Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Lady Masters

I struggle with our language sometimes. The feminist in me agrees that the use of the word “chairman” reinforces the idea that people who chair things should be men. On the other hand I never liked referring to myself as a piece of furniture but gradually accepted that this could be a new use for the word.

When it comes to terminology for masters of livery companies – the choices seemed limited. In our company, the male master’s wife is called the mistress so to call oneself mistress would be very confusing (in more ways than one). So it didn’t take much thought to accept that Master I would be and my husband would be my Consort.

This preamble is to lead into a super lunch that I attended on January 13 with a group of women who are either currently master of their livery companies or a past master. This is an informal network of women and it was fun to exchange experiences and learn from others.

We drank a toast to Sylvia Tutt who died recently. I did not know her but several women had interesting anecdotes to tell. Sylvia was the very first female Master of any Livery Company (Chartered Secretaries and Administrators 1983/84), and held numerous other positions in the civic life of the City. There have been a total of 67 female masters in the almost 30 years since Sylvia broke new ground - so roughly 67 out of about 3,000 - we are hardly taking over. I hope that the pace is picking up a bit now.

Amongst the wide range of topics we discussed was the the dress code for women for events in the City. Just as in the workplace the dress code for men for formal events is much easier than women. I remember well the power shoulders of the 1980s (shades of Dallas and Dynasty) and my own wardrobe of the time that seemed to consist entirely of suits in black, grey or navy. A friend described the appropriate dress for a banquet as somewhere between a ball and a wedding – which is quite good but you should see how some people dress at weddings! Our Clerk will be providing guidance.

I am delighted that the Needlemakers has given me this wonderful opportunity and hope that the other companies who have still to appoint their first woman as master take heart. Nothing dreadful happened – I didn’t even frighten the horses.

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