Running away to the circus was not on my life plan, especially not in later life. But as it turned out, I didn’t have to run away or be brave. The circus was right here in Brisbane; a welcoming, inclusive women’s community circus called Vulcana.
Vulcana is a fabulous organisation. It values women as role models and leaders and supports the empowerment of women through circus traditions of excitement, challenge, imagination, strength and inclusiveness. They see empowered women as essential in building and shaping strong communities. They had advertised for people interested in a project about the history of Women and Work called Small Change, loosely based on a movie and book called For Love or Money. Although I’d never dreamt of performing before, the project intrigued me. Vulcana wanted some older women to be involved and approached the mature aged dance group I’m a part of.
Being involved with Vulcana was an absolute joy. Apart from the buzz of taking part in a creative performance, what I loved most was that the show wasn’t about individuals, but about a diverse group of women, ranging in age from 18 to 72, working together to support each other. We shared and learnt from each other through our stories of work.
As an academic, I’m used to discussing ideas, but it was fascinating to be part of the transformation of abstract ideas into a show that was both entertaining and meaningful. The Vulcana leaders were skilled and supportive. Plus the project drew on ideas that I think matter – about the value of women to society.
My generation was the first for whom a career and a family was the norm rather than the exception. We reached adulthood in the late 1960s with the world on the cusp of change; we felt we could bring about a fairer, more just world for women – for everyone. ‘We had it all’ as the saying goes, but it was a real balancing act. We tried to do our best as workers and mothers, but often lost ourselves along the way. I’ve always been a working mother, at times been the main bread winner and was a single mother for a time. I know firsthand the double shift of work and home that’s a daily reality for many women.
In our discussion about Work Family balance, we developed an image of women balancing while walking on a ladder held high in the air, supported by other women. A story of mine accompanied the performance – about two of my children accidently breaking a bottle of red cordial in the kitchen. It began:
It’s the end of a long working day. As I’m struggling up stairs with a tired toddler and the shopping I’d picked up on the way home from work – after collecting the kids from school and day care – I can hear the older two bickering. Suddenly, the sound of splintering glass fills the air. I rush to the kitchen to find thick red liquid covering the floor, oozing under the fridge and stove. Staring at the calamity in front of me, I sink to my knees in fascination, right at the edge of the redness. And the image of a knife flashes up. And it’s my blood and warm and so easy and I could lie face down in the ooze and close my eyes and let go … and disappear.
I called it Spilling Blood because telling the story brought back the rush of feeling overwhelmed by the responsibilities and expectations of being a working mother. I’m passionate about supporting younger women, especially working mothers who nurture the next generation while contributing their skills to the workplaces. I’m hoping that we as a society can do a better job of supporting them; that we can reshape work in more humane, family-friendly ways that are better for men as well as women. Our society needs more women leaders and hopefully many of them can also be mothers if they choose to be.
Since I began this blog, on the eve of turning sixty, My ideas about what is possible for older women have been transformed. Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined performing at the Powerhouse in front of an audience of 250. To be 64 – an age where women become invisible – and stand on stage with the others taking a bow for the first time ever – I’m still tingling. The experience with Vulcana left me feeling re-energised, re –enthused and re-engaged – like revisiting the days of women’s collectives in the late 1970s. But it was not just the performance that was exciting. I took a meaningful part in a creative collaborative process, I had a sense of satisfaction and achievement – plus I had more fun than I can remember having since I was a kid. You can support Vulcana by donation or participation by going to their website.