Susie FowlerWatt:

Re­mem­ber­ing Nor­folk’s for­got­ten women

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE -

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!


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

Susie Fowler-Watt BBC TV Look East pre­sen­ter

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