Remembering Norfolk’s forgotten women
When I was growing up, I never thought about equality. Apart from arguing with my mother about why I was always asked to empty the dishwasher and my older brothers weren’t (“you’re so good at it”, she would answer, unconvincingly) it never occurred to me that I might be treated differently because of my gender.
I was the only girl at my school for a while. My father (who, looking back, was a great feminist) was the headmaster. Even though I didn’t play football or rugby with the boys, I didn’t think that being a girl was in any way a disadvantage.
It also never occurred to me when I went to university or started work – although I definitely felt in the minority being a young female lobby correspondent at Westminster in the 1990s. It has only been with age and time that I have noticed how inequality can subtly leave its mark.
Whether it’s the treatment of women on social media, the focus on the gender pay gap or a quick glance at the list of CEOs of our top British companies, it’s clear there’s still a long way to go. That’s why I so enjoyed seeing the ‘rebel’ blue plaques celebrating women popping up around Norwich earlier this summer. They were the idea of a group calling themselves ‘Rosie’s plaques’, after they realised that few of the official blue plaques in the city mentioned women.
Their beautifully homemade blue plaques were carefully put up without damaging any property, just to make people
stop and think. Who knew that the Countess of Norfolk, Emma de Gauder, defended Norwich Castle from a siege by William I when she was just 16? Not me!
The point is that history informs the present and the future. We don’t necessarily need to rage and rampage over equality, but we need to be aware of the unconscious biases we may have built up over the years. Research shows that people have a tendency to appoint employees in their own image – more men in top positions can lead to more men in the positions just below them and so on. Earlier this year news articles headlined that a ‘mum’ had won an Oscar for sound editing. Readers pointed out that her parental status was completely irrelevant to her professional success, and if she was a man it would not have been referred to. A couple of years ago I chaired a big debate at my old university. It had a panel of high-achieving women from business, sport, media and politics. The title was ‘Have we smashed the glass ceiling?’ The general consensus was – not forgetting we have had two female prime ministers – that we have smashed it, but it keeps closing up again.
So, bravo Rosie’s plaques, and everyone else who is doing their bit to gently even things up. And by the way, I still empty the dishwasher – when you’re really good at something, you may as well carry on doing it!
SEASONAL STRUGGLE WITH THE CHILDCARE JUGGLE
One of the many equalities in our house is juggling childcare. Alex and I are both fulltime workers, with two children at different schools, heading off at different times of the day. Like most parents we seem to spend much of our free time ferrying our offspring to sports clubs, parties, and drama classes.
Most of the year, we can just about manage week to week if I try to keep a beady eye on the diary. But at this stage of the summer, a slight hysteria starts to rise at the thought of six weeks of school holidays.
As I mentioned, my parents ran a school, and so they were mainly free in the holidays. Both my brothers are also teachers and so get the time off. I had never experienced the childcare juggle until I was up to my neck in it myself. It really needs to be run like a military operation – instead I feel like we lurch from day to day, just about keeping the wheels on track.
But the person I feel most for is our rota organiser at work. With a staff full of parents, all trying to fit work around kids at home, I’m sure she has a permanent headache until September comes around again.
Happy summer, everyone! [email protected]
BELOW: Teenager Emma De Gauder defended Norwich Castle from a siege; this plaque commemorates her place in history