Tag Archives: no men allowed

Cambridge University: all-female education

Cambridge University became the last university in England to have all-female colleges after Oxford’s St Hilda’s College opened its doors to men in 2008. Some may question whether this kind of single sex living and education is old fashioned. Is it necessary in a society where gender equality is becoming more prevalent? To find out more, watch the video below:


Carmelite Nuns: under the habit

Quidenham PuesA sense of tranquility at the Quidenham Carmelite Monastery is one you would expect of a Catholic convent where the nuns live in almost complete silence, and it’s certainly one that lingers… Most of the time.

However, I’m told it’s not always a placid and peaceful atmosphere within the walls of the cloisters, as under the habit of each nun lies a normal woman, like you and me. Listen to this podcast where Sister Stephanie tells me about the trials and tribulations of squabbles in silence:

A life of silence: Carmelite nuns

The silence was peaceful, not eerie, around the grounds of the Quidenham Carmel.

This group of dedicated nuns follow the Rule of Carmel, a pledge of silent prayer, which was actually written by a man, for a group of men on Mount Carmel, in the early 13th century.

Quidenham Carmel Window“The stamp of a woman”

“Then in 16th century Spain, Sister Teresa of Avila, who had been a Carmelite nun for about 20 years, reformed the order to become the Discalced Carmelite Order and that’s what we belong to”, explained Sister Shelagh as she broke the silent rule to tell me about her experiences as a nun.

“So in fact our order was founded by a woman based on the original male tradition, but it’s got the stamp of a woman on it.”

Sister Shelagh was 33 when she entered the convent and had lead a colourful life prior to making her vows.

“I had done various different jobs, I was teaching for the first four or five years before I entered. I was active in the peace movement, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, and I did a lot of music, but there was a hunger that wouldn’t go away.

“Whatever I did never felt as though it was quite enough and I was constantly searching for more.”

From the bridal veil to the habit

Shelagh was married before she became a nun, but after about ten years both her and her husband chose lives of monasticism over their relationship.

“In the end I found that when I came here, that deep hunger was satisfied and I had a contentment which I had never managed to achieve before.”

“Deep bond of unity”

While living in such a closed community, Sister Shelagh says she still feels like an individual.

“There is a deep bond of unity between us and it’s very supportive, living in a community. I know I couldn’t live this life on my own so I am grateful for the support.

“But it is also a constant challenge to live with people from all kinds of different backgrounds.”

Quidenham PuesSacrifice

Sister Stephanie spoke to me about how tensions sometimes arise and are resolved through trust and silence within the convent.

“I think a hard part about community like ours where so much of our time is actually lived in silence apart from necessary work talk, if you know you’ve really made a boob, you’ve really mucked something up, even your opportunities to apologise and say ‘I’m so sorry’ are limited.

“I think, for a lot of the women here, and certainly for women coming in today, so much is out in the open, is talked about. There’s a lot of ‘we’ve got to sit down and discuss this’, or ‘lets talk this one through’, and I think that is something particularly feminine.

“So in a sense, we’re actually being asked to sacrifice that by living in silence and allow that to happen on a deeper level.”

While there are still arguments and disagreements, like in any community, in this convent, during my time there I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of calm contentment among all of the women.

Call of Duty: WRAC Ops


The WRAC was once the all-female branch of the Army

For a room where the average age was most likely over sixty, they were a rowdy bunch at the Britannia Birmingham Hotel on this chilly Wednesday afternoon.

The Women’s Royal Army Corps (WRAC) Association’s Christmas celebration was dubbed the liveliest of the month so far by the catering staff – a title the ladies fought to keep throughout the afternoon.

The WRAC was the female branch of the Army since the early 20th century but was later disbanded in the 90’s and the women were forced to integrate with the men.

During the life of the WRAC there were all-female units across the country. Trudi Banning joined the WRAC in 1991 and had a short-lived career in one of these all-female army environments.

Best career move

Despite her brief encounter, however, she still described it as the best career move she ever made.

“It was like family and friends and a job all in one.”

Trudi Banning, went through the transition period as the WRAC was disbanded

Trudi Banning, went through the transition period as the WRAC was disbanded

When Trudi began serving in the WRAC, recruitment was all women. As she put it herself: there were “no men allowed”.

Then, when the corps was disbanded in 1992, she had to undergo the transition period.

“Women had to conform to what the men had to do”, she explained to me as we escaped the mayhem of the party.

“Not only were there to be mixed sex units, but all the training had to change. The women were expected to run as fast as the men in the basic fitness tests.”

While some members of the WRAC were pleased with the transition and introduction of gender equality, others were dubious about the change.

“I think if it had been down to us, our decision and our choice, we’d never had got rid of the WRAC but again, that decision was taken out of our hands.

”It was a shame. Personally deep down, I think they should never have disbanded the WRAC because of the structure that it stands for. The WRAC will never die.”

In fact, at the age of 39, Trudi is one of the youngest members of the WRAC and she could eventually be one of the last surviving members too.

“It is sad because we will lose our identity and eventually we will die out and people will forget all about us” mused Babs Blay as the party dispersed.

A sisterhood

Babs Blay is one of the more active members of the WRAC

Babs Blay is one of the more active members of the WRAC

She explained to me that the last generation of WRAC ladies is already 38 years old, as 1992 was the last year women would be assigned to all-female units.

Nonetheless, she ensured me her enthusiasm for the association is certainly not dying – nor is anyone else’s.

While she had never served with any of the women at the Birmingham branch of the association, she said it didn’t matter.

“It’s like a language that we have, we understand each other. If anyone, even now, is in trouble then everybody comes together.”

“Where would we go for this camaraderie? That’s what it’s about really, the camaraderie and the sisterhood, knowing there’s always somebody there for you.”