My grandmother, Emily Louise, was a confident women – she had to be. Like many she lost her first love in the First World War and though she celebrated in 1918 when the first women received the vote she like many had to wait another 6 years before she was 30 and could vote herself. She had her first child at the age of 33 and looked after two boys while my grandfather fought in the Second World War. She continued throughout to work as a comptometer operator (the first commercially successful key driven mechanical calculator). I recall her always assuming that as girls my sisters and I could do whatever we wanted to do and I also remember my grandfather offering the same encouragement. Looking back I have been so grateful for their encouragement, which along with the support of my parents, gave me confidence as a child to believe that anything was possible.
Today we mark the day that Millicent Fawcett, the Pankhursts and other suffrage campaigners won a hard fought victory – the passing of the Representation of Peoples Act 1918 which gave the first votes for some women and paved the way for universal suffrage 10 years later. Today speaks of the efforts of so many which have shaped my opportunities and the life I am able to live today and I am profoundly grateful.
My daughter, whose middle names are Emily Louise, is a confident women of whom I am very proud. I am also aware that research tells us that even with our second female Prime Minster when we think of a powerful person we are likely to think of a man. Mary Beard in her book Women & Power writes that her ‘basic premise is that our mental, cultural template for a powerful person remains resolutely male’. Changing that cultural template will be as hard a fight as that fought a hundred years ago but if we are to shape a more equal future for our children then this culture must be challenged at every possible opportunity.
Mary Beard goes on to make the point that a headline in The Times in early 2017 ‘Women Prepare for a Power Grab in Church, Police and BBC’ suggest that we are taking something to which we are not quite entitled, the article reported the possibility that women might soon gain the positions of Metropolitan Police commissioner, chair of the BBC Unitary Board and the Bishop of London. Two out of three ain’t bad, I suppose. But in the year that I am to be installed as Bishop of London, the year we celebrate the centenary of the vote for some women, then I believe more is possible and not just possible, but necessary. #equallyvalued