During the Summer Term, Year 9 embarked on a learning about ‘Difficult Women’; a new topic introduced by English Teacher, Miss Duffy. Pupils undertook a 4-week course looking at women throughout history and into the modern world to understand why we need women to be difficult. The aim was to challenge the idea that women are unreasonable, selfish and unfeminine when they stand up for themselves.

We spoke to Miss Duffy about why she decided to introduce this to the English curriculum.

“The more I teach writing, especially in Key Stage 3, the more I want to ensure that we are not just teaching writing so pupils will pass a test or exam. It’s not that this isn’t important, but our real duty as English teachers is to ensure that pupils can go out into the world and have a voice. Language is the way we understand, engage and ultimately shape the world around us. Therefore, I am always conscious of creating real opportunities for real writing.

It was while this thought was at the forefront of my mind that I read an excerpt from Helen Lewis’ powerful new book ‘Difficult Women’. In it, she argued that modern women needed to reclaim the term ‘difficult’ and shun the tyranny of niceness. Where would we be without so many of these ‘difficult women’ throughout history? This is something that instantly resonated with me. How often in my career has assertiveness been seen as aggressiveness or questioning the status quo been seen as ‘being difficult’?

Working in a girls’ school has made me more conscious than ever of the need for young women to be able to go out into this world and make their voice heard. I hope that through exploring the speeches of women like Sojourner Truth, Emmeline Pankhurst and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, women who have challenged the status quo in very different ways, in very different contexts, we will help our young women follow in their footsteps.” 

After studying the presentation skills, the arguments put forward in the speeches by difficult women and the language used, pupils were tasked with writing a speech themselves to persuade an audience to act on an issue important to girls and women in 2020.

The topics covered were broad, ranging from Feminism to Women in Politics and Women in the Workplace, but there could only be three finalists; Eleanor Gibson, Khushi Gupta and Scarlett Warburton. Video recordings of their speeches were duly sent to Helen Lewis, author of ‘Difficult Women’ who had kindly agreed to judge the competition for us.

Eleanor Gibson’s speech ‘I will’ about being a feminist was chosen as the overall winner. Helen Lewis picked out Eleanor’s speech for it’s rhythm, playful use of language and for being a ‘tub thumping’ manifesto.

Following the completion of the course, Miss Duffy gathered feedback from Year 9 and received a resounding thumbs up with one pupil commenting “It was really great as it related to current situations in the world. It also got me thinking more about injustice and feminism and it is a great topic to do with a class of girls. The highlight of this topic was performing and listening to the speeches at the end as they were so powerful and fun to write”. 

Difficult Women is here to stay in Year 9 and in the words of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich “Well behaved women seldom make history”.

Long live Difficult Women!

From left to right: winner, Eleanor Gibson, and author of Difficult Women, Helen Lewis.