It is a great privilege, as a man, to be a member of the Girls' School Association. It is rare that a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, middle-aged, middle-class male finds himself in a minority, but that is my lot this week at the GSA conference in Harrogate. It is a privilege because GSA is one of the few places where educated eloquent women meet together on a national stage and discuss an agenda that unashamedly revolves around the education of girls and the place of women in society. Few men are given the opportunity to be a part of such an event. As with the coverage of women's sport in the back pages, the national press shy away from an informed debate about the thorny issue of the place of women in society and the question of balancing careers and family. The danger here is of parody - this is a debate that is easy to caricature or to polarise.
Thus Jill Berry, the President of the GSA is to be congratulated on having the courage to use her annual address to open up this important debate. It is a debate that we need to have in society; and the GSA conference is a fitting place for that debate to start. The debate has moved on from breaking "glass ceilings" - it is about preparing young women to exercise choice:
"We need to educate our girls so if they choose to be working mothers they need to get a grip on their guilt. If they choose not to work and to stay at home with their children, at least for a period of time, they shouldn't feel guilty. If they choose not to have children at all, they shouldn't feel guilt. If they find they are unable to have children, that's also something we need to educate them to be able to handle. That's what I wish for the girls we are educating."The GSA debate is informed all the more because most of the Heads themselves have faced those very choices and dilemmas themselves. These are very real choices. Each professional woman has to face those decisions, and schools have the responsibility to find a range of role models for girls to help them determine their own future.Jill Berry, Presidential Address, 16/11/09
I was very impressed a couple of months ago to meet an old girl of my school who had grappled with these very decisions. Her problem was that her professional work took up so much of her life that she didn't even have time to meet someone with whom to settle down. I listened in awe to her solution as she expounded how she and her friends, having worked in blue chip firms for fifteen or so years, were all setting up their own firms so that they could retake control of their lives and find the time to regain a work-life balance. It seemed to be working for her - three years on she had just got married and the business was going well. What struck me most was how what had been a problem had become a catalyst for a life-changing career move - that's what I call entrepreneurial.
Press Reports [not all accurately reported!]:
- Girls ‘must be taught risks of juggling career and motherhood’ Times Online 14/11/09
- Can girls have a career AND babies? No, and they shouldn't feel guilty, says leading headmistress Daily Mail 14/11/09
- Girls shouldn't expect to 'have it all' says school head Independent 13/11/09
- Having it all 'not realistic' BBC News 13/11/09
- Is it possible for an attractive, fashion-conscious girl to be taken seriously? DT 16/11/09
- 'You can be beautiful and still be a feminist' Independent 16/11/09
- Fashion not a betrayal of feminist ideals, says leading headteacher 16/11/09
- Make-up and attractive clothes don't make girls bimbos, insists headmistress 16/11/09