E17: BONUS: Woman and Subcultures: Lucy Leonelli, A Year in the Life

[00:00:00] Section: Podcast introduction

[00:00:00] Overdub: Hello, welcome to The Story of Woman, the podcast exploring what a man-made world looks like when we see it through her eyes. Woman's perspective is missing from our understanding of the world. This podcast is on a mission to change that. I’m your host, Anna Stoecklein Lau and each episode I'll be speaking with an author about the implications of her absence - how we got here, what still needs to be changed, and how telling her story will improve everyone's next chapter.

[00:00:34] Section: Episode level introduction

[00:00:35] Anna: Hello friends. Welcome. Welcome. And thanks for being here. We've got a special bonus episode for you today. It's a bonus episode because the author writes more about human and group behavior, rather than looking at the world through the female gaze, even though she is a female.

Um, and because the second half of the episode is me being interviewed. So something a little different. My guest today is Lucy Leonelli, a good friend of mine, an author of the book A Year in the Life. 

Overwhelmed by her own mortality, lucy suffers from a very, very bad case of FOMO. One of the worst cases I have ever seen. And you might think I'm exaggerating, but do you know anyone that has quit their job and spent an entire year living with a bunch of different groups of people just to see what they are all about in case they're missing out on something. Uh, oh. And then writing a book about it.

That is exactly what Lucy did. In an attempt to uncover the most authentic version of herself and to make sure that she wasn't missing out on any experiences or identities that she hadn't tried out yet, she lived with 26 very different British subcultures and learned a lot about herself, the world and what it means to be human. You know, these groups that she lived with were all seemingly incredibly different, but she is so great at finding the thread that runs through all these groups and demonstrating how we are all way more alike than we are different and how we all ultimately just want community and connection and to feel like we belong. 

And in this world, that's getting more divisive by the minute, her book isn't only filled with fun stories about her year of exploration, but also contains incredibly important messages and learnings about identity and community and the nature of being human that are all more important than ever. And it's hilarious. Lucy is really funny. So, it's got a little bit of everything. We get into all of this in the episode, why she did it, what it's like to be a stranger in someone else's world and all of the beautiful things she took away from this experience.

And then in the second part of the episode, Lucy flips the script to ask me questions that she might have asked any of these subcultures that she lived with. Starting with the question, is feminism a subculture?

And because Lucy and I had a good, long chat about all of this, there is 21 minutes of bonus content for Patreons from this episode, including me answering all of those recurring questions that I ask most guests at the end. What does feminism mean to me? What's the story of woman mean? And what's my earliest memory of gender. So if you haven't already check out the links and the show notes after this for how you can become a Patreon for less than a cup of coffee, to hear the bonus content and to support me creating new episodes. But for now, sit back and enjoy my conversation with Lucy Leonelli about her book A Year in the Life.

[00:03:58] Section: Episode interview

[00:03:59] Anna: Hi, Lucy. Welcome. Thank you so much for being here today. I can't wait to chat with you.

[00:04:04] Lucy Leonelli: Great to be here. Thanks so much for having me, Anna.

[00:04:07] Anna: Yeah. So to start, I don't usually ask people about their writing process and how they got the idea for the books that they've written, but yours is particularly unique. So I wanted to start by having you tell us about your book and what led you to want to write it?

[00:04:27] Lucy Leonelli: Sure, so the book is, uh, a very kind of personal journey. So I was at the time living a very corporate life. Enjoying it, but feeling a little bit blinkered within that world, as in, I always growing up, had a whole bunch of different hobbies and spent time with lots of different types of people. And then coming into the corporate world, it was a little bit more homogenous and it was just a sort of cycle of, I appreciate this is a very entitled thing to say, but like skiing holidays in the winter and then summer holidays and then dinner parties with friends and which was enjoyable, but I was missing out on something out there, something different, something non mainstream, and probably that combined with some kind of third life crisis.

Um, so I actually went on a silent meditation retreat and spent that time thinking, okay, what have I enjoyed most about the last 12 months? And there was a time that came to mind. A friend and I were playing date the alphabet, which is where you take it in turns, arranging different dates for each other. And A was art. We did the life drawing class. B was bell ringing. And for bell ringing, we approached this group of bell ringers and said, Hey, can we come up and ring with you? And for American listeners, this is typically every church in the UK has a bell tower and has a group of people that go up and will ring those bells.

And they are a tight community. So we walked into this world, you know, kind of unknowing, not knowing what to expect. They were hugely welcoming. They were a really tight group of friends and families. Some of them have been ringing for, for generations. And they invited us in, gave us a cup of tea and showed us their world. And we really kind of lifted the lid on a subculture. And I remember going home that night and feeling like I had like electricity in my veins, just being so excited about discovering this new world that I had no idea existed and how welcoming they were to me. And then I thought, okay, I wanna do this for a year.

So my plan was to, well, the plan evolved over time, but it was to go out there and explore all of these different worlds. I wanted to give it a bit of a, a construct. So I decided to do a through Z, as we did before in the dating the alphabet. And for each letter, I wanted to spend a week of my time completely immersing myself in that subculture.

So understanding, what it meant to be a part of that world, getting involved in all of their various different activities, rituals, customs, and then spending a week after that, writing about it. And beautifully, there are 26 letters in the alphabet and 52 weeks in a year. So I got to live with each group for one week and then write about them for one week and work my way through the alphabet in 12 months.

[00:07:18] Anna: I think that is just one of the most fascinating stories. And you write about that in the introduction to your book. And I know I came away from this with a whole list of things that I wanted to do, uh, go to a circus, go to a dog show, do a battle reenactment for sure. But it was just so inspiring to see, cuz I definitely, I feel that pull as well. And I think a lot of us feel that pull, but a lot of us don't ever do anything about it. So I think that that's great that you didn't just do something about it, but you went all in on it. So can you define for us what exactly is a subculture?

[00:07:55] Lucy Leonelli: Yes. It's a little difficult to define. I think we all have a vague idea of what it means, but I spent a lot of time researching, okay, you know, what does the English dictionary say about this word? And it's really a group of people that have something in common that was the very loose definition of it.

It's typically non mainstream. So, non mainstream groups of people that share something, be that a passion, a lifestyle, a spirituality. There are also different nuances of, of language that's used in that community, sometimes wardrobe. It can also be loosey defined as perhaps a tribe. Just a group of people that come together and, and share something.

[00:08:36] Anna: Love it. And just so everyone gets an idea of the types of communities that Lucy lived in for this year. I'm just gonna quickly breeze through the alphabet of who you lived with. So we had aristocrats, battle reenacters, circus dog showing, Essex, Fox hunters, goths, hill baggers, intentional communities, Jack Duckworth, the Kaballah center, LARPers, Morris dancers, naturists or nudists for our American listeners, that was one of my favorite chapters. Otherkin, pagans, drag, Queens racing, SF super fans, which SF doesn't stand for. Sci-fi what does it stand for?

[00:09:17] Lucy Leonelli: It does. Yeah. Speculative fiction or science fiction. Yeah. Yeah. 

[00:09:21] Anna: So like Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings... train spotters, UFOlogists, vampires, Wickens extreme sports, yogis, and the zeitgeist movement. So a wide variety of communities that you explored there. Did you have a favorite?

[00:09:41] Lucy Leonelli: Ooh, it's a tricky one. Um, there were, yes, I did have a favorite. Who am I kidding? Yes, it was LARPing.

[00:09:50] Anna: It was which one?

[00:09:51] Lucy Leonelli: It was LARPing. So Live Action Role Playing. So just to set the scene, I don't know if everybody knows what laughing is. It is effectively Dungeons and dragons acted out in real life.

So, it's, if you've ever wanted to be in the time of Tolkin or talking rights about, forgive me middle earth or, game of Thrones, if you ever wanted to live in that world, this is your opportunity to do that. So we came together in a scout camp of around a thousand people, all divided into different factions.

So some were orks, some were goblins, some were knights. I was at one of the knights. Some were beast men, you know, half animal, half person. And we were all actually assigned our own characters. So you can pick from your characters, you can be somebody that is very different to your own personality, for example.

So if you are someone who is typically very introverted and perhaps a little kind of cautious in environments, you could play somebody that's a barbarian, just has all the confidence is in the world and is kind of outrageous in the way that he shows up, he or her shows up. So we pick these characters and then you go out there and over the course of the weekend, the plot unfolds.

So you can get involved in rituals. You can get involved in big battles and people have foam swords, and they are, they're actually very realistic. There's a whole industry around this, too, that, that create all of these weapons, bow and arrows, things like that. There's all sorts of politicing that happens. There are various different levels within all of the factions. So you have Kings and Queens and they might need to be introduced to these other factions. So you go along to their tent and somebody's cooking a pig on a spit and you go there and you have mead and there are taverns and you have menstruals that walk around the paths playing instruments and singing.

And it's just, it really is just like being in another world. It's pure escapism, and adult play something that you don't really do as grownups. Right. It feels ridiculous. And I was super uncomfortable. It's like the geekiest thing ever. But the thing I loved about it is it really shines a light on how made up everything is in the real world anyway. And, and I know, this is talked about in another of your podcast, but is, is all the constructs, all the societal constructs. And this is true for gender, right. Very true for gender, but also just true for the world. So within LARPing, you pick a character and then you are okay, I'm gonna be this type of personality I'm gonna, this is gonna be my physical representation called a phy rep, so, you know, I'm gonna have elf ears, for example, I'm gonna wear this kind of cape. This is how I'm gonna show up as this person. And you're then kind of fixed into that character for the weekend, but also with all these hierarchies, like I was genuinely really nervous around like the more senior ranking people.

Like I was too scared to go up and talk to the king genuinely was, and then at 10 o'clock at night, they call time out, which is when we all step out of our characters. And everybody just becomes themselves again until 8:00 AM the next morning and suddenly everything changes. And actually, I was fine with talking to the guy that plays the king because he wasn't the king anymore.

You know, he was just, this guy sat there in like a black t-shirt and you know, was kind of shy all of a sudden. So it's, this just puts a mirror up to society and makes you realize that actually all of these things that kind of, we internalize and we hold so dear and they give us all of this anxiety in the real world are just manmade. And there's a real joy that, that, that brought me.

[00:13:20] Anna: Wow. Yeah, that's fascinating. That's so true, I wanna get into all of that, of what you've learned because not everyone, pretty much no one goes around and lives with as many different groups as you've already lived with, explores as many different perspectives as you have. So I can only imagine the learnings that you've taken away from that.

I mean, that's one thing that I really liked about your book. You not only are a great storyteller and really took us into those different subcultures, but you were able to draw parallels and connections and pull out the deeper learnings from it all. So I wanna start with, you started in the beginning talking about your kind of childhood and upbringing and even into your adult life of how you like to collect different versions of yourself. So can you tell us what exactly you mean by that?

[00:14:14] Lucy Leonelli: Yes. So I, the book has had many titles in its time and one of the titles that stuck around for quite a while was FOMO. So Fear Of Missing Out. And that is something that plagues my every day So, I give an example in the book of going to Glastonbury festival, which is a huge music festival in the UK.

And I guess an equivalent of sorts in the US would be Burning Man, but it's very experiential. So you have all these different stages that play music, but you also have a place you can go to learn circus skills, a place where there's spoken word poetry, a place where you can go and meditate. There is a kind of stone, a mini Stone Henge, where you can go and sit up and spend time with pagans and all these various sorts of things happening. And I remember when I went to that festival, just being so overwhelmed by all of the different options, like all the different places I wanted to be.

And to the extent that I was just, I spent the whole weekend running from one place or the other, just like desperate, not to miss out on all of these things. Because my weekend was short and I guess a macrocosm of that is that our time on the earth is short. Right? And so we only get to experience a kind of very small and and a narrow portion of the world. And so as a kid growing up, I was very much trying on different versions of myself. I know this sounds crazy, but like I, I was trying to find my own identity. I think that is part of the human condition is we spend our lives going through trying to better define who we are.

And as a result, we settle into different labels and settle into different groups. And I think that's part of us wanting to find community in the kind of tribal, bee like aspect of humanity and the human condition, is we really wanna settle into what that identity is. But I didn't wanna do that until I tried all the various different identities out there.

So I was, you know, a goth for like a few months, very short phases. I was a skater for a while. I, you know, wore my CAPA tracksuit and kept the hairspray industry afloat in the UK singlehandedly with the amount that I put in my hair and listened to rap music for a while. And that was my thing.

And then I was very into horses and kind of fell into that world for a while and just didn't ever really wanna settle because I was just so worried that there was so many other things out there and hey, maybe I've spent all this time being a goth when actually, you know, I'm supposed to be a, into classical music and that's my thing. And I played the double bass in the piano and that was also I thing for a while. So yeah, just like really exploring all these different opportunities that the world has to offer. And I actually, I think it can be pretty overwhelming, like the kind of grand smorgasbord of opportunities that the world puts in front of us can lead you to, or certainly me, to a kind of paralysis of choice. Like what do I wanna be? What do I wanna pick of all of these options? So, yeah, that's what I meant by trying on different versions of myself. So I kind of fought that and I'd fallen into this version of the, I call my self, the bespoke, suited capitalist, right, in this very, very corporate world.

I'd been there for like eight years at the time. And that's part of what prompted me to write the book was to try on, I'm like, okay, I need to go and try on all these different versions. Maybe I'm actually a nudist. And I just haven't realized.

[00:17:23] Anna: And are you?

[00:17:24] Lucy Leonelli: Don't think I am. I'm fine with it. I'm much more comfortable with it now I will say that. And I learn a ton from that experience, but I, yeah, I'm nude more often now than I was before, but I'm not a nudist.

[00:17:39] Anna: But you tried it out, you know, that's what I love about your story too, is I'm I'm curious what you think, cuz I certainly have my opinion on it, but do you think that most people were so quick to pick one identity and stick with it? You know, and we feel like we're kind of tied to that identity for life.

Like at least in your younger years, you even recognize that there were others out there and you had this FOMO about them. Whereas I think so often that we pick an identity and we feel like we have to stick with it for life and society might even kind of force people to do that. You know? So if you can kind of, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on that and what you think the value is in exploring all these different versions of ourselves.

[00:18:23] Lucy Leonelli: Yeah, I think it, it, society does force or, or, or guide us into one role for sure. A lot of people do pick that direction. And honestly, I have a, a jealousy for people that are able to sit in that, like this, I have this concept of being content, which is a state that I don't know that I'll ever get to, but this idea of just sitting in an identity and being comfortable with it, I find that to me, like you dam Manier like the ultimate goal.

But I panic about doing that until I found the exact right one, which is why I end up, you know, running around the world like it's a, a giant version of Glastonbury festival, but I do think that the world guides us towards that. And I think that's fine honestly, if we find something that we're comfortable with, and we can just not have this FOMO and be afraid of not experiencing all the other things out there.

I think that's contentedness. I think that can bring you a lot of joy that can bring you a lot of peace. But I do think there is a danger that comes with that. I do think that if you are going to do that, you need to at least be aware that you've chosen this identity and that there are other identities out there. And that that's okay. And that was a big learning for me when writing the book is some of the communities I spent time with were very rigid and protective of their group. And even in extreme examples, believed that what they did was right and true, and that anyone that wasn't in that group was wrong and was other, and there was a lot of negativity that came with that.

I did, for example, Fox hunting , um, which is very controversial in the UK, but there are pro hunters and there are anti hunters and there's a huge clash that comes there. But even honestly, with naturism, some people believe that the textile world as naturists call the non naturist world,, is wrong and that everybody should be naked.

And they're there are folks within that community that are almost militant about that, and vice versa. There are other people in the more sort of conservative prudish camp who believe that it's wrong, that it's absolutely wrong to be naked in public. And that is something that they're vehemently against.

So there are extremes in all examples and that's, to me where the danger creeps in. The communities that I spent time with that most impressed me were the ones that realized what they did, they enjoyed it, but that it was part of this group, and there were kind of trivialities that came around that. The triviality that they happened to choose that they enjoyed that pastime, they enjoyed that lifestyle, whatever it is, but that that's what it was. And a great example of that is when this is LARPing again, I just love that group. They were very self aware. And, um, I remember telling them at the end of my laughing journey that, oh, I'm off next week to go to a UFOlogy convention.

And they were like, oh God, bunch of weirdos. Yeah. Just completely joking about it. Like they absolutely knew that other people see them as widows and that that's probably how other people see the UFOlogists and it's all made up anyway. So I think, it's great to just settle into one identity and stay there for your entire life.

But you need to have awareness that other identities are out there. And so to be able to experience those and remove your kind of prejudices and all of these filters that you put on the world. Some people are able to do that without doing this crazy book that I wrote and having these experiences. But for me, I needed to really understand these worlds, to try and remove some of those prejudices.

[00:21:39] Anna: Yeah, that makes sense. And you know, something else that comes along with this identity is a sense that you understand a person completely based on it, which leads to stereotyping entire groups of people. And that informs the biases that we all have and, you know, right away just reading those subcultures that you explored from your book, everyone is forming pictures of who those people are. And you wrote about how one of the things that you learned was the misguided trust that we place in our own worldview. So I'm wondering if you can elaborate a bit more on that learning? And then, is there anything else that this year has taught you about stereotyping and prejudices?

[00:22:21] Lucy Leonelli: Yes for sure so the prejudices. I carried into all of this, these groups, some of them I knew about in advance. Sometimes I knew, okay, this is what I think about this group. Let's go and see if they live up to that or if they challenged this. In the majority of cases, they did challenge it, which I think is probably unsurprising.

Uh, sometimes I didn't know they were prejudices. Sometimes they were so deep, and kind of intertwined with my values, which is something I really tried to unpick is they are different things. Prejudices and values are different things. They're very closely linked together, but they are different. So I love it when someone challenges my prejudices. So when I meet someone for the first time, and I think they're gonna be a certain way, and they are the exact opposite, I absolutely love that. It blows my mind. And it happened time and time again, during the book. An example I like to talk about is when I first went to live with the circus for a week and stayed in a caravan and, and traveled around with them.

So I lived with the circus and the first person I met was a chap who ran the flying trapese group. So his name was Craig and I interviewed Craig and I thought, I just had an idea around what circus performers were going to be, and that they were kind of other and very different to my world. And turns out Craig was an accountant who worked for EY, you know, one of the biggest professional services firms in the world in Australia and he kind of worked his way up through EY had a very kind of corporate life that I could relate to. Right. That was my access point into this world. You know, we could talk about all of the competitors of EY and they are firms that I would head to out of, in my corporate life. So I just had that connection with him.

And then what, so Craig's story is he was about to be staffed onto a really boring audit project. And he was also had just started flying trapese lessons in a circus school that was across the road from his office and was getting more and more into it and just decided to take the plunge do it full time and become a circus performer and just really challenged what his parents expected of him, what his friends expected of him, you know, all of his peers, what the world expected of him and this path that he was on and just completely uprooted that and decided to travel the world, live in a caravan and live with the circus and run a flying trapese act.

So I loved that. I thought that was just so awesome, and so brave to throw off his previous identity and take on this new identity and one kind of fell swoop. And there were people like that repeatedly that I met with that I just, just challenged me and I loved that. So I really think that the book was a great learning for me was to just come into all of these environments with an open mind. 

I do think prejudices are useful, right? They're an evolutionary tool. We talk about a gut instinct, right? We talk about immediately knowing if somebody's a good person, which is just complete BS you know, in my opinion, that's, that's just synapses in your brain that have formed because you have experienced somebody like that in the past and they were a good person, right? So, but it's not to say the next person's going to be. So all these kind of gut reactions that we rely on are often kind of filtered experiences and prejudices that we carry around, but still, prejudices can be true a lot of the time. So it does enable you to be successful in the world if you rely on your prejudices, that's kind of the way that the world works. And that's okay. But just coming in with an open mind and not expecting that every time was something that I learned. I also learned, just to talk about another specific experience was when I went to Essex and I know that's a strange chapter, but, there's a reality TV show in the UK called the only way is Essex, which follows a group of young will we call them revelers who kind of spend their time getting very glammed up. So, you know, getting their fake eyelashes, their makeup, done their hair done. We do something called a vajazzle which is, which is getting diamonds put like around your bikini area. And then they go out and they party and they, and, and the TV series follows them.

So I did that with my friends. We went to Essex and we met a couple of the cast and we just took on their routine for the day. So we did everything that they would've done in the show. So I had all these prejudice about that world, but I didn't realize, I thought 

So as a child growing up, I was always what we would have called at the time a tomboy. Right. So I had, you know, I wanted to have short hair. And when it was long, I never wanted to wear it down. It was always kind of scraped back in a ponytail. I would wear football kits instead of dresses, I hated wearing dresses. I would be, you know, all these stereotypical gendered things that we considered to be what boys do, climbing trees, running around, getting messy. That was me as a kid. I was never into this preening routine that happened when we were in Essex. So when I originally wrote that chapter, I was kind of scathing of that world.

And I was like, oh, and I use phrases like these people, like, why did these people find this so fun? I don't understand it. Like, surely it's, anti-feminist to wear high heels. Like I don't get that. Why would you wanna do, why would we put ourselves through this laborious routine? Just to look good through a man?

And I made it this thing that was me versus them, and this is other. And, then I had a developmental edit of my book and my editor came back to me and was like why are you so scathing of these people? And yet you are fine for the battle actors to spend hours putting on their costumes, you know, and you are fine for the, I did drag Queens as well, and that was really interesting to you. And the fact that they spent hours putting all this makeup on and getting ready was never a problem for you. And yet people doing this in Essex, for some reason, you had this real us and them, this real like prejudiced view of it. And it was such a like, aha moment for me that actually I'd let my values or, or what I don't like doing get in the way of judging people.

And it was a real moment for me of, okay I thought I wasn't carrying any prejudices and I was being open minded when I went into this world, but I had all this baggage that I brought with me and I was kind of rude. So I went back and just put that lens on it when I rewrote that chapter. So, yeah, it was just a real learning experience for me as however much you think you're being open minded, you're still carrying around all this stuff that society's told you.

[00:28:28] Anna: I really resonated with the Essex chapter. I think I carry a lot of that same baggage as well. And I went into that chapter with those same kind of thoughts. It sounds like that you probably had, you know, subconsciously. And so when you addressed them, I feel like I went on a similar journey of having a similar aha moment. And I also liked about that chapter, how you pointed out, you know, you started to feel angry about it being, maybe it's a feminist issue with all the amount of time that women are spending on their appearance. But then also in addition to everything else you've laid out, you also realized that the men were doing the same thing, they were plucking and waxing and having fake tans and low cut tops and all of that. So there was a similar expectation and focus on appearance and everything that the men in those groups had as well. 

[00:29:15] Lucy Leonelli: Yeah, it was just a, a costume of that subculture. And yet I was, you know, we often do these things, we let emotion drive our decisions and then after the fact we try and rationalize that. So we make a lot of our decisions based on emotion then after we're like, oh, this is why I felt that way. And we want ourselves to be the hero of our story. And we're also rational and we're all on this crusade to be doing on the right side. But actually in reality, it was just an emotional gut response because I don't like wearing high heels and fake eye lashes.

[00:29:43] Anna: Yeah. Yeah. I think we can all take a lot away from that, whether it's high heels and fake eyelashes or whatever else it is that we have when we have that feeling in our gut arise, just kind of interrogating where that comes from. So I'm curious to know, you know, we've talked a lot about what you've learned, but as I mentioned in the beginning, most of us don't get to see this many different perspectives, this up close and I think that can really teach you a lot about humanity and community and connection. So what were some of the recurring themes throughout this year, throughout meeting all these groups of people?

[00:30:20] Lucy Leonelli: The main theme was this yearning for connection. So that was the thread that ran through a lot of these groups. And that was When I quizzed them on why they decided to join the group and then why they stayed. It was usually, I have a shared interest and so I want to do a battle reenactment, or I find it liberating being naked. So there is something typically that leads them to this group, but what keeps them there is that connection. 

And I think the groups that we have, the hobbies that we do now, there's this kind of Renaissance of village life. Another common theme and thing that people would say is, when they're at this big camp, like nobody lock their things away, everybody looks after each other's kids, everybody borrows things from each other. It's this real, to me, it was like recreating this concept of village life, where we share the raising of one another's children. We're all very connected. We feel this real sense of belonging. And that was something that was a huge thread through all of these.

And there's the tribal nature of that as well. Right? There's the tribal nature of, again, this kind of hive, like quality of human beings that we all wanna kind of come together. There was also a lot of the evangelism was another theme of really wanting to explain to people why you choose to do something and wanting to be in the right again, this idea of like, we are doing things the right way. We're on some kind of like, crusade here and, and pagans was an example of that. I met, king Arthur, he changed his name to king Arthur , a arch druit in the pagan community in the UK. And he was just talking about how paganism is the future and about how he's always on these battles to bring paganism more and more into the mainstream and just really feeling like he was on the right side of history and moving forward.

And, everybody kind of needs to have a cause and something to get behind. So, and a, a reason for their existence, right. A journey that they're on. So that was a theme for me as well. The final thing is well, there are a bunch it's not the final, but the next thing is a celebration of the mask, like this idea of escapism and having a holiday from ourselves. So we talked about identity before. That was another thing that was great for battery reenacting, for LARPing. Anything that you had to get into a costume and go and live in a different world, just gave you an escape from who you've decided to be, all of the labels that we carry in the real world, you get to escape from that. Drag Queens also talks a lot about this, about the celebration of the mask. You know, typically when we go on holiday, we carry all of our mental baggage with us when we go and sit on the beach for a week, whereas this was a real, I get to be a different person and show up differently in the world.

And that was a, that was something that people really enjoyed. And I think potentially because all of these were in the UK, drinking was also a thing. Which is part of escapism, right? Really is it helped us enabled us a lot of the time to get out, and certainly me who was always kind of anxious and out of my comfort zone, gave us just an opportunity to kind of unwind. And this, this is real kind of social thing that brings people together. So yeah, you might wanna edit that out, but...

[00:33:28] Anna: Oh, no, I mean, I, definitely noticed that one throughout and I that was I think, I, I think, yeah, all of those definitely stuck out to me and you know, you drew them out specifically, but I really liked the idea of that it didn't really matter as much what hobby your activity and, you know, as adults, it is a lot of times harder to find friends, to find your community when you don't have school, or, you know, maybe if you're not a part of a religion, whatever it is, there needs to be some kind of like pillar that brings you in and draws you together.

And to read a sentence from your book that really pulls that picture, "You might join a choir because you like to sing, join a Morris side because you like to dance, or join a naturist society because you like to get your boobs out. But what keeps you there? The knowledge that someone has your back, that they look out for you, that you are part of something."

 And I think that that is fundamental to what it means to be human. That's what we're all looking and striving for. And these communities provide that and the escapism, which is something that we're also always looking for, whether that be in booze, as you mentioned, or movies or books. But with this, you get that escapism with a community tied as well. So I think it's beautiful and it makes me want to start to interrogate my own life and see what communities am I a part of and, see all the value that they give to me. So kind of a big question here, and you may have already answered it with all your other learnings, but what did you learn about what it means to be human?

[00:35:01] Lucy Leonelli: A book I read recently, The Righteous Mind, which I highly recommend, talks about human beings as being 90% Chimp and 10% bee. So this idea that we are mentally, almost advancing quicker than our physiology can cope with. And some of the kind of urges and tendencies and things our physiology tends to lean towards. And then this 10% bee idea, which is around this hive mentality of coming together and the kind of euphoria you feel when you're part of, you know, the crowd that's singing along to the music when you're at a big stadium or at a concert, or, you're chanting your football team's name with thousands of people, or you're at a rave or you're at just somewhere where there's this big group of people and, and really we've of course, during the pandemic not had as much of a chance to do that, actually, a real moment for me was the clapping for the NHS for the first time. I was in the UK at the time, and we were all standing outside and of our houses and nobody knew if anybody else was gonna go out and do it.

And then you could just hear this ripple of applause going around, you know, for miles and miles and miles and crescendoing. And I cried like goosebumps everywhere. It was this most moving moment of like everyone coming together for this one thing. And we'd all been so isolated in our houses. This was like two weeks into the first big lockdown in the UK. And all of a sudden we were part of something again, and the like relief in euphoria that came with that. So I do think that this human urge to connect is what runs through everything. That's what it means to be human to me.

[00:36:45] Anna: So this human urge to connect is what we all have in common. And you in the book talking about how we are actually all connected, which is what I wanna talk about next. To read another line, you write," What I do know is that there is more that makes us similar than different, more that connects us than separates us, despite our all too often obsessive focus on the latter." So can you tell us a bit more about that? How do you see us all being connected?

[00:37:13] Lucy Leonelli: I think through these threads, I think there are always things that connect us. And that would surprise people. And sometimes people didn't like, some communities didn't like that. They were gonna be sharing a book with people that they deemed to be very different to them. But actually there were a ton of similarities.

You know, the celebration of the mask, the drag Queens and the battery reenactors. They're not necessarily two groups of people that would, would come together, but there is a huge shed similarity there. This idea of, um, transformative practice, yogis believe that you transform yourself by doing yoga, you know, physically, but also more importantly for yoga practice mentally.

 And so do the extreme sports folks. Like I, I interviewed the guy who brought parkour to the UK and had a lesson with him and I expected him to be this kind of dare devil adrenaline junkie, but actually he was hugely thoughtful, meditative, is all about transformative practice. So you are a different person when you've completed this than you were before.

And so, there are these threads and even if you don't think you are the same, there are GOs that, you know, love a particular TV show that perhaps the zeitgeist political activists also love, or there are you pro fox hunting people that love Italian food and anti Fox hunting people that love Italian food. Like there are just all of these things that connect us. And I think people would be surprised sometimes about these threads. So what I love to do and what I often in corporate settings, you are asked as an icebreaker question, you're asked about your superpower. And for me, my superpower is finding those connections. So when I'm in a room, I love like hearing that somebody sings acapella that I speak to. And then, you know, an hour later, I meet somebody else that also sings in a choir and I'm like, oh my God, you have to meet this person over there.

I run over and I connect them and they're kind of awkward. Like, why am I talking to you? You're wearing completely different clothes to me, we're in different level of seniority, we're in different industries. And then they kind of realize, and they get talking about acapella and all of a sudden they have this human connection.

So I love to do that. I love to find those threads that connect people. And like I had a, a launch party of the book in London and I invited all the characters from the books. And one of the most satisfying things to me about that experience was finding, you know, Oriel the Aristocrat, talking to Jimmy the LARPer and, and Paul naturist and having a conversation about something like Peaky Blinders or something, like just finding those things to connect about and finding that joy and laughing together. And yeah, to me, that's what connection is all about. And that was what I learned, well, it's definitely heightened for me, it was a heightened learning for me in writing the 

[00:39:58] Anna: think that's absolutely beautiful and the world could use a lot more of that. And for us to all realize that connection, because as you say, we all too often focus on what makes us different rather than the fact that we're all human and we all want the same things, even if that looks a little bit different. So you really pulled that out beautifully throughout the book. So I've gotta ask, can you finally commit yourself to one version of yourself and did you cure your FOMO? 

[00:40:29] Lucy Leonelli: I Absolutely not.

[00:40:33] Anna: Thought that might be the answer

[00:40:35] Lucy Leonelli: No, I, well, I, I just learned that I became co I became okay with it. I think that's what I learned is it's okay to want to carry on having all of these experiences and continue trying on different identities to see how you feel. And it's just part of who I am. I'm part of my value system that I really enjoyed doing that. So, there was progress, but, but no, I think I have more hobbies now than I did before I wrote the book.

[00:41:01] Anna: All right. And, uh just for some questions that I ask every guest at the end, what does feminism mean to you?

[00:41:09] Lucy Leonelli: To me, feminism is equality. It's the default. It blows my mind as anything other than feminism. It's just the way that the world should be.

[00:41:22] Anna: A hundred percent. Uh, what is one of your earliest memories of gender? You've given us a little bit of insight into your childhood already, but is there a time that you remember when you kind of realized that the world didn't treat girls and boys the same?

[00:41:36] Lucy Leonelli: I think probably being called a tomboy made me realize that, okay, there is this, that gender exists, but actually, it was embraced by my parents and I never really had any pushback against that and was also allowed to kind of explore my gender identity. A stark memory I have, I was a lot older, but of like, wow, this is really a thing outside of my own very privileged bubble of, of how I was treated as a child is I worked on a ranch during my gap year when I was 18. And I showed up to this ranch, which was in the Outback called a cattle station in the middle of nowhere, 33 thousand acre ranch. And there were 25 Cowboys working on the ranch. And I was the only female there. And I rocked up and they hadn't seen a woman for a very long time.

And so what they did, first thing like, oh, a Sheila, and they're okay, they lined up five of them, took a seat, gave me a pair of scissors and said we haven't had a haircut in six months. So even though I went there to and ride horses and castrate cows and all this kind of stuff, my first job, when I got there was I had to cut the hair of five Cowboys.

[00:42:51] Anna: Did you even know how to cut hair?

[00:42:53] Lucy Leonelli: No idea. I just hacked away with the scissor. It was awful. They surprisingly seemed to be pretty pleased with them, but yep. That was the role of a woman. 

[00:43:02] Anna: Wow. Wonderful. And last one, what is the story of woman to you?

[00:43:08] Lucy Leonelli: To me, The Story of Woman is a story of overcoming. For me throughout my life, there are things I've had to overcome, physically and mentally and for every time I have had to overcome it's made me, you know, more beaten up, but a little wiser, a little braver, a little stronger. And I hope that that's also the story of women is we'll continue to evolve and overcome. And this kind of ideal end state for me is obviously equality, perfect equality, and, for us to be wiser and stronger and braver as a result of having together,

[00:43:45] Anna: Love it. Thank you so much, Lucy.

[00:43:50] Lucy Leonelli: Anna, I would love to talk a little about you if that's okay. Um, I I'm so interested in the worlds that you have experienced over the last few months of building out this podcast and the people that you've met with. And if I can ask you, I'm really curious about, what you've learned and whether or not, I suppose my first question, there are potential subcultures at play here, this world of podcasting and your revolution there. I'm sure that absolutely is a world in itself, but also feminism, is that is feminism of subculture?

[00:44:29] Anna: That is an excellent question and definitely something that I have been thinking about more and more in reading your book, but even just as I explore this issue, because I think that question actually kind of gets to the crux of the problem so I kind of came up with the idea of this podcast because I was reading all of these non-fiction books that talk about the economy and healthcare and just our world, but through a gendered lens. And everything that I was reading is, you know, it is history, it is the economy, it is something that affects all of us. And yet it felt so unknown to the mainstream. It felt so kind of othered that these are women's issues. And I just couldn't wrap my head around how, you know, first of all, I felt like I didn't know any of this, but then also how I felt like the society at large didn't know any of this.

And of course that's a big conversation point within feminist communities is how women tend to get othered, othered you know, Simone De Beauvoir, she wrote the book, The Second Sex, that's a, a thread throughout women in history is just trying to say we are humans. You know, we have a tendency as society to make men the default. And anything that has to do with women is kind of secondary or niche or a subculture, if you will. And I think that that's exactly a part of the problem. So I think feminism is viewed as a subculture, but it absolutely should not be.

These issues impact everyone. And, by definition that you laid out at the beginning, of what a subculture is, it's a cultural group that has beliefs and interests that are varying from the mainstream culture. And I know I just wanna ask, well, well, why is that?

 Why do the beliefs that women are equal to men, that everyone is equal to each other, not just that women are equal to men, but exactly, as you say to me, I feel the same about feminism, it's just equality for all. Why is this viewed as, as something separate? So, I think that that is definitely something that I've been trying to pull into this podcast.

You know as I'm reading these books, I come to this realization that the story of man, which we are all familiar with as we're supposed to accept that as the story of man means the story of all humans. But in reality, it really does mean the story of man as in the collective group of men, cuz they're the ones who have controlled the narrative.

It's been through their lens and obviously a certain group of men as well, not all men, but a certain group of men have kind of controlled the narrative. So it is their story. So by adding this overlooked outlook of the world, which is the story of woman, we can finally change that story to be the most accurate story of what it means to be human cuz right now it's not accurate. It's missing a vast majority of the population in women, in people of color and other marginalized groups. That's all missing from this story because mainstream culture is the culture of the dominant groups. 

[00:48:04] Lucy Leonelli: Yeah. So I think I definitely agree feminism shouldn't be a subculture, but maybe there's a part of that the, the feminist community coming together, the kind of sisterhood, that feeling of belonging, maybe there's something there that we wouldn't wanna lose right. Not wanting to throw out the baby with the bath water.

 So what about, something certainly that I experienced in, in writing this book and that I assume perhaps unfairly is the result of me being a woman was a lot of imposter syndrome. Like I really thought no one would take me seriously.

I really had no idea what I was doing. I was making it up, but as I was going along, I was winging it. I did some writing courses, but I wasn't a writer. I still can't internalize the fact that I've written a book. Like I'm not a writer. If people ask me, no, I'm not a writer. Like, well, you published a book. No, I'm still not a writer. I can't, I still have this huge imposter syndrome around that. So what about you and podcasting and getting into this world?

[00:49:02] Anna: I'm so glad that you asked that question because it has been absolutely massive. And it's interesting because I have had so many ideas in my life, things that I wanna do, identities that I wanna explore, perhaps, you know, ideas for whatever it might be. And I, most of the time I don't pursue them. I don't do them. They're just ideas that kind of come in my brain and then leave at some point. And this idea for this podcast came in and very easily, it would've just gone right back out, like everything else had, because you know, I am a nurse by background. I had never interviewed anyone in my life before this podcast. I had never, I didn't know anything about podcasting. I had to Google how to podcast, you know, it was like the first thing I, I put into Google.

So would've been so easy for that to just like everything else, you know, I need to get a formal education on this, I need to do all of this training before I can do a podcast, but simultaneously as I'm having all of these thoughts and fighting myself, I'm reading about how I am made to feel this way or how I am as to use your words earlier, guided, guided to feel this way because, it's not just women that experience this, but I think women experience it in a very specific way.

Mary Ann Sieghart who wrote The Authority Gap, I really liked the story that she told about imposter syndrome and how she experiences it versus how her husband experiences it. She said, you know, for most women, our imposter syndrome is, oh, I'm in this situation. I'm writing this book, I'm doing this podcast, who am I? I'm not qualified. Like I need to get this training. I need to do X, Y, and Z before I can do something like this, because I am not the person for this. Whereas she said, what her husband, how he experiences, she asked him, do you experience imposter syndrome? And he said, I do. But when I am asked to do something that I know I am not qualified for, I see it as a challenge. Can I rise to this opportunity? Can I prove myself in this area? What can I make of this opportunity? And I've tried to like subtly shift my mindset to approach things that way as well. No, I don't have experiencing podcasting, but surely I can figure it out. What can I do with this opportunity that I have?

I have this idea. I have the means and the privilege to be able to do this on the side of my job. What can I do with that opportunity? So I think learning about imposter syndrome. Why is women more often than not? You know, we feel this way. We are taught to constantly doubt ourselves, to need to validate and prove our worthiness time and time again, really helped me to overcome it. And I think that that lesson can kind of be applied to so many different areas as a woman or just as a person that whatever you're experiencing, the more you kind of learn about it, the easier it is to overcome. So, absolutely I felt that. 

And the last thing I'll just say on that point is a big takeaway and learning I've had through this all, is that yes. 99% of the population could have also created a podcast where they interview people who have written books around women and gender. It's not that I am the only person that could do this, but I have a unique perspective that no one else in the world has. You have a unique perspective, Lucy, that no one else in the world has and no one ever will have.

So we all have something unique with the accumulation of all of our experiences and perspectives and who we are that we have something truly unique to offer to the world, no matter what it is that we choose to do. So I think keeping that in mind has been really helpful as well.

[00:53:02] Lucy Leonelli: So true. I love what you said there about reframing it towards being an opportunity. But I also think that there's a privilege that comes with being able to do that and to flip that, and I think that's something I was aware of, hyper aware of going through this is just the fact that I was able to do this, you know, financially have a year out.

And that I was equipped with all of the confidence that came from, you know, my parenting and the way that the world showed up for me, I was very lucky and, and fortuitous. And you know, that doesn't come from nowhere. Yes, if you have the imposter syndrome, you can, just kind of pull everything up from the inside, just have some hooks bar, just go for it and overcome that imposter syndrome.

But that's all the result of luck. Partly your personality, of course. But the fact that I was enabled with the confidence to do that is just very privileged. So that's why I think feminism is just so necessary and such an important movement. There are gonna be people out there that are, you know, don't have that, that have had very troubled upbringings that the world has just been very, very tough on from the beginning that don't have that confidence to step outside of that, or even to try on other world views or to see what it's like to go into a different kind of environment to read something that, you know, their parents, or their friends or their peers wouldn't necessarily find the right, to go to a different source of information to go to Fox news instead of the New York Times, like having the confidence to do that comes from the way that the world shows up for you.

So that's why creating this kind of quality of opportunity and freedom and everything that the movement is striving towards is so important because we have to, as very privileged people, use that privilege to be the pioneers of this and lead from the front.

[00:54:47] Anna: I couldn't agree more. I think that is spot on, you know, there are people who are gonna be worrying for most of their life about, the next meal and how they're gonna get that. And they're not gonna be worrying about imposter syndrome because they're just trying to feed their children.

And I think that's something I keep in mind as well because imposter syndrome, even getting into feminism, cuz I was raised in a community and a time period where feminism, you know, is kind of a dirty word and you know, thinking, well, who am I to speak up on these issues when I'm a white middle class woman. You know, we have come so far as women, what are you complaining about? Kind of thing. But I keep in mind that this is absolutely why I'm doing it. It's not just for myself. Yes. There are things that I have experienced personally that are just teeny tiny compared to what other women in the world experience, but exactly as you say, to be the pioneers, to be the voice, to be the representatives of women everywhere is definitely something that also helps me to kind of overcome that. Well, what are you complaining about that that does pop up on occasion in my ear.

[00:55:56] Lucy Leonelli: For sure. So if we are saying that feminism is probably a subculture by my definition right now, but that it shouldn't be a subculture. What about within feminism? I would imagine that there are lots of different almost sub subcultures within that world.

[00:56:16] Anna: Yes. There's two main points that I wanna draw out. One is that, there are so many types of feminism and that is a great and beautiful thing, because there are so many different types of women. You know, we are not a monolith. So everyone comes with their different backgrounds and cultures and communities and different things that their specific community is fighting for, is striving for. So that will always exist and needs to, but I think where the problem arises with these different subcultures within feminism is kind of what we were talking about before the tribalism, you know, the oppression Olympics, if you will, the centering, especially of one type of feminism, which is the mainstream feminism, which is white feminism. Feminism that doesn't aspire to change the system, but just wants women, specifically white middle class women, to be able to climb the corporate ladder and have their feminist AF t-shirts and mugs.

You know, I, I interviewed Koa Beck who wrote the book called White Feminism, and she gets into this beautifully. And how we have a tendency to see that as the default feminism and everything else as kind of a distraction, when the reality is there needs to be all of these different types of feminisms.

And, you know, in my opinion, if it's not intersectional feminism, it's not feminism at all. So these different subcultures exist, but there is a challenge with getting everybody within the community, specifically those that ascribe to white feminism to recognize the other ones, to decenter themselves and welcome all of the different types of feminisms that exist. Because throughout all of history, White feminism has been the mainstream feminism and that's for a variety of reasons that we don't have time to get into now.

But I think, actually perhaps bringing to light the fact that there are all these different types of feminisms and different subcultures within the subculture, if you will, is something that mainstream feminism has not done enough and should strive to do more of. So yes, it exists and, I think we needed to bring it to light more and make sure that everyone is included.

[00:58:40] Lucy Leonelli: Love it. I do wanna ask you one more question, which you can cut out, but I'm really great. Have you considered bringing somebody onto the podcast that's outside of this subculture? So somebody who perhaps is even vehemently in the other direction, like a Jordan Peterson or

[00:58:59] Anna: Oh fuck. uh, I have thought about it, I guess for me, I feel like Jordan Peterson has a platform. Like these anti-women views have their space and kind of always have, whereas what I'm trying to create is this space and the voices that have been overlooked and marginalized and othered and everything that I've said. So that's absolutely the focus that I want to have. However I can absolutely devil's advocate myself. And I see the value in, you know, as we've been talking about, there's so much value in making sure you expose yourself to different perspectives and experiences outside your own.

I don't wanna create an echo chamber here. So I definitely see value in doing that. I think I would just have to come up with a clever enough way to perhaps have them discuss without just amplifying their messages that I don't agree with.

[01:00:05] Lucy Leonelli: Great answer. Yeah. Not giving them more of a platform. And what is your mission with this podcast? Your mission is to give voice to those that perhaps would have less of a voice otherwise. But there is this, just thinking about my book and you know, what I see as my mission is the world is, there's never been more disparity in the world.

I live in the US. Politics here. Its just this complete dichotomy. There's no middle ground. And one of the other learnings for me in writing the book was human beings don't like to be in the gray. We don't like to sit in this. We like to have a strong opinion. And we like to, like I said before, think we're on the right side of history.

And we like to, sometimes let emotions guide us and, and facts follow up. And all of these things we're imperfect, human beings are imperfect and there's never been more disparity. So I do feel this pull towards trying to at least find something, find that thread, find that connection, find that perhaps not with someone quite so polarizing, perhaps there's a, there's a, there's a gentle version as somebody out, perhaps just somebody that's not familiar with with feminism and, and probe into their worldview.

But there is that point of connection, that point of mutual understanding. That's kind of, what to me is almost missing or has been challenged by the post pandemic world is we would, you know, previously go to a sports game and, or, you know, watch our kids' football game, for example.

And you would go out there and you'd meet Bill, who's a Republican, but he's actually really nice. Or like, you know, Cindy, who does this really weird sport, but actually she's really nice or this kind of but actually. So this kind of finding the human connection, even though you might have different beliefs, belong to a different political group, belong to a different subculture, like finding those threads and like connecting as human beings enables you to talk about these more, just enables you to build that trust and build that relationship capital with someone which then enables that conversation, which is, is challenging, right? The conversation between political views or, and that to me will help us progress if we're able 

[01:02:06] Anna: Mm-hmm I agree completely. I do agree completely. And you know, this was actually a big motivating factor for me in starting this as well, is I'm I'm living in New York. I'm living in London, I'm living in these really progressive cities, but I'm born and raised in Missouri. So I feel like I've had this kind of, I've seen the gray zone.

I don't see many people in the gray zone, but by having these kind of two understandings of the world in my head at the same time and fully understanding and loving the people back home, where I'm from, who, you know, people in New York and London might not think very highly about and, and vice versa where I understand their mindset, more than a lot of people who have never been exposed to those mindsets do.

And that was definitely one motivating factor in starting this and in recognizing that human thread. Exactly. As you say that I'm living in these liberal cities where we're in, in these echo chambers, and we're talking about all of these issues, but I know that the people back home have, you know, the same values and, and are good people and it's hard to kind of reconcile the two.

So I think you're, you're getting my wheels turning and I'm thinking now of how I might be able to introduce something like that. So if you have ideas, Lucy, if anybody out there has ideas, hit me with them because I'm very open to it. But you know, at the end of the day, exactly, as you say, the mission is to add the story of woman back into the story of humankind. And there are different types of story of woman, I guess, could be the other argument there. Um, so figuring out how to do that is a challenge.

[01:03:50] Lucy Leonelli: Which is a wonderful mission and I'm really grateful to be a part of it. So thank

[01:03:55] Anna: Thank you so much for being here today, Lucy. This was an incredible conversation and thank you so much for your time. 

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Lucy Leonelli
Lucy Leonelli
Author of A Year in the Life