International Women's Day - Celebrating Uniqueness

With international women’s day this week I’ve been considering what I'm going to share as a keynote speaker at the various events I am booked for. 


Often I find it difficult to give a ‘female perspective’ on my time in the mountains as quite simply there wasn’t any particular moment when I experienced sexism or felt that my gender was holding me back, and I think that is testament to the wonderful people I encountered as much as it is because of the type of qualities that mountaineering demands. 


The mountains are great levellers when it comes to mental, emotional and physical strength as well as planning and decision making, and often the higher I climbed the more I saw women begin to excel. 


Mountaineering at its heart is an endurance sport, where meticulous attention to detail, great team-ship and the ability to stay calm under pressure is as important as the brute strength it takes to haul yourself and your heavy pack up steep and unrelenting walls of ice. In that regard, there is no reason why either gender should be expected to be better than the other- it really comes down to the individual and their strengths and weaknesses.


That got me thinking about the importance of uniqueness and our perceptions of ourselves.



In my presentations I speak about the importance of being open minded about who we think we are, and how having a set identity could lead to narrow minded decision making. The more we believe we’ve got our identity and our likes and dislikes all buttoned up, the less likely we are to take on a new challenge or have the desire to step outside our comfort zones and into the unknown.


Conversely (there’s always a paradox when it comes to the human experience!) when it comes to identity and our sense of self, as important as it is to remind ourselves that we are not fixed as a person, it’s also perhaps more important to celebrate what makes us as individuals unique and different from those around us.


Earlier last week I was lucky enough to attend a lecture given by Iain McGilchrist. Iain was speaking about how ‘superfluous, arguably pointless and definitely unnecessary’ we are as living things- not just human beings but all living things. ‘We didn’t need to be at all’ he said ‘and yet we are’.

If your best friend didn’t exist, could you have imagined them?
— Iain McGilchrist, Psychiatrist

One could take this as rather depressing, but Iain saw it as cause for celebration of our uniqueness. He asked us to imagine our best friend and I instantly thought of my friend Jo. He went on, ‘...if your best friend didn’t exist, could you imagine them? Their idiosyncrasies, their smile, their passions and what made them laugh?’


I thought about Jo and immediately came to the conclusion that no, I could never have imagined her if she didn’t already exist. And therein Iain’s point lies- if your best friend is so utterly unique, not from other people but from all living beings, then how beautiful and incredible is that? We are all equally unique in our own way and therefore- why on earth would we choose to try and be anything other than ourselves?


So, for International women’s day this year my message to all is to celebrate your uniqueness and the uniqueness of others. 


When we distil that rather right hemisphere message into everyday (arguably left hemisphere) life we can look at how we fit into our communities- friends, family and work by asking these questions:


  • What do others value in us?
  • What do we bring to our communities that nobody else can bring?
  • What can we celebrate about those around us? 
  • How we can we use our uniqueness to make sure everyone in a team does their part to their best ability? 


Lastly, we must remind ourselves that just because we are good at some things and bad at others, it doesn’t make us better or worse than the person standing next to us- it makes us unique and different from them.


So let’s put an end to comparison, stop trying to put ourselves into boxes as this or that and celebrate ourselves and others as contradictions, beautifully flawed and utterly unique.


As Iain said,

‘ are completely pointless, utterly superfluous and totally unnecessary. You are here as a celebration of life. You are a mind bogglingly beautiful and complex organism which arose out of the big bang and took billions of years to form into who you are today.’
— Iain McGilchrist, Psychiatrist


Wise words from a wise person. Regardless of gender- let’s celebrate uniqueness this international women’s day.