Sarah Sands: The sky's the limit for our daughters

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The Independent Online

At a party last week for London's 1,000 most influential people, Rachel Whetstone, of Google, noted there was something unusual about the gathering. "Where are all the women?" she murmured to me.

The visible evidence of the paucity of women in public life is often obscured by media representation. Pictures of women are chosen over pictures of men, because they often look more interesting. This is not true of senior jobs, or salaries where men are disproportionately rewarded. A cheering dimension of the published BBC salaries is that BBC women must be lifting the female national average salary by several hundred per cent.

A cartoon appears in the current edition of the New Yorker of an all- male panel addressing an audience. The chairman reads from his notes "The subject of tonight's discussion is: Why are there no women on this panel?" Not only are we stalling in the promotion of women, I wonder if we are actually going backwards.

These gloomy thoughts have been dispelled by my favourite redhead since Elizabeth I. Flight Lieutenant Kirsty Moore has at 32 burst on to the skies, trailing scarlet smoke, the first female member of the Red Arrows. If anything can unite this country in pleasure and wonder, it is the sight of jets swooping and circling in stunning formations. In the summer, I sat on a gridlocked M5, with squabbling children and the windows steamed up against the relentless drizzle outside. Then we heard the roar from the skies as the Red Arrows practised over Bristol and we laughed in exhilaration. I am sure the flypast must be the Queen's favourite birthday treat. I would ask for one every day if I were in her place.

What I love about Kirsty Moore is her joyful feminism. Work is a celebration of something that delights her. She looks so healthy and happy. Her responses to questions about her pioneering achievement were adorably modest and optimistic. "I know from outside it looks like a big deal, but for me it's a bit of a timing thing. Someone was going to do it sooner or later and I guess I am lucky enough that it was me." Well, yes, in the same way that votes for women were "a bit of a timing thing" or the first female Prime Minister was a "timing thing".

When Hillary Clinton suspended her presidential campaign, she gracefully alluded to its mistiming. "Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest ceiling this time, it has got about 18 million cracks in it" she told her 18 million supporters.

It might only have been a matter of time until a woman became a pilot of fabulous skill and daring but it was likely to be a daddy's girl. Kirsty's father, Squadron Leader Robbie Stewart, was shot down in Iraq, held captive and tortured. He refused to give any information and later was appointed an MBE. It is refreshing that a 13-year-old girl can emulate him.

"The girl thing is an aside for me because I have been a female all my life and I've been a pilot since joining the RAF," Kirsty says.

Sometimes I wonder if it is patronising to celebrate every first woman. But female achievement still lifts my heart. Daughters need reminding that barriers are self-inflicted. They can reach for the skies.