Vivienne Durham hit the headlines this week for arguing that school girls should be warned that they “can’t have it all” and will need to choose between a family or a career. As you can imagine I have a few issues with this. Before I go into this it is probably worth noting that Vivienne Durham won the Tatler Award for “Best Head of A Public School” last year so she clearly knows her stuff (in the eyes of a fashion and lifestyle magazine.) Anyway, here’s what the award-winning Head Teacher had to say:
“I’m sorry, I’m not a feminist. I believe there is a glass ceiling – if we tell them there isn’t one, we are telling them a lie.”
I’m going to put aside the fact that Durham expects women to have to choose between childcare or a career, and not men, as there are a plethora of posts and articles about this and I think you can unpack that argument for yourselves. If you are really struggling – Google it.
My concern is Durham’s claim that she is: “not a feminist.” Not. A. Feminist. So I assume she went for the job of Head Teacher of a girls’ school to make sure those girls were taught to “know their place” in society? Or maybe Durham just doesn’t think it’s important that women can own things, or choose who they have sex with. When you break down what being a feminist means into its simplest terms, is Durham honestly saying she does not believe in equality between men and women? Even if that is her view, what on earth makes her think that’s an appropriate message to pass on to impressionable teenage girls?
Sadly, regarding the choices women have to make, a lot of what Durham said is actually true for many women. A recent Gender Equality report by Mervyn Davies has set a new target for FTSE 100 firms to have 33% female board members by 2020. Just 1/3 of the board has to be women. Not half, not a majority (heaven forbid) just a measly 33%. The report found that, at present, there are more women on FTSE 100 boards than ever before but that still only makes up 26%.
Only 190 of our 650 MPs are female and women are still more likely to earn less than their male counterparts. We are also more likely to be victims of sexual assault and domestic violence – and we’re a country in which the women’s movement has been relatively successful especially when you compare us to somewhere like Afghanistan, which was recently named the most dangerous country for women to live in.
So Durham has a point and she was right to raise her pupils’ awareness of the issues they will have to confront as adults. However, she IS a teacher and the golden rule of inspiring future generations is – you’re equipping them with the skills to go and create a better, more equal society. So yes, tell the girls you teach about the glass ceiling but only whilst at the same time helping them create the sharpest, heaviest tool to smash through it. Durham’s message seems to be: “this is the status quo girls, accept it” – which is fucking shameful.
I often tell the children I teach that I don’t want them to follow in my generation’s footsteps I want them to be even better. I hope the pupils I teach will grow up smarter, wiser, and with critical faculties far superior to my own and I hope the society they create will be fairer. If I did not want these things for my pupils or I did not believe them to be possible, I could not, and would not, be a teacher.