My mum may be an unlikely pioneer, but that’s what she is. Last weekend, she came down to London to take part in events celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the ordination of women priests in the Church of England.
Although she wasn’t strong enough to join in the procession from Westminster to St Paul’s, a distance of just under two miles, she and I were both able to attend the service that followed. It was a fantastic occasion and succeeded admirably in balancing a spirit of celebration with a strong sense that the journey for women in the church is far from complete.
Mum’s in there somewhere!
Although Mum was one of the first women to be ordained, she was nearly sixty before it finally became possible. It was something she’d been waiting for throughout much of her adult life. Many of that first cohort are very elderly ladies now, and quite a few have already passed away. Yet there was very little resentment that it had taken them so long to get there.
What was striking was just how natural, how right it felt to be sitting there in the midst of a cathedral full of women, all of whom had felt the same overwhelming desire to join the priesthood, and who had refused to allow the accident of their gender to stand in their way. In hindsight, the only astonishing thing is that it took us near enough five hundred years to get here.
A number of speakers talked about the resentment they continue to experience and how venomous it can be. Women have made massive strides over the past century but there’s a growing sense that we’ve reached a plateau where, however far we might have come, real equality of remains tantalisingly out of reach.
Our daughters are doing just as well at school as our sons; in Britain and many other OECD countries, women make up more than half of graduates, but they still account for less than 7% of senior executives in the FTSE top 100 companies. Only four have women as chief executives.
The creative industries are little better. It’s still incredibly tough for women trying to make it in the film industry; the number of successful women directors and writers remains disappointingly and intransigently tiny.
The one exception: Kathryn Bigelow receives her directing Oscar
It’s hard to know why this is. Women are just as creative, just as imaginative as men, but I think sometimes we’re more inclined to lose faith in ourselves and our projects. Could it come down to the possibility that men tend to have thicker skins and a stronger sense of entitlement? Perhaps they succeed more often because they’re less inclined to take no for an answer, and more likely to think, “Screw you, I know this story has legs, and nothing’s going to stand of the way of me getting it on celluloid!”