Scientist and exploreur • United Kingdom
“To this day, it is assumed that polar expedition completed by women must be somehow lesser in its physical achievement that similar journeys undertaken by their male contemporaries”
Felicity Aston MBE is a British Polar Explorer, Research Scientist and Author. In the year 2000 she was posted to a British Antarctic research station as a meteorologist for a continuous period of two and a half years including two consecutive winters. She went on to establish and lead her own polar expeditions including the first British women’s crossing of the Greenland ice cap in 2006 and in 2012 becoming the first woman to ski across the Antarctic landmass alone.
Say ‘Polar Explorer’ and the chances are that the image called to mind is that of a tall, bearded man in furs. To this day it is assumed that a polar expedition completed by a team of women must be somehow lesser in its physical achievement than similar journeys undertaken by their male contemporaries. The evidence is there in the well-meaning comments that greet the team’s return – ‘Oh, weren’t you lucky with the weather/conditions/sastrugi’ – or in the justification that it is assumed is needed for the inclusion of women in a team – ‘Women are so good at the psychological stuff and the team work’ – or the surprised incredulity of the press coverage – ‘WOMAN crosses Antarctica alone!’ These incidents are slight but a line can easily be drawn between these micro-prejudices and the toxic sexism that still blights so much of our societies. Creating all-female teams to make polar journeys may seem a tangential way to tackle gender inequality but I see its success in the words of those inspired by these expeditions to follow their own ambitions, or those encouraged to help the women of their family be empowered to make their own choices. Women of all ethnicities, beliefs and cultures have always been explorers, leaders, warriors and scientists. We are not newcomers and as the world looks ahead and searches for pathways to a better future on our challenged and rapidly-changing planet, I hope we remember that women MUST be at the heart of it all as equal partners. We do not need to earn our seat at the table, it is our right.