It is difficult to measure or define power; perhaps it is untouchable air of authority which wafts in a golden haze wherever you go, or a quantifiable product of hard work in the form of managerial positions, or perhaps, even, the ability to inspire others. Unfortunately, in previous decades, boasting the male anatomy was just another requisite aspect of holding a managerial position.  The acrid smoke of the ‘old boys club’ still lingers largely unchallenged in many sectors, exemplified not only by the fact that in 2017 only 32% of MPs were female but also by the infamous ‘legs it not Brexit’ headline. However, this blatant comparison and consequently competition between women, reported with such unsettling relish, is nothing new. When interviewing Head of Sixth Form Kate Spencer Ellis, we discussed how women are to shatter glass ceilings when the falling of the shards on their female competition is so fetishized.

‘Mean Girls was a great movie, but it did some real damage,’ Kate admits, ‘this idea that women are always competing against one another and tearing each other down is really quite problematic.’ It may be problematic but it is readily adopted as a sexy truth by the film industry, shown not only by the Mean Girls sequel, but by a plethora of teenage television shows, such as Pretty Little Liars, presenting a group of female friends involved in cut throat rivalry, masquerading as a sugar sweet ‘BFF’ circle. When asked if she had more of a tendency to compete with women, Kate conceded that whilst this was perhaps an issue in adolescence, as she matured,  ‘she realised that she would need all the help she could get’, and had been fortunate to work in many environments where women were ‘genuinely supportive of one another.’  

Perhaps much of what drives the competition between women is the crippling societal pressure to ‘have it all’ in a modest way which evokes envy and admiration in equal measure. Kate recalls how ,‘Girls like me growing up in the 80s and 90s were presented with all these options but there was never any emphasis on the difference between being able to physically have it all and being able to juggle all these things at the same time.’ Perhaps things haven’t changed that much now; the glamorised depiction of prominent women in the media, such as the Duchess of Cambridge, appearing in papers shortly after giving birth, snapped back into slender frames with an abundance of luxurious locks framing their faces like halos surely does little to alleviate this pressure and consequent feeling of inadequacy.

When asked about people’s assumptions regarding her private life, Kate recounts how,

‘I don’t have a young family, and therefore people sometimes have a tendency to label this as me not ‘having it all.’ She also talks about how in the past, it has transpired that her sexuality has been misinterpreted due to her lack of mentioning a partner. However, when relating this, she is neither aggrieved nor resentful, simply self-assured and observant and it seems that, as Kate later articulates herself, a consequence of the ‘boys club culture’ which she grew up in is that she is not often vexed by such behaviour, or intimidated by incorrect assumptions.

When asked about the difficulties facing young women who wish to achieve managerial positions, Kate admits that, ‘I felt a little like a walking womb in my 30s; one job I was told that I would be payed less because I was young, and I think that you could probably replace the word ‘young’ with ‘female’. I also think that people are terrified of female emotion.’ She pauses thoughtfully and then clarifies, ‘I would say that I have been made to regret demonstrating specific emotions. Not typically masculine emotions like anger- I’ve always been treated with respect in those circumstances; though I think that those were the moments that actually lacked integrity for me.’

In light of this fear about female emotion, I ask her if she thinks that there could ever be a female president of the United States, ‘In my optimistic moments- which are far and few with regards to American politics,’ she laughs. ‘Though,’ Kate asserts, an air of sincerity returning to her tone, ‘I think that there is a case study of one in terms of legitimate contenders, and there were people on all ends of the political spectrum who found Hillary Clinton quite problematic  but if you look at the specific ways in which she was attacked, they all came back to her femininity, or perceived lack of femininity.’

We discuss sexism in the education sector, and Kate admits that on occasion, she has encountered some headline-grabbing moments, such as a parent repeatedly congratulating her on losing weight on parent’s evening, or her male deputy being mistaken for her superior at a conference. ‘Though, I think that those incidences are very rare, and for the most part parents are very happy to talk to me, because I think what they look for in a person is competence and credibility, and those are pretty irrespective of gender.’

When asked about advice she would offer to girls considering managerial positions in the future, Kate says, ‘I went too fast, and then slowed down, because I wanted to get the cookies and get the affirmation, because that is just how I was built but one of the most important pieces of advice is don’t let your self-worth be on the line constantly. Also, another word which has sort of been monopolized to mean a lot of not very helpful things, is authenticity, which is really important as well. Lastly, you won’t be able to do it alone, so find the people that will help you do it.’ Hopefully now many of those advocates will be women.