Sara Sheridan celebrates Scotland's foremothers in her new book
credit: Bethany Grace
Historical novelist Sara Sheridan rewrites Scotland's history to tackle gender equality in Where are the Women?
In Where are the Women?: A Guide to an Imagined Scotland, author Sara Sheridan tackles the thorny problem of gender representation on our streets and in our collective landscapes. By taking Scotland and rewriting it, Sheridan gives us Triduana's Seat (named for a pious Pict) instead of Arthur's Seat. And rather than it belonging to Fingal, it's Malvina's Cave we visit on Staffa. It's quite astonishing just how different the country seems when its monuments, streets and statues are renamed.
Even Sheridan, who writes historical novels with women at the centre, was surprised to find that a clear narrative revealed itself to her once she started joining up various time periods: Scotland's women have consistently been loud, angry, passionate and powerful, with one generation of firebrands leading on to the next. She discovered 'the sense that our foremothers are amazing. They weren't at home doing nothing; they were fighting.' Yet those fights, and many achievements, are forgotten as if they have no part in our history.
Named as one of the Saltire Society's most influential women, past and present, Sheridan is something of a firebrand herself. A strong work ethic (when I caught up with her, she was co-ordinating launches for three separate books all out within the space of a few months) combined with her writing and data-crunching and historical researching skills make her perfectly placed to take on a project of this scale.
REEK, the perfume company Sheridan runs with daughter Molly, crafts scents that are a living memorialisation to inspirational women. In Where Are the Women?, Sheridan finds new ways to bring the past into the present. Not that this was in any way an easy task. There are so many women missing from our collective consciousness (only 15% of the statues raised in the UK are of women) that it feels impossible to recollect – and commemorate – them all.
Sheridan certainly does her best, though. What was initially meant to be a 50,000-word tome quickly increased by 50%, and the final volume includes 1000 women. There could have been more, but the book was never meant to be an exhaustive, static list. In fact, Sheridan hopes it will be a guide not only to the places in Scotland and the women associated to them, but also a blueprint for change. There have been some big advances in gender equality over the years, but there's a 'confidence that comes from your landscape,' Sheridan explains. 'And we women don't have that.'
A 50/50 split in statues and street names could have a huge impact on the subconscious foundations of future generations. Renaming or reclaiming some of the monuments to men might seem like a radical route, but what becomes clear when reading this book, is that it's high time to celebrate the foremothers that helped create Scotland.
Where Are the Women?: A Guide to an Imagined Scotland is out now, published by Historic Environment Scotland.
Presented by Speaker Buzz.
Feminist, activist, author, perfumer and journalist – Sara has many fascinating strings to her bow. The Edinburgh-based writer has a particular passion for talking about telling the story of forgotten women in history, women’s rights, feminism, diversity and the history of the British lady.