The four Tornado fighter-bombers roared past in perfect formation, the diamond shape of the group showing off the aggressive presence of the aircraft. They turned hard across the airfield, disappeared briefly behind the low foothills of the Scottish Highlands, then returned in single file – lower, faster and noisier than before, causing the ground beneath our feet to shake. The commentator casually informed the gathered crowd marking the disbandment of my old squadron that the flypast formation was led by the commanding officer of 12 Squadron RAF, wing commander Nikki Thomas. The announcement was made in a matter-of-fact style and received in the same way, which gave me a deep sense of satisfaction. Women are succeeding in what was, until recently, a man’s world. More importantly, the current generation of young yet mature adults accepts this, rightly, as the norm.
I recall many debates before women were accepted for training as combat pilots, and it’s clear in retrospect that almost all of the opposition arguments were total rubbish.
Women, it was said, lack aggression, are less logical than men and would be unable to withstand the physical stresses of g-forces and vibration. It sounds ludicrously Dickensian now, but these points were hotly debated less than 30 years ago.
I’m proud that I was heavily involved in the training of the first RAF women fighter pilots just over 20 years ago. Of course, none of those counter arguments have proved to be correct and there are women flying successfully in all combat and support roles.
No less energetically resisted was the application of equality legislation to golf clubs. It was, at the time, unpopular for the vast majority of male, and in many cases female, members of the clubs. Having steadfastly stood for equal opportunities for my daughter and son all their lives, I recall informing my colleagues that I could not look my daughter or wife in the eye if I didn’t embrace equality.
It’s clear, and I’m delighted, that some parts of the world have come such a long way when it comes to equality in recent times. It’s equally clear that there’s still some way to go and that we can’t be complacent. But it’d be wrong not to acknowledge the successes, and there’s a decent amount of those to celebrate. Both New Zealand and Britain have
women prime ministers, and not for the first time in either country. No real fuss has been made about their gender in either case.
Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” It’s hard to say how many of those miles to full equality have already been travelled, but we’re well and truly on the journey.