By: Louise North – Principal, Framlingham College | Image Source: en.wikipedia.org
Framlingham College is committed to equal treatment for all, regardless of an individual’s race, sex, gender reassignment, ethnicity, religion or belief, sexual orientation, disability, learning difficulty, body image, pregnancy & maternity, or social background. Each one of us has the right to be who we are without fear of discrimination or prejudice.
However, it is undoubtedly true that many of us will have felt or will feel discriminated against in one way or another in the course of our lifetime. How we deal with it is important and bringing about change, where change is necessary, raising awareness and challenging the behaviour in a constructive way is essential, but not always easy.
As a young woman setting out on my career, I experienced discrimination because of my age and gender on several occasions. It is only now, when I look back, that I ask myself why I didn’t challenge this behaviour.
- For example, during an interview for a teaching role, I was asked by the Head, whether I planned to have children any time soon, as this would be problematic.
- When I wore a new suit to work one day, my Head at the time complimented me on dressing attractively.
- When seeking feedback on an interview I was told that the panel did not think I could cope with the older members of staff that I would be line managing.
- When appointed as a Head of Sixth Form, I faced a riot – quite literally – outside my house by senior pupils who objected to being told what to do by a woman.
None of these experiences put me off or deterred me for long, but what they did, is make me very aware of how I treat other people, how I talk to them, what quiet judgements I make about them.
In my role as Principal of the College, I am determined that each one of you puts into practice and experiences the equal opportunities policy that I read out at the beginning. That each of you understands the importance of accepting and respecting each other as equals.
Equally, I am determined that you will be amongst those who push for change by taking positive and constructive action when things are not right.
I am inspired by other people who have turned their experiences into a positive force for good and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or the Notorious RBG as she was known, is one of these people.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was a pioneer for the rights of all people, but particularly for the rights of women. She died on the 18 September, last Friday, at the age of 87.
Ginsburg became only the second woman ever to serve as a justice – a judge – on America’s Supreme Court. However, her journey to the pinnacle of her profession was riddled with blatant sexism and discrimination.
In the 1950s, discrimination against pregnant women was still legal and she was demoted from her job because she became pregnant.
In 1956, she became one of nine women accepted to Harvard Law School, out of a class of about 500. The dean famously asked that his female law students to tell him how they could justify taking the place of a man at his Law School.
After graduating top of her class, not one law firm in NY would give her a job…
In 1972, she co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). That same year, she became the first tenured female professor at Columbia Law School.
She was famous for co-writing the brief in the first case in the Supreme Court where it was ruled that sex discrimination was unconstitutional.
President Jimmy Carter made her a Federal Judge and then in 1993 she was nominated to the Supreme Court, where she was criticised as too old at the age of 60 to be made a justice. Interestingly, she remained a justice on the Supreme Court until her death – the longest serving justice ever.
The point of this message this morning is less about women’s rights, and more about how we respond to any discrimination if we witness it or experience it directly.
Throughout her career, RBG legitimise and extend the rights of women, in the work-place, in education, in all walks of life. She set a very fine example of how to pursue what is right through peaceful and constructive action. She reacted by working hard, by educating others, by maintaining her integrity, by being resilient, courageous, persistent and determined.
I hope that you will feel inspired by her story and I look forward to discussing this matter with you over the course of the term.