Breaking Through

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.

Kathryn Bigelow receives her directing Oscar

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!”



Filed under Film, Screenwriting, women priests, Writing

7 responses to “Breaking Through

  1. Veronica,
    So many of the sexual scandals in the Catholic Church could easily be avoided by not only allowing priests to marry, but by bringing women into the priesthood. Traditions die hard. This is true in all fields. Those in control are so entrenched, it requires an unrelenting barrage of persistence to bring meaningful change. All I can say is, keep hammering away. It will happen. Thanks for the follow by the way. I wish my blog looked better, but all of my creative energy has gone into fine tuning a screenplay.

    • Thanks for this – I couldn’t agree more. There were a number of Catholic women at the event, giving their support and calling for women to be ordained in the Catholic church too. We told them not to give up hope! I think your blog’s fine btw, not that I’m in a position to judge. Mine isn’t exactly all singing and dancing either!

  2. catherine stalker

    wow! What a lovely story, Veronica, and you must have felt really happy and proud for your mother. I think you’re right and women are held back by their own inner voices more than external discrimination. I think it was Caitlin Moran who said that men think: I’m great, why can noone see it? While women think: I’m rubbish, when am I going to be found out? Good on your mum!

    Would be lovely to meet up but I seem to have a lot on next week (mainly social) and then supposedly Amsterdam for a board meeting the week after. However, I wonder if that will happen – they were waiting in trepidation for today, expectign that Victory Day will spark off some more violence. If it’s cancelled I’ll let you know and we can try then or else are you around at half-term? If you are, maybe we could do something with or without our offspring?


  3. Reading about your mum and the road to ordination for women, it is incredible to realise how far we’ve come so recently (though there are miles and miles to go yet, especially in a world where young girls are shot in the head on the school bus or kidnapped to be sold for the crime of getting an education). A friend. just this week, posted this passage from the Old Testament on her Facebook page. Keeping the doors closed to women is to shut out so much possibility for entire societies, as well as individuals.

    Joshua 17
    3 Now Zelophehad the son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh, had no sons, but only daughters, and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.
    4 They approached Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun and the leaders and said, “The LORD commanded Moses to give us an inheritance along with our brothers.” So according to the mouth of the LORD he gave them an inheritance among the brothers of their father.
    5 Thus there fell to Manasseh ten portions, besides the land of Gilead and Bashan, which is on the other side of the Jordan,
    6 because the daughters of Manasseh received an inheritance along with his sons. The land of Gilead was allotted to the rest of the people of Manasseh.

    • Thanks for your kind comments and thoughts. Giving as many kids as possible an education- both boys and girls – is absolutely vital to improving things around the globe. Am absolutely convinced about that!

  4. Tom

    First of all, I am delighted for your mother, and all the others who were in attendance. I don’t follow religion any more, but to put that in perspective, I was a practicing Catholic until I was 17. In my early teens, I toyed with the idea of joining the priesthood; but oh how far wrong was I?
    At 17, the shy, introverted me joined the British Army. I served two and a half years in Northern Ireland, and late in my career I served in the first Gulf War; arriving just before commencement of hostilities. Sadly, for me the religious light went out early in my military career.
    Now, with all of that said, I served under a female Troop Officer twice, and they were just as good as the men. In my final troop before my 23 years was up, I had four female soldiers, and three of them were as good as the men. If ever there was a testing ground for sexual equality – it is in service life. In my second career, retail management; two of the best training managers I had were women. Almost all my best staff in my 20 years of retail were women.
    The desire to succeed is the positive drive that’s needed, and women like your mother have paved the way with their courage and determination.

  5. Thanks for this, Tom. Like you, I’ve worked for both men and for women. One of the most inspirational line managers I had was a fantastic woman, but I worked for some great blokes too. At the end of the day we all need to try to see each other as individuals. It’s all too easy to make assumptions based on all sorts of factors and at times, I have to remind myself to see people as singular human beings first and foremost, and not let myself be influenced by labels. Can be hard sometimes though. It must have been pretty tough serving in Northern Ireland as a Catholic, even if only nominally. I did a lot of research into the Troubles for a project last year and I found it fascinating and heart-breaking in equal measure and there’s still so much pain buried just below the surface, as recent events have shown. My gravatar picture, by the way, was taken at Carrick-A-Rede on the Northern Irish coast on a stunning day last May. I thought it was one of the loveliest places in the entire world!

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