‘Why Can’t a Woman Be Like A Man?’

Women are irrational, that’s all there is to that!
There heads are full of cotton, hay, and rags!
They’re nothing but exasperating, irritating,
vacillating, calculating, agitating,
Maddening and infuriating hags!
Pickering, why can’t a woman be more like a man?”

Asks Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady; the musical based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. The gist of the tale is –  Higgins picks up a Cockney flower girl in order to prove he can change her accent to deceive others of her station – but he is not doing it for Eliza, out of the goodness of his heart – it is for his own sense of importance. Eliza doesn’t get an education, she gets trained like a performing monkey. Made in 1964, the musical is revealing in it’s shocking attitudes towards female education.

So when and how have females been educated? Have we really progressed? Were women educated equally to men – once upon a time? Find below a brief race through our educational history.

  • In ancient Greece – although it was generally unacceptable for women to be educated, the Pythagoreans and Epicureans allowed women, such as Lastheneia of Mantinea and Axiothea of Phlius, both disciples of Plato, to participate in schooling as well as symposia. Female poets were more common, including Erinna, Corinna, and Praxilla. Pythagoras believed that reason was the most important human characteristic, and that it was unaffected by gender. He felt that both males and females should receive the same skills and there should be no differentiation between the topics of education.

  • In ancient RomeEducation of women began around the 2nd century BC. The education of elite Roman women was normal. Education meant literacy, numeracy, knowledge of both Latin and Greek languages and reading in both languages, and also history. Girls were educated along with boys in some households, but as they grew older they started to learn different things. Literary education beyond the basics of reading and writing was available to some elite girls. These girls received such education, however, not to prepare themselves for future occupations, but to increase their value as wives.

  • 5th to 15th century – During the Middle Ages, schools were established to teach Latin grammar, while apprenticeship was the main way to enter practical occupations. Two universities were established: the University of Oxford followed by the University of Cambridge. A reformed system of “free grammar schools” was established in the reign of Edward VI of England. The earliest schools in England – at least, those we know anything about – date from the arrival of St Augustine and Christianity around the end of the sixth century. It seems likely that the very first grammar school was established at Canterbury in 598. Educational opportunities for many were slim, for women it was marriage or the nunnery.

  • Early 16th century – many boys still went to chantry schools, whilst girls; in a rich family, had a tutor who usually taught them at home. In a middle class family their mother might teach them. Upper class and middle class women were educated. However lower class girls were not, neither were lower class boys.

  • 17th and 18th century – following the reign of Queen Elizabeth I who was a brilliant and highly educated woman, women’s education suffered a serious setback. Powerful men opposed the education of women beyond reading and writing their names. King James I, successor to Elizabeth, rejected a proposal that his daughter be given a classical education saying, “To make women learned and foxes tame has the same effect – to make them more cunning.”

  • 19th century – Education greatly improved for both boys and girls. In the early 19th century there were dame schools for very young children. They were run by women who taught a little reading, writing and arithmetic. However many dame schools were really a child minding service. Girls from upper class families were taught by a governess. Boys were often sent to public schools like Eaton. Middle class boys went to grammar schools. Middle class girls went to private schools were they were taught ‘accomplishments’ such as music and sewing. In 1811 the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principle of the Established Church (The Church of England) was formed. The state did not take responsibility for education until 1870. Forsters Education Act laid down that schools should be provided for all children. If there were not enough places in existing schools then board schools were built. In 1880 school was made compulsory for 5 to 10 year olds. However school was not free, except for the poorest children until 1891 when fees were abolished. From 1899 children were required to go to school until they were 12.

  • 21st century – onward and upwards. We are informed that girls are overtaking the boys; though there is still institutional bias; at Oxford and Cambridge the majority of students are male, and women hold only 20% of professor roles in UK. Boys and girls are pretty equal when it comes to A Level results, and girls are more likely to go to university.

blog women know your limits
Women Know Your Limits; Harry Enfield’s 1950s parody.

Some educated women from history –pre 19th century

  • Hildegard of Bingen; (1098 –1179) Saint Hildegard of Bingen, O.S.B., also known as Saint Hildegard, and Sibyl of the Rhine, was a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath. She wrote theological, botanical and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs, and poems, while supervising brilliant miniature illuminations.

  • Cleopatra VII; (5th c BC) studied philosophy, literature, art, music, medicine, and was able to speak six different languages. These languages were Aramaic, Egyptian, Ethiopian, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. Being very educated, she soon learned of all her political surroundings and of her father’s status and power he had as Pharaoh. When the Greeks ruled Egypt in the first century B.C., they stressed education for both royal boys and girls.

  • Queen Elizabeth I ( 1533 – 1603) Her studies included languages, grammar, theology, history, rhetoric, logic, philosophy, arithmetic, literature, geometry, and music. She was also taught religious studies.

  • Margaret More (Thomas Mores daughter) one of the best educated women in Tudor England. The first female commoner to publish a book. Educated equally to her brother by her father; a Humanist education that included ;grammar, writing, reading, religion, Latin, Greek texts (usually women were not allowed to read these)

  • Hypatia (ca. AD 350–370–March 415) was a Greek Neo-Platonist philosopher in Roman Egypt who was the first historically noted woman in mathematics and the first woman to make a substantial contribution to the development of mathematics .As head of the Platonic school at Alexandria, she also taught philosophy and astronomy.

  • Mary Astell (1666–1731); was an English philosopher. She was born in Newcastle. Today she is best known for her theories on the education of women and her critiques of Norris and John Locke.

  • Mary Wollstonecraft, (1759-1797); Anglo-Irish feminist, intellectual and writer. Established a school at Newington Green, when she was 24 years old. In 1788 she became translator and literary advisor to Joseph Johnson, the publisher of radical texts. In this capacity she became acquainted with and accepted among the most advanced circles of London intellectual and radical thought.

  • Boudicca (d. AD 60 or 61) ;was queen of the British Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire. Dio says that she was “possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women”.

blog Cleopatra_-_John_William_Waterhouse
You don’t get to be as prominent as Cleopatra without having plenty of smarts.

Q: Why can’t a woman be like a man?

A: Because they haven’t been allowed to (mostly)!


Gillard. D (2011) Education in England: a brief history www.educationengland.org.uk/history


Maggie Hunt; Greek Art and Archaeology, May 1, 2004


Writing is…Hard

Writing is….Hard

Well, writing per se is not hard. However, writing well is!

It is quite easy to put pen to paper, finger tips to keys, or quill to parchment; whatever takes your fancy, I do it all the time. It does not make what I write worthy of reading, or even particularly good.

As an adult who is fairly new to the world of writing, I realise how very little I was taught at school, and probably because teachers work to a curriculum which itself is about passing exams. I am not alone in this lack of education regarding how to write. I was not, for example, taught the difference between an essay and a story, an assignment, a dissertation, or a thesis. I have had to pick these up in the later years of my life – a huge indictment on the English Education system.

Writing is not hard because I am dull-witted; I am not.

Writing is a creative activity, it demands a skill with words that, sadly, many so-called authors do not have. Word-smiths work hard at compiling and re-arranging 26 letters (in English) into a plethora of ideas, and use the same 26 letters over again for completely different themes.

Writing well is demanding.
It requires practise. It requires persistence. It requires commitment. It requires creativity. It requires honesty. Anyone can produce word vomit – it’s recognising the good bits that makes the difference.

Recently, I have been asking myself – who cares? Or, So what?

Who cares if you wrote a tragedy about a lovelorn grass snake? So what if you ‘have a story inside’, do you really have to share it? What make you think anyone wants to read it? I have been guilty of producing some trite nonsense, I need to stop. And so do a lot of people.

Self criticism seems to be sorely lacking in many individuals. I blame the school system; everyone can be creative, everyone is a winner – no they can’t and no they are not. This lack of competition has created a society with a watery attitude to the arts; vapid outpourings of equally vapid individuals.

And this criticism is not only levelled at ‘young up and coming’ authors – there are many brilliant new writers – no, I have read some tosh from long established writers who seem to pump out vast quantities of barely edited text, in the infuriating belief that more is better. It is not.

Many authors have only ever produced one or two novels – would that the others had!!!!

Writing is hard for blog snoopy
Writing is hard for Snoopy…



It’s that time of year again.


The word can bring the usually stout of heart and joyous of personalities to a stuttering, heart-in-the-mouth, stomach-churning (occasionally pants-filling), halt.

exam Will

Thousands of young people across the UK will have sat, or be currently sitting these horrendous GCSE/A level/End of Year papers. My thoughts are with you guys.

But why do we do exams? For years I have gone along with the mentality that exams are there to assess how much we have learnt, to grade us for the next level of education, to see where our skills lie (academically) and so direct our employment options.

Imagine our ancient ancestors – ploughing the fields, milking the cows, thatching roofs, building homes, smithing your horse’s hooves, sewing your clothes, brewing ale, grinding corn and so on and so forth. Did they sit written exams? No. They didn’t, but managed to make, create, produce and thrive in a continuously moving environment.

Er, obviously NOT going to be a bricklayer!

The problem lies with numbers; not those hated calculations involving equations and formulas – or that might just be me. I mean numbers of students. In the past, authentic assessment was the norm; we had apprenticeships; an expert would take on an apprentice, provide individualised training and constant feedback. Apprentices were evaluated on how well they applied the skills, not how well they answered a multiple-choice question. The tradition continues today; the construction industry being a point in question.

exams chinese outside
Chinese students had to sit outside – is this what we are heading towards???!!!

But as the population grew, we needed a way to assess huge numbers of potentials. And now we have a kind of production-line mentality to education and exams. We go in one end, age 5 years (3 ½ if you go to pre-school), and come out the other aged 18 years, having sat numerous tests along the way: IQ tests, 11Plus, Aptitude, End of Year, SAT’s (thanks America!) Mocks, GCSE’s (O Levels if your over 40 years), A Levels. THEN, you can go to Further or Higher Education where you do further exams – or retake those English and Maths GCSE’s you failed at school.

exam stress
And we start them so young!

And this in an age where we talk about the individual; about how we’re each different, how we have differing needs, how we learn at different rates. So why the rigid, one-size-fits-all attitude?

And what do exams do anyway, besides stress us out? So you happen to be able to remember a bunch of information that someone spewed out for 10 months, so what? Just because you can pass a written exam, does not mean you will be successful in life, as a person – you know, the REAL important stuff?!

Should we be looking at a new way to educate people? What should we be educated in?

We’re so busy stuffing our heads with dates and measurements and names and so forth, that we do not stop to think what we should be learning about.

Education, after all means – the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university, “a course of education” (OED) Origin – Word Root of educate

The Latin word ducere, meaning “to lead,” and its form ductus give us the roots duc and duct. Words from the Latin ducere have something to do with leading. A duct is a tube that leads from one place or organ to another. To educate, or teach, is to lead to knowledge. To induce is to lead into a particular state. (Merriam-Webster)


So, instead of stuffing words, dates and formulae in, we should be spending half the time, drawing out from the pupil.

And anyway, who decided that if you don’t get the grades then you’ll never ‘make it’ in life. Let’s have a look at how some well-known people fared in their school exams and ask ourselves, Do we really need exams in the form they currently are anymore?

Imagine if every student across the land – every single one – refused to do their exams. On the same day, at the same time, they all agreed to down pens and refuse to take part in this pointless ritual that measures nothing but an individuals ability to regurgitate information in a given time frame…I wonder what would happen?!

exam david
Failed his pasty eating exam…


Simon Cowell –Music Entrepreneur – left school with just 1 O Level.

Jon Snow– journalist/News Presenter – Grade C in English.

Lord Alan Sugar – Business Entrepreneur – 1 GCSE.

Sarah Millican – Comedian – D and E in her A Levels.

Jeremy Clarkson – TV Host – “If your A-level results aren’t joyous, take comfort from the fact I got a C and two Us. And I have a Mercedes Benz.”


…and extracts from some school reports of the good and the average:


“This boy will never get anywhere in life.”  Eric Morecombe, Comedian.

“Judi would be a very good pupil if she lived in this world.” Judi Dench, Actor.

“Certainly on the road to failure…hopeless…rather a clown in class…wasting other pupils’ time.” John Lennon, Musician.

“Inclined to dream. Could do better if he tried.” Nick Park, Animator.

“Jilly has set herself an extremely low standard which she has failed to maintain.” Jilly Cooper, Author.

“Constantly late for school, losing his books and papers….regular in his irregularity….” Sir Winston Churchill, Prime Minister 1940-1945/1951-1955

So you see, if at first you don’t succeed; become an entrepreneur, a comedian or a politician, can’t go wrong!


Oh, And

Good Luck!