On guard in Britain: Did the Beefeaters harass a female recruit?

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History is filled with pioneering women who have been met with adversity for taking on traditional male roles. Unfortunately, Moira Cameron, Britain's first female Beefeater (the ceremonial guards outside the Tower of London), is no exception.

According to Cameron, her male colleagues sent her evil notes, secretly altered her online profile and even vandalized her uniform, spurring her to file a harassment lawsuit. As a result, two male Beefeaters have been suspended from their duties on charges that they bullied Cameron. A third Beefeater is under investigation.
The troupe of 35 Beefeaters (officially known as Yeoman Warders) who guard the illustrious Tower that houses the Queen's Crown Jewels, has been all male for 522 years and it's clear that Cameron's appointment two years ago may have ruffled some feathers. "There were a few puffed chests and a bit of huffing and blowing from some of the blokes," Cameron told reporters when she first joined the team. Evidently, things took a turn for the worse. Cameron says she found nasty notes in her locker, her Wikipedia entry was tampered with and her £1,400 uniform was defaced. A statement from officials at the Tower of London said harassment was "totally unacceptable."

The 44-year-old Cameron knows a thing or two about working in a predominantly-male environment. She has served 22 years in the armed forces – a prerequisite for all Beefeaters – and has completed tours of duty in Northern Ireland and Cyprus, earning medals for long service and good conduct.

Yet, Cameron's bullies are more like middle-aged geeks than fearsome military oppressors. According to a Scotland Yard spokesman, one of the accused Yeomen is 56 years old. A day's visit to the Tower of London reveals that many of his fellow Warders are grey-bearded history buffs who reel off historical facts in dramatic voices from dawn to dusk.

The Yeoman Warder's job began when King Henry VII established the small force of soldiers to guard the prisoners he had locked up in the Tower. Over the years, the guards were responsible for making sure Anne Boleyn didn't run off before her beheading, that Queen Elizabeth I didn't escape, and that Guy Fawkes served out his sentence for planning the infamous Gunpowder Plot that could have destroyed the Houses of Parliament in 1605. The name Beefeater is believed to be derived from a time when Yoeman Warders were paid partly in chunks of beef.

These days, the Beefeaters live in small apartments on the grounds of the Tower and spend the bulk of their day regaling the two million tourists who visit the attraction annually with tales and reenactments of its illustrious history and patiently posing for photographs in their amazing outfits.

So why not hire a woman for this £24,000-a-year job? While the rest of the Beefeaters are keeping mum on the subject, in cyberspace many civilians express a keen interest in women keeping their noses out of this male domain. "She pushed her way into a 1,000 year all-male tradition and she expects everyone to welcome her with open arms?" wrote a commenter on London's Daily Mail message board "This was so predictable. If she can't stand the heat, she'd better leave the kitchen."

Many Brits may quietly agree. After all, no matter how many women take up posts on corporate boards, this is still the land of opulent clubs like the Garrick, where women are not permitted memberships, and where female bankers earn 60 percent less than their male counterparts.

No doubt, the pressure is on for England to treat women as equals. Enlisting Cameron as a guardian of the Tower was a step in that direction, but it's proving difficult for some people to turn their backs on centuries of tradition. "Personally I would still prefer to have only male Beefeaters at the historical Tower Of London," a woman calling herself Ms Tardis wrote on the Daily Mail's website. "Not because in any respect I consider the male of the species to be superior to we ladies."

Centuries from now, Beefeaters may recall this discrimination scandal to bemused tourists, adding Moira Cameron's tale to the Tower's long and colorful history of intrigue and injustice.
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