'You can be beautiful and still be a feminist'

Girls’ school leader defends pupils who want to look attractive

Girls who spend time making themselves beautiful are not betraying any feminist principles and should be allowed to "have fun" and be taken seriously, the leader of Britain's top private girls' schools said yesterday.

Jill Berry, president of the Girls' School Association, which represents nearly 200 independent schools, told its annual conference in Harrogate: "Girls can be highly intelligent and interested in being seen to be attractive – the two aren't mutually exclusive.

"Caring about physical appearance and fashion and wanting to feel good about how you look doesn't have to be a betrayal of some feminist ideal. I love new shoes but it doesn't make me shallow. Girls can have fun and be taken seriously at the same time."

Ms Berry cited the incident of a group of Cambridge female undergraduates who last month posed scantily clad – leading to comments about being "bluestockings" and "bimbos".

Posing as a Page Three girl might be a "pretty distasteful image of women" for some, she said, but added: "We have to be careful about pigeonholing intelligent women. If you like things like nice clothes, it is not some betrayal of your intelligence or feminist principle."

Ms Berry, who is headmistress of Dame Alice Harpur school in Bedford, said she did not encourage her girls "to dress modestly or behave modestly". "Let us have different facets of our character and be comfortable with that," she said.

Her comments were welcomed by Annette Williams, the director of the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology, who said: "We pigeonhole women at our peril. Across the fields of science, engineering and technology, women are making a valuable contribution alongside their male colleagues and it is time to overturn stereotypes of what the scientist or technician should look like as these serve only to exclude and limit the talent of our workforce.

"Marie Curie spoke of 'the beauty of science'. Women can contribute to this whatever their investment in personal appearance," added Ms Williams.

During her conference speech Ms Berry also referred to the launch of the first cheerleading group at Cambridge University.

It should not, she said, be considered a "low" activity. "Actually, cheerleading is really quite skilful," she said. "It can teach you gymnastics and dance."

Ms Berry's comments came after an interview at the weekend when she warned that girls should not think they had to "have it all". "I think it is depressing to think that women do think they have to have it all," she said yesterday, and said that sometimes they were their own worst critics. She said that at certain times her pupils would have different priorities in their lives and they should feel free to choose between their career and taking time to bring up a family.

"If they leave us expecting to be the perfect wife, perfect mother and perfect chief executive, we haven't prepared them for the reality of this challenging future," she said.

"We hope our girls' education, within the classroom and beyond it, will give them a range of options and a positive self-image."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Guru Careers: Solutions Consultant

£30 - 40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Solutions Consultan...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux ...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'