Gillian Harvey: Why social media brings out the best in women

Read the latest column from on the trials and tribulations of trying to have it all from freelance writer, author and mum-of-five Gillian Harvey.

Like most people, I probably spend too much time on social media. And it can be a toxic place full of people advertising their fake lifestyles, or forcing their controversial opinions on anyone who stumbles across their profile.

People who would never insult you to your face seem to think it’s fine to say negative things about your work, your looks or your opinions. We’ve seen too recently how toxic this can be; and we all need to try harder to #bekind.

That said, along with the trolls, the clickbait and the negativity, social media has enabled me to connect with some fabulous and truly inspirational women. In this way, being online has been a blessing.

I say women, because many of the forums and Facebook groups I’m part of are women-only groups. While women in TV dramas are often portrayed as competitive and backbiting in the workplace, these groups have shown me our incredible ability to share and support one another. 

One of the first forums I joined on Facebook back in 2013 was a group for women freelance journalists. I’d only had a few articles in print at the time, but the support and guidance from others helped me to hone my pitching skills and discover new opportunities.

Being part of the group also helped me realise that many freelance journalists experienced the same doubt about their ideas and their abilities as me. Far from being disheartening, it made me realise that the gulf between myself and those who seemed more confident and successful wasn’t as wide as I’d thought.

I’ve also had the pleasure of connecting with inspirational women through Twitter. Appeals for women with inspiring stories have met with no shortage of replies – and each and every woman I’ve interviewed has not only given me plenty to write about but also inspired me in their own way too.

Only this week, I’ve spoken to a woman who supports others through menopause, another who’s become a model and influencer in her 70s and a third whose book-reviews have netted several awards.

Last week, I interviewed Rosie Swale Pope, a 70-something adventurer who is running to Kathmandu to raise money for others. She’s already run around the world once, and thinks she might well do it again once she’s finished her current challenge.

Each and every interview gives me more than the sum of its parts – I take away an interesting feature for readers, but personal lessons too – new determination, a sense of wonder or a lesson passed from one woman to another.

So while I try to stay away from online toxicity, I’m all for the internet providing ways for us to connect with those who enrich our lives.

After all, we all become stronger when we lift each other up. And I’m grateful to each and every person who’s helped me on my way.

Gillian Harvey is a writer and mum-of-five. Her debut novel Everything is Fine is out with Orion in May 2020.