Let’s start a war
Start a nuclear war
At the gay bar, gay bar, gay bar
Gay Bar – Electric Six
In 1989 a fresh-faced @mrgprimary set off along the way to the RAF recruitment office in Reading. Having done lots of research about types of aeroplanes, weapons and where in the world they had been deployed I felt ready for the day of assessment and interviews that I was heading towards.
At that time, homosexuality was a crime in the UK military, punishable by instant dismissal (it wasn’t until the Armed Forces Act of 2016 that a “homosexual act” constituting grounds for discharge from HM Forces under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 was repealed). Potential recruits were asked the question “You come back into your [shared] room one night and find your roommate in bed with another man, what do you do?”. There was only one correct answer for those wishing to undertake a life in the military – beat them to within an inch of their lives and call the police on the dirty perverts (or words to that effect). Any sympathy for the individual was grounds not to be admitted to the forces.
Times changed though – Stonewall were the lead campaign group who provided legal services for a group of individuals who had been discharged because of their sexuality. Some years later, most in the services would now agree that a person’s sexual conduct, as long as it is within the bounds of the law, has no influence on their ability to serve their country.
At a similar time, it was also not permitted for women with babies to serve in the armed forces. Yes, they could stay in uniform, under what was known as a ‘local service’ agreement. This meant they could do menial work on the base whilst not being paid as much as their male counterparts and having much reduced terms of service. Eventually this rule was changed and now we find people who are just the best for the job being employed in the military (notwithstanding certain roles where women have yet to complete training – all jobs are now open to everyone)
So how does this Draconian image fit our modern situation and why am I blogging about it now?
Well I’ve been thinking carefully recently about gender bias in schools. I attended the excellent #TalkOnTheTyne on Thursday night when it was pointed out to me that women made up around 30% of the speakers on the night. This lead to a Twitter discussion, facilitated by @GenderCharter, about how we can attract more women to present at edu events.
I feel sorry for event organisers. It must be hard. You have a list of contacts that you know will speak (at paid and unpaid events – this may have a bearing on it all) at your event and you start making the calls and sending the emails. Before you know it you have a list of presenters and you start putting together your programme for the day. Then you take a step back.
Of all the people you called, who then checked their diaries, agreed fees (if a paid event) and said yes to you, 90% were white males. You know Twitter is going to roast you for this so what do you do?
I see two options:
- Start frantically calling around the minority groups you know (yes I realise women are not a minority group) and canvas speakers who now now they are being played to fill a missing demographic, or;
- Ride out the storm.
Neither of those two options really appeal so what is the organiser to do now?
Culturally, at the moment, men seem to be disproportionally represented at edu events. Figures from the DfE in 2014 show that 26% of the teaching workforce are male. So what is it that makes male teachers more likely to be presenting at teaching events?
To solve this conundrum we maybe need to look inside ourselves slightly. Maybe we are still conditioned to accept that males are more likely to abdicate childcare responsibilities to the mother and see less issue with leaving family behind to attend weekend/evening events. Maybe we need to allow movements like 10%Braver and #WomanEd to empower female teachers and remind them that they do have a voice that is worth being heard. Having listened to workshops from amazing teachers at different conferences over the past few years I don’t think I have chosen one session based on the sex of the presenter. I purely look at the title/content and make my choices.
I have no doubt that things can change but, even in our days of instant news and 24hr social media presence, we have to be aware that cultural change takes time to embed. I’ll go back to my opening story and why this is relevant. When I joined the RAF in 1990 there were people I worked with who had served more than 30 years at this point. They were embedded with the ideals and biases of their generation – for some of whom would remember same sex intercourse being a criminal act in England up to 1967 (if you think that is bad remember it was decriminalised in Scotland in 1981 and Northern Ireland in 1982). Asking people from this cultural norm to change their values overnight was never going to happen. When being allowed to serve as an openly homosexual individual was approved in 1999 there were a section of the military who could not accept the change. As a result some (including some very senior Army officers) resigned.
We have to allow time for change to happen. I have no doubt that the balance will be realigned soon and the plethora of excellent speakers (of both sexes) we see now will have their numbers bolstered.
But we have to give it a chance to happen…