Becky of Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors
Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors was established in Horsham, West Sussex in 1855. The company now also has offices in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint, and employs a team of almost 30 local people who have a diverse range of interests. Ahead of International Women’s Day – 8 March – Community Co-Ordinator Becky reflects on her recent resolution to consume more media which is led by women, and how this has impacted her work at Freeman Brothers.
The first book I finished in 2019 was ‘With The End In Mind’ by Dr Kathryn Mannix. I really enjoyed Dr Mannix’s book, and had largely read it for personal reasons, thought it clearly applied to my work too – I tend to not do too well when trying to read purely through obligation! At this point I didn’t realise it, but 2019 was to become a year during which I focused on women-led media.
During the early part of the year, I joined Horsham’s Women in Business networking group. There were several reasons behind my decision, with my primary aim being to continue to promote Freeman Brothers to new markets, but I also chose this as a self-development step – during the early years of my career, I’d found networking incredibly uncomfortable, and I decided that this was something I’d like to change. The Women in Business group had been recommended as friendly and approachable, so it seemed a good place to start!
This was quickly proven, when one of the members recommended an event to me, which was taking place as part of the Horsham District Year of Culture. Freeman Brothers had sponsored an event as part of the Year of Culture, but I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to explore any others. The recommendation was for a ‘Cook and Book’ event – a supper club which included a talk from an author, plus dinner with them, and a copy of the book they were promoting. There was one taking place each month, and having scanned through the list and learned more about the books, I chose April’s event, for which the speaker was Viv Groskop.
The event was inspiring, thanks to an engaging talk, and the provision of a book which I was to find incredibly useful – ‘How To Own The Room’. It was whilst reading this and Melanie Reid’s ‘The World I Fell Out Of’ that I truly realised how different the female lens is – men and women tell stories in different ways, and offer advice accordingly. Having found that the female perspective varied so much from the male, I decided that I would make a concerted effort to consume more books, films and television programmes which were produced by women.
I hadn’t previously considered that there was a lack of female influence in my life: I grew up among other women, and have worked in industries which appeared to be female-dominated, but when I learned more about the film industry in particular, I was reminded not only that women struggle to break through to the upper tiers in most industries, but that in some, it’s still rare to be a woman even on the ground floor.
The MPAA’s Global Theme Report of 2018 found that 51% of cinemagoers were women, but further statistics reveal that they’re not necessarily seeing films by or about women: 10.6% of the 100 top grossing films of 2019 were directed by women, and 43 of the top 100 films featured a female lead or co-lead character. Famously, only one woman – Kathryn Bigelow – has won the Academy Award for Best Director (a further four have been nominated and, controversially, none were nominated in 2020).
Despite these statistics demonstrating a marked inequality in terms of gender representation, they are considered to be a success. 2020 Academy Award nominations notwithstanding, in 2018, only 4.5% of the top 100 grossing films had been directed by women. It remains to be seen whether the increase in the commercial success of female directed films will continue.
My own quest in 2019 drew me to see ‘Booksmart’, ‘Blinded By The Light’ and ‘Animals’, all of which I enjoyed. For me, ‘Animals’ and ‘Booksmart’ had a ripple effect: Holliday Grainger, star of the former, also starred in a BBC crime drama which aired during the autumn, and I’ve since read the latest novel by the film’s writer, Emma Jane Unsworth; following ‘Booksmart’, the co-leads’ stars are on the rise – Kaitlyn Dever appeared in a brilliant crime drama on Netflix, and I’m looking forward to seeing Beanie Feldstein in an adaptation of Caitlin Moran’s ‘How To Build A Girl’.
Books written by women were easier to learn about and access. I began by sorting through my ‘to read’ stack at home and prioritised those authored by women. I began with Priya Parker’s ‘The Art of Gathering’ (which I reviewed here): this in particular had a positive impact on my work, as I used Parker’s framing of events in a workshop I led during the autumn (in fact, I used tips from Groskop’s book then too!). Prior to the workshop, I also read Farrah Storr’s ‘The Discomfort Zone’, which also proved useful – it was a timely reminder that being uncomfortable when pushing yourself can be necessary, and help you to make progress.
All of this and a few more titles led me to a book I’d heard a lot about throughout the year – Caroline Criado Perez’s ‘Invisible Women’. The book discusses data bias and how this impacts our daily lives: it’s fascinating – and terrifying! – to know that everything from how cars are designed to how winter gritting systems established, and how our working day is organised to how tools are built is designed for and by men. I hadn’t previously realised that the ‘average person’ mentioned in many studies or scenarios is actually an ‘average man’, and a rather outdated one at that – the ‘average man’ in one commonly-understood situation (the use of crash-test dummies in cars) was designed in the 1950s and was based upon the fiftieth percentile male of the day.
Until I read the book, I wasn’t aware that what I feel is a natural habit that I display (due to my organised nature, and the fact that organising things is my job!) is, in fact, a gendered trait: that of ‘trip-chaining’, which is the practice of running errands within a sequence, or adding them into our days. For example, I’ve often gone to meet a supplier to collect an order whilst on my way to work; then, during the day, needed to go out to run an errand for work and fit this in with a personal one at lunchtime; all before going home via the supermarket.
I won’t spoil the entire book for you – particularly as the paperback version is out next week – but another favourite – and alarming – tidbit of mine is the fact that, in many parts of the world, women are less likely to survive natural disasters, because not only is it less likely that they will be taught skills such as swimming (and therefore be vulnerable in events such as tsunamis), but there are also cultural limitations. Certain countries and cultures prohibit women from leaving their homes without a male chaperone – unfortunately, there’s an additional blow here: warnings regarding impending dangerous situations are often broadcast in public spaces, and therefore far more likely to be heard by men and not women, as the women are at home. These combined factors lead to women unnecessarily perishing during these events.
‘Invisible Women’ is one of my favourite books that I’ve read, and I would urge you to read it too.
The theme for International Women’s Day this year is ‘Each For Equal’, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned via consciously consuming more women-led media, it’s this: it is only of benefit – it has benefited my work, my relationships, and my understanding of the world; it benefits those who produce these texts, as it provides them with ongoing opportunities; and it sends a message to those commissioning further work and also leading activities such as research – women comprise half of the world’s population, and it’s necessary that they are included as such.