Is the sky now the limit for women?

So I was doing my household chores ironically; BBC Radio 4 booming out as I ironed and I was drawn to a debate amongst academics on ‘Sweet reason’ about whether or not describing society as patriarchal was outdated and possibly unhelpful.

In brief it went a bit like this

The pros

  • It is a true state of affairs, men hold more leadership positions (5 in 6 apparently) ;
  • 98 percent of economic prosperity sits with them;
  • men are hardwired differently (underlying biology);
  • women having children at 33 years old on average and still carry the bulk of ‘maternal’ duties;
  • it is an accurate representation of history and how we have got to where we are (the birth of industrialisation lead to many jobs requiring physical strength that have been more associated with men)

The cons

  • the term is too associated with tyranny;
  • the idea that men have more power leads to exclusion;
  • men don’t have it all;
  • it puts men and women in competition with each other;
  • men don’t always benefit from expecting to be bread winner and out of choice may want to spend more time with their children

The debate drifted into whether women have evolved due to history and socialisation and is that still a barrier now? I could not decide ….

Later that week though on the same radio show I tuned in to a story about Mary Ellis who recently died aged 101. Her contribution to the war effort during the second world war was astounding. She became a pilot of the wellington bomber and spitfire amongst the 76 different types she flew in the 1940s.

“Everybody was flabbergasted that a little girl like me could fly these big aeroplanes all by oneself.”

She stated.

The ATA, allowed qualified women to join as pilots from 1940 (a little known fact). Whilst Mary found the occupation ‘exhilarating and dangerous’, the journalists of the age were particularly scathing :

The Aeroplane magazine (1940) wrote “Women anxious to serve their country should take on work more befitting their sex instead of encroaching on a man’s occupation.” Another editor wrote “The menace is the woman who thinks that she ought to be flying in a high-speed bomber when she really has not the intelligence to scrub the floor of a hospital properly.”

“Girls flying aeroplanes was almost a sin at that time,” Mary Ellis recalled. ‘Sinning’ a lot during the war, she flew around 1000 aircraft ; was shot at over Bournemouth in a possible friendly fire and had a near-miss from a collision with a spitfire when she landed in fog. She also survived a crash landing . Her survival was at stake every day as nearly 1 in 10 female aviators of the ATA were killed during the war. Away from Aircraft she continued thrill seeking through her love of fast cars (entering into winning sports car rallies ) as well as running a fashion boutique. Before she died at 101 she still drove to the local shops. What a woman!

This story leads me nicely to a conclusion that society being described as patriarchal could now be described as an adopted term from an era gone by and with the opportunities women now have, I feel the men with these views around patriarchy are in the minority and could be described in better words that I can not repeat in print!

In the main men don’t have it all, have similar issues to contend with in life so lets go easy on them but by the same token , us women can learn from Mary as the sky for her was literally the limit.

Article by Michelle Harte – Head of HR, West Midlands Employers

(Find out more about Michelle)

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