Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Wisdom of Women

Imagine having all the women in the world to lean on when you need advice. Dublin-based doctor and author Juliet Bressan and co-author Michelle Jackson have tapped into that fountain of knowledge and produced a unique and inspiring book that shares tips, thoughts and advice from ordinary women on a myriad of issues.

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any.” This pearl of wisdom from African American author, Alice Walker is a tenet that rings true for Dr Juliet Bressan and Michelle Jackson.
Earlier this year, while despairing at Ireland’s economic tailspin, the two friends and best-selling authors were maddened that half of our society appear powerless to influence our recovery.
They felt that the main institutions of wisdom are governed by men, and are articulated by men: women's wisdom is ignored by the institutions of society. The opinions of women were irrelevant in what President Mary McAleese branded a “testosterone driven” crisis.
“Not one woman caused this disastrous situation and not one woman’s opinion was being sought on how to repair it. We thought this is nonsense because women are managing financial crises every day of their lives; they’re managing emotional crises, family crises, death, bereavement; you name it, women manage it. We are the gender that keeps everything going on a daily basis,” says Juliet, who alternates her life between writing novels, working as a GP specialist in addiction and HIV-related health, running a Performing Arts Medicine clinic for musicians, and writing a popular column for Scope.
She and Michelle, a fellow-author and friend, decided to restore some of the balance of power by giving women back their voice. The end result is a new book celebrating the knowledge and wisdom of women for women, with more than 1,000 contributions from women all over the world.
The authors confide that when they first conceived the idea for this book, they had no idea where to start. They wanted to write a book of wisdom for women, and they needed to find a way of getting at what was in women's heads, and collecting their shared experiences into a book.
The answer was Facebook, an online social community that connects people throughout the world.
Juliet Bressan and Michelle Jackson
The friends set up a page on Facebook called “What Women Know” and within a few months they had registered more than 1,200 fans of all ages, from all backgrounds and from many different countries.
“The Facebook page got the book going very quickly. I believe this is the first book written entirely on Facebook. There were well over a thousand women who were contributing to the questions or problems that we posted on our status updates,” explains Juliet. “Every day we’d post a new question and ask the women for their advice. It was very interesting because what we noticed was that women were so pleased to be asked about what they thought on an issue.
“Some of the answers are just amazing. A lot of it was quite empowering and inspiring. Sometimes I’d read a response and cry because I couldn’t believe that a woman was sharing a story that was so heartbreaking; women wrote about death and abortion, loss and tragedy, and domestic violence came up a lot.
“But one very strong theme that came across I felt was that a lot of women are very lonely; they don’t have any real power in society and yet they are doing a very powerful job, whether it’s looking after kids or elderly parents or whatever their responsibility, they are contributing hugely to society in a very quiet and undervalued way.”
Through the Facebook page, Juliet and Michelle reached out to women everywhere, encouraging them to join in discussions and share ideas, stories, knowledge and wisdom about money, love, friendship, work, health, spirituality, everything that matters in our lives.
“Women tend to be collaborative and cooperative, we don’t tend to be competitive. We are inclined to solve problems by asking each other for advice, and often we give that advice by sharing our own stories or personal experiences. That’s what this book is all about,” Juliet tells Scope.
“From my point of view, writing this book and the Facebook interactions very much helped me in my job as a GP. None of this is aimed at academics, it’s aimed at everyday women and those are my patients.
“A patient of mine, who joined the Facebook page, is one of the most active contributors. Her posts are lovely. It gave me a bond with her and other women that I wouldn’t necessarily have bonded with at that level.
“Also, it’s astonishing what people will actually come up with when you ask them for an opinion. I think that is something that is missing in the world today is actually asking ordinary people for their opinion. We have all these experts getting it wrong. We need to ask the people who are at the real coalface, the people all around us.”

What Women Know is published in hardback by Hachette and is available in all good booksellers or on

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