8th March 2020
Ramsgate RNLI crew member gives talk to celebrate International Women Day
Ramsgate RNLI's local yacht club, the Royal Temple Yacht Club invited Emma Sutton to talk about her life.
International Women's Day started back in 1977 when the United Nations invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the Day for women's rights and world peace, and has since been the custom for inspirational women to give talks at various events across the world.
The Royal Temple Yacht Club, based in Ramsgate since 1896, approached one of the local RNLI's female crew to share her personal experience of being a crew member as well as being a full time teacher and mother.
Emma Sutton has only been a full time crew member for just over a year, spending the previous year as shore crew gaining valuable experience as she had no knowledge of the sea before she joined up. Below, in her own words, are extracts from her talk.
'I am a mother, RNLI crew member, part – time PhD student and full – time secondary school teacher. I was very honored to be asked to talk about my story, yet equally confused as to what would be of interest about my seemingly unremarkable everyday life. We all wear a multitude of hats, as women, as humans. When people get to know me better wearing and changing between these various hats and roles, I am often met with ‘wow – you’re busy!’ or asked how I successfully keep all these balls in the air. The reassuring truth is, I don’t always!
There have been days when I get up and there are tears and tantrums about brushing knots out of my daughter’s hair, trying to desperately locate a school reading book, or I find that there is no cereal in the cupboard for breakfast.
There are times when I have arrived at work and the students are challenging in their behaviour, the photocopier is jammed, there are 60 kids’ reports due by 4pm, a parent wants to talk on the phone at length and by the final lesson of the day I realise the coffee that I made at break is still half – drunk, now sat on my desk, cold.
There are times when the pager has gone off and I have made it on time to attend a shout, and times when I have missed the boat, and one time when I rushed down to the lifeboat station and mindlessly left the bath running and the back door open!
It is rarely plain sailing.
There is an idiom that has been in use since the 1940’s; ‘behind every great man is a great woman’ which implies the woman is behind the man, or that the woman, be it mother or wife, have a hand in a mans success. Although at one point in history used as a feminist slogan, this limiting narrative has long-since been perpetuated through societal norms and values, subconsciously there is perhaps still an element of surprise when a woman appears to be juggling a workload, volunteering and parenting and therefore women who appear to be ‘doing it all’ are seen as superhuman, when actually we are just doing what we have always done, however what men have done unquestionably for years….and some! Of course we all rely upon each other as a support network and our accomplishments are only ever as great as those who surround and support us, regardless of gender.
At work, the majority of my teaching timetable is dominated by art and design and design technology teaching and as a creative person I have learnt to live by a few basic principles, to always be authentically true to myself and to stubbornly never compromise on this, that there is always a positive in a negative (what we call in art a ‘happy mistake’), and just like many pieces of artwork or projects we are continuously a work in progress. I often find myself saying to both my students and my own daughter that ‘tomorrow is another day’ and I guess I say this as an internal mantra to myself too.
Brought up in Hastings, a fishing town with a shingle beach and in an old Victorian flat which overlooked the seafront, I have always felt most at home and connected when living by the coast. One of the many things that I had always wanted to do, but never actually acted upon was volunteering for the RNLI. Being brought up by the sea I had always been made aware and had respect for what the organization did and despite not having a maritime background had always had an unwavering and inexplicable desire to join as crew. I went down to Ramsgate Lifeboat station on a cold and rainy day and even though I knew I probably looked on the surface like a highly unlikely candidate, expressed my interest….a couple of years later and I am now a part of the crew.
Following my gut and chasing the things that I may otherwise have talked myself out of, or convinced myself can wait, until perhaps a more sensible time, or as something to pursue in the future, has become a new way of approaching life for me. Throwing myself at life and opportunities, even when they seem to go against common sense, or on the days when I feel tired and would quite like to stay in bed instead, showing up, embracing uncertainty and challenging adversity has added a new quality to my life, something that resembles buoyancy.
Having enjoyed the privilege of being a part of the crew for such a short period of time I do not have very many tales to regale, however there are a couple of shouts that have resonated with me.
Apart from the obvious rewarding sense of giving something back to the community, the most enjoyable thing about volunteering for me has been getting to know the crew. I have never felt more welcomed as a part of a team as I have done with the Ramsgate lifeboat crew, of all the round holes this square peg has tried to fit in, surprisingly, this has so far turned out to be the most comfortable.
I questioned what may be of interest about my seemingly unremarkable everyday life and perhaps it is the everyday itself, the multiple roles played, the various hats worn by women that is both interesting and remarkable, the cumulative effect of juggling many small acts; as mothers, in our jobs, through relationships. In 1977 the Nobel Prize winner Rosalyn Yalow, a medical physicist said that ‘we must believe in ourselves or no one else will believe in us, we must match our aspirations with the competence, courage and determination to succeed.’ A US Suffragette called Elizabeth Stanton also claimed that ‘the best protection any woman can have…is courage.’ I like to think that women sharing their stories and everyday lives with openness provides a foundation for that courage, perhaps acknowledging the remarkable and interesting in our every day lives in the various roles we assume, supporting each other as we muddle through.'
These days the RNLI crew is made up of both men and women selflessly volunteering and playing active roles throughout the charity. Funding is entirely raised from public donations in order for the charity to continue to save lives at sea. Without people like Emma, we would be unable to fulfil our role and hopefully reading some of her story will mean that the next generation will be inspired to join our teams.