomer as an aid in improving women’s health through physical exercise and encouraged them for the use of cycling. I’ll be sharing some tales about Bloomers and Bicycles too, so if you’d like to know some more interesting facts, get on your bike and get over to the Storytelling Centre!

Storytelling True Facts: Iconic Women is at the ­Scottish Storytelling Centre tonight at 7pm. Buy tickets online at www.scottishstory or call 0131-556 9579

For more information on the Scottish Storytelling Forum, contact [email protected]