On Making Mistakes, and the Definition of ‘Women’

Have you joined my newsletter? If so, you may have noticed in my celebration of International Women’s Day last Monday I attempted to be as inclusive as possible by using all words I’ve seen bandied about on the socials when referring to women. But here’s the catch – terms like womxn, womyn, and woman-identifying are not the enlightened and educated terms I thought they were*. I should have just said WOMEN. 

By referring to anyone who refers to themselves as a woman as anything other than a woman, you are othering them. I was othering them. I was (unintentionally, but still…) saying there were people who are not ‘normal’ women so they should have a special name separate from ‘woman’. It’s a way of underlining a perception of their difference and stating, in effect, the view that this person is not a woman. And that’s flat-out wrong.

If someone says they’re a woman, they’re a woman. No qualification or special titles needed.

Mistakes are human. I try to embrace making mistakes, even court them, because that’s often how we fallible humans learn. I tried to do something that I wasn’t quite sure about, hadn’t educated myself on, but did it anyway. I tried to be as inclusive as I could be, and instead I made a significant error. I’m sorry, and I won’t make that same mistake again. I have learned, and ask forgiveness.

This means, in a very tiny individual way, I hope I’ve grown. Just a little bit.

Trying to do your darnedest to be inclusive is worthwhile, and I won’t stop trying to do it. Getting it wrong means I will learn from it and gives me a fighting chance to be better next time. Also, learning from mistakes is often way more effective than learning by rote or emulation. There’s discomfort in being found wanting, and a deeper understanding of why and how to do the thing. That uncomfortable emotion deepens the memory, etches it further into your synapses. And maybe, as an aside, by witnessing my mistake, others won’t have to go through it to learn from it? 

I’ve made some right corking mistakes in my time! But I don’t think it’s that valuable (or a sensible career move) to go into any of them here… Sometimes I even burnt bridges, but most times I learned incredibly valuable lessons I still use today.

Ok, you’ve twisted my arm. For the sake of illustration, here’s a super embarrassing one:

On a short film, quite early in my career, I was working on both the sound design and the music. I’d never had any training or instruction on how to deliver the tracklaid files to a post house. I did it so incorrectly, the sound mixers couldn’t make head nor tail of it. And this was one of the big post-production houses in London (the producer at one point rode in the lift with Judi Dench – squeal! I love her so…). Oh, the shame of it. Needless to say, I was utterly mortified.

(Then on top of it the feeling that I’d completely let down my sex/gender… but that’s not the story here…)

Those brilliant sound mixers sat with me after they’d decided it was all pretty much unsalvageable and talked me through exactly how the work should have been done, and ever since then I’ve known how to tracklay the sound design, dialogue and music on a film mix. Super-duper valuable information. After that failed adventure, we ended up mixing instead at Shepperton Studios, which was as fully AWESOME as ever. I still felt utterly guilty that we’d had to go into the dub twice, but you can bet that second tracklay was a work of industry-standard art.

Be brave, be ok with making mistakes so long as your intentions are true. Own up when you get it wrong, ask for forgiveness, and make sure to learn those lessons to prevent it from happening again.

* This post on I Weigh’s Instagram first flagged up this error to me. If you’re on Insta, I highly recommend following Jameela on there. There’s some proper educational and righteous work on that account dealing with some tough issues in an accessible way.

Image: Flickr


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