CF: What is your favourite thing about being a woman who works in the heritage sector?
SM: I love things, objects, beautiful items, utilitarian developing technology and I love learning. I love detective novels and, in the same way, love the search for the story behind an object in the museum. Every day spent at the museum is a luxury in that it combines all my favourite pastimes. Reading, linking facts and events, writing and making order out of the chaos of new items and donations. This is the description of my idea of heaven.
CF: Are there any assumptions about women that you would like to change? Why is this important to you?
SM: I think just as a person, I would like the distinction between academic institutions and museums to be more widely understood by a far greater audience. Museums are primarily about objects. People visit museums, physically or virtually, in order to see ‘things’. The position of running a museum means that you have to know what works for which audience in exhibitions, educational tours, publications and peer-reviewed articles. This means that the experience of a Director must be wide and cut across all the diverse products museums have to offer. Too often, it has been my experience, that the academic pursuits of staff are valued more highly than their museological skills and expertise and objects they deal with.
It would be so nice as a woman and as a person to have people bother to spend time finding out who I actually am and what I do know. I am so tired of continually being lectured about what everyone else knows about military subjects and having military history from matric syllabi vomited over me as though I couldn’t possibly know better. It is also very tiring to have men speak to me in a staccato voice in a patronising manner as though I am slow and don’t even really understand English. They might find, if they bothered, that even the guard at the gate knows more about the museum collections than they do.
If only the joy of our collections could mean as much to staff now as the need to succeed to the top of the environment and the larger salary offered. These are old fashioned principles, but I do so miss them today. I miss seeing the passion of a curator over a collection and its extraordinary secrets and the absolute need to share these.
CF: Have you come across any stereotypes about women who work in your field?
SM: Yes, there were very entrenched stereotypes. Women in the military were either secretaries, flirts or lesbians. Not that I am insulted by being associated with any of those categories. It was assumed that serious work and command was not something women were capable of or interested in. Women generally were assumed to have ulterior motives for working in a military environment, most likely was the need to catch a husband.
It has improved over time with female military historians becoming well known internationally and considered experts in their subject matter.