She can’t do that – she’s a girl

The suffragette movement definitely inspired me as a child. The fight for women’s right to vote made me believe that women could aspire to a more interesting and fulfilling life. But in the 1960s there were so many hurdles in the way.

The first time I heard someone say “She can’t do that – she’s a girl!” was when my mother was discussing my choice of secondary schools with the wife of my primary school headmaster. I had just got good grades in the 11-plus exam and had a choice between going to grammar school or to the technical school. Mrs Gray assumed my mother would send me to the technical school where I would learn some domestic skills. When my mother responded that I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my two brothers and go to grammar school Mrs Gray was  horrified. “She will only get married and become a housewife – what a waste!” she said.

Ever the rebel that just made me more determined. The first few weeks at the grammar school, however,  revealed more about the British class divide. My neighbours on the council estate where I lived decided that a grammar school girl was too stuck up to talk to – even if I was wearing a second-hand uniform and riding a bike which my father had created out of bits he had found on a rubbish dump. It took me years to prove to my working-class neighbours that I still wanted to be friends with them.

At the all-girls grammar school it took just a few days for many in my class to realise that I was from a council house estate. They didn’t speak to me for years. Some only did so on the memorable occasion when a female teacher announced that I was considering leaving school early.

I was in the second year of the sixth form and wondering what to do next. My first choice was to be a cartographer but I was told very firmly by the careers officer that women were not allowed to work in the field. All they were allowed to do, it seemed, was a nice little safe office job. I didn’t want to be a glorified shorthand typist. So I looked for a job I thought I would like where I could be on equal footing with men. I chose journalism – but how to get a foothold in that when I didn’t want to go to university first? That could be achieved, I was told, by getting to know local editors and to keep reminding them I wanted the next trainee journalist position that became available. (There were no diploma courses in journalism then.)  I was, however, a bit too successful because I got offered a job before my A-level exams.

So there I was sitting in a classroom being berated by the teacher and her sycophants about why I had to refuse that job. And guess what, someone said “You can’t do that – your a girl.” Even they thought journalism wasn’t a proper job for a woman.

I didn’t respond but, as rebellious as ever, I left the school within days and started work at the local weekly newspaper. Through the fog of cigarette smoke I could just about discern an office full of men – and it didn’t take long before I learnt that to them my role, as the only woman, was to make the tea.

About a month later I was delighted when I got a proper job – to report on the hearings at the magistrates court. When I got back most of the men were there and for once the chief reporter joined them. And why? Because they wanted me to report in full on a sodomy case. They thought they were in for a good laugh. I told them to b***** off and left. I returned to the office in the evening when they were gone to write my reports. The photographer was also working late and he earned my respect that evening for being kind and supportive.

Not surprisingly it turned out to be a long, hard apprenticeship but I did survive.

I’ve just celebrated my 70th birthday and that rebellious streak is still there. That’s why I regularly, on a voluntary basis, attend many meetings of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA). The Authority is a quango and has considerable power over the lives of people living from near Lancaster City in the south to part of Eden District in the north, as well as Wharfedale, Littondale, Wensleydale, Swaledale and Arkengarthdale.

These days local newspapers don’t have the staff to be able to cover its planning and full authority meetings. So when it comes to a big issue like whether the council tax on second homes should be increased by 500 per cent the press usually rely on what is given to them by the Authority, either by its press officer or its chairman. That did not include reporting that some members of the Authority did warn about the possible  undesirable consequences. Only the ARC News Service reported on that.

There have been so many occasions over the years when the views of local residents and even the Authority members would not have been reported if it hadn’t been for the ARC News Service.

Just some thoughts regarding the YDNPA:  For 11 years it was run  by just one man (Cllr Robert Heseltine). The Association of Rural Communities called for the Authority to have secret ballot votes when electing a chairman. In 1999, when the Authority did do that, it also decided that no-one could continue as chairman for more than four consecutive years. Now,  however, we seem to have a “revolving door chairman” because Cllr Carl Lis was elected chairman from 2004 to 2008 and  2009 to 2012, and has had a further two years in that post since 2016. Is he trying to equal Cllr Heseltine’s total?

What’s more – the  Authority has never had a female chairman.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.