Gemma Cairney on opening up the feminism discussion

Gemma Cairney might be best known for presenting radio, but take the microphone away and you’ll find a woman passionate about championing talented women and challenging perceptions around important issues such as mental health.

As part of our celebrations of International Women’s Day 2017, we caught up with the stylist turned presenter to find out more…

Who is one woman you really admire?

I’ve loved Erykah Badu since I was really young. I did a documentary on her in 2011 and it was really special to me. It’s her vibe and image that gets me. She seems like she’s unashamedly a life explorer and makes you feel like you could do that approach too.

What do you do to prepare when you need to feel confident?

I’m not very good at set routines, I’m more scatter gun - and always feel guilty about that!

I definitely do have things that I do if I’m feeling worn down or knackered though, which I think affects your confidence – things like going swimming in the sea, doing something fun or basically looking after myself – doing nice things for myself, like go for a massage.

Or if it’s about feeling confident on a particular day when I need to be bold and feel the confidence to do it, it would probably just be that I’d wear some really outrageous shoes… My favourites are some crazy shiny purple chunky loafers at the moment!

When have you been proud of yourself for being bold?

I set up my own production company and I really wanted it to be different in terms of being not just one type of production. We took on a theatre show, which was pretty unconventional in itself. It’s called ‘My Beautiful Black Dog’ and is part gig, part theatre – and about depression.

A lot of it was really out of my remit of expertise so I collaborated with a lady called Rachel Tyson to make it happen. We worked together from development, to Kickstarter fund raising, to being sold out and on the 10 o’clock news.

That whole journey of putting someone else’s art at the forefront (Bridgette Aphrodite) and utilising your own networks to achieve that was really exciting. It’s such a good portrayal of the toughness and complexity of mental health.

It made me crumble every time I read the play because it’s so moving, but I believed it was really important and even life changing for other people to see it too.

I think it’s really important to continuously be on the lookout for people doing interesting things.

Who in your life do you respect for being bold for change?

There are so many brilliant women that I have met, that are my friends or even that I’ve just studied from afar. I think it’s really important to continuously be on the lookout for people doing interesting things.

I really love what Lauren Lavern and Sam Baker are doing with The Pool. It makes information accessible and bight and it’s this offering that is challenging and shaping what a magazine or website is and being more of a collective, which I’m in to.

I feel so lucky to see Annie Mac in action every week. She’s a really lovely woman and just seeing what she does, in being so clever and so on the ball when it comes to new music. And she's just a really badass woman with starting her own things and I think she’s absolutely awesome.

What would you like to see change in society to improve gender equality?

This is only something I’m coming to now, after I had to go through my own feminist awakening. It has been a smorgasbord of activity – from reading to panel discussions to opening my eyes, growing up and thinking about what feminism means to me. Now I’m almost leaning towards lessening the discussion on men and women and talking about people as people – shying away from ‘-isms’ and instead talking about community and politics in relation to emotion – a more genderless discussion and focus on humanity over one particular group because now more than ever it’s more higgledy-piggledy than just one sector and gender specifically.

My book Open is basically an example of that in practice – it is literally so open – it’s not meant to be read cover to cover. It’s not a conventional book, it’s part resource, there are some of my own stories in there, you can interact with it, write in it draw in it. Yes, it’s female skewing in that it’s written by a woman, but it speaks about life and I want it to be for men and women.

Follow us on Instagram to see more of our International Women's Day portraits and let us know which amazing women you're celebrating this week.

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