Christa Ackroyd column: As part of the first generation of women to have a choice, seeing what we now achieve inspires us all

I am going to be perfectly honest with you, as I write this week the dreaded jet lag after a whirlwind trip to New York, followed by a couple of nights in Las Vegas, has kicked in. It means I am still a snoozing, dribbling wreck by around 4pm and bouncing off the walls at 4am. But boy was it worth it.

Our trip has been to see our newest granddaughter Maebh (pronounced Maeve ) who is three months old and whom we have never met and her sister, two-year-old sister Éabha (Ava) whom we haven’t seen for a year.

And I am so full of wonder at all that is before them, which can be summed up in one word …choice. And that goes for all my five grandchildren, all of them girls. They can be whoever they want to be. They can choose whichever path they wish to follow. There is no longer a right way or a wrong way. And that has been hard won by those who went before them, including England’s Women’s football team who this week kicked the glass ceiling when it comes to sport into oblivion.

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I was I suppose the first generation of my family who had real choice. My mother, a hugely intelligent woman, certainly didn’t.

Christa Ackroyd, former BBC Look North Presenter, journalist and broadcaster.Christa Ackroyd, former BBC Look North Presenter, journalist and broadcaster.
Christa Ackroyd, former BBC Look North Presenter, journalist and broadcaster.

Firstly I could choose to leave school at 16… in fact at my local comprehensive most did.

Only around 20 per cent of us at our chaotic, newly-created, 1,000-strong , co-ed comprehensive in Bradford stayed on into the sixth-form when it was drummed into us we could become the first generation in most working class families to go to university.

Instead I fought for an apprenticeship in journalism at a local daily newspaper. The decision was simple. I would get paid for three years while still being able to go and play at being a student a few weeks a year in Sheffield while my bosses picked up the tab. Win, win.

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Of course over the years I lost count of how many people asked which university I went to. The truth of the matter is I left my newspaper for broadcasting having done three years in the real world, which was the best education I could ever have had.

Over the next few decades the pressure increased on all young people that university was the be all and end all, that unless they got a degree they were somehow failing the school, failing their parents or failing themselves, which was fine when grants were readily available, not so much now that student debt averages around £40,000, leaving me to ask why on earth was a degree seen as a pre-requisite to almost any job in the planet. Thank goodness apprenticeships are on the rise again.

This week the Lionesses did women and young girls proud. No, they did their country proud and yet what is interesting is that at least ten of the squad went to university, many to study sports science.

I am willing to bet very few of their male counterparts in the England team felt it necessary to do the same. Which just goes to prove the old adage that women are pretty good at juggling their lives while working twice as hard as their male counterparts to be considered half as good.

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Well over the past few weeks the Lionesses have smashed that myth. Once derided as second class players they roared into the World Cup final and got a whole nation talking, even those who once refused to watch them play because ‘it can never be as good as the men’s game’. Only it was.

It was better because for the first time in 57 years we were in a final having already done what the men have never done and won the European Championships. And though they didn’t quite make it this time, they did something else which we, as women, have always had to do, they beat their detractors by being damn good at their job. In fact by being better than the men. It was ever thus.

However we are not quite there yet. England’s goalkeeper Mary Earps (who incidentally got a business studies degree from Loughborough) is the world’s number one goalkeeper, you saw why by the saves she made and the penalty she saved in last Sunday’s final. Yet even after being named as the tournament’s leading goalkeeper, Nike, they of a million replica shirts, refused to admit they were wrong in failing to produce one bearing her name and number before the tournament saying instead they may look at it in the future.

Well Nike that future began last week and the decision was misjudged and downright sexist. But you are the losers. Mary won that argument hands down.

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As I have said jetlag has found me with the weirdest sleep patterns staring at the TV at silly o’clock in the morning. And so I discovered another new heroine, one who may perhaps surprise you; Paris Fury.

I would defy anyone who has watched the new nine part series on Netflix, At Home with the Furys not be be bowled over by this strong, articulate, feisty woman who lives her life as she wants to by her own rules and her own moral compass. But then she would do wouldn’t she?

She is a Yorkshire girl from Doncaster. Married at 17 to the self styled Gypsy King, boxer Tyson Fury, she is one of the most naturally entertaining women on tv at the moment. I don’t doubt she could do anything she chose to do.

Yet she chose to follow the Romany tradition and be a stay at home mum to the couple’s six children, while still being the rock to her self confessed erratic husband. And there is absolutely nothing wrong in that.

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Paris Tyson is anything other than ‘just’ a housewife. She is every bit as much a role model as any one of the Lionesses. She has written a book, is a TV personality in her own right and as they say in Yorkshire would split a current in half while confessing she could buy the entire floor of Selfridge’s yet would rather go to Asda than fork out £4.99 for some colouring pencils in the pricey school uniform shop.

What’s more she lectures her 13-year-old eldest child that she must decide on what she wants to do with her life, be it have a career, get married, become a mother, learn how to cook, or all of the above.

Because, as she told her, she is not staying at home doing nothing but scrounging off her famous dad, no matter how much they have in the bank. Or words to that effect. As for her description of the weigh-in at her husband’s comeback fight as just being two silly men in their underpants I nearly fell out of bed, where in fact I should have been sleeping.

Mary or Paris? University or not? There is no right way or wrong way for young girls to dream these days. What is exciting is seeing the choices they will make on their own terms, in their own way, in a world which has changed for women beyond recognition. Young women are kicking this thing called life every which way they want to. And that is equality, that is choice and that’s what makes the journey our five granddaughters will take all the more exciting to watch.