When I learnt to ring in the late 70s it was definitely a male-dominated activity, and there were people about that didn't approve of
women in the bell tower. I was fortunate in that my early mentor believed that everyone should learn to conduct at least a simple touch in a method once they had mastered it, and so I was encouraged to call touches on a practice night, quarter peals, and peals. My opportunities to conduct were much more frequent than my opportunities to ring back bells, and so I learnt to call from an inside bell from the outset, and think of myself of a little bell specialist on higher numbers.
When I went to university, I rang with a local band, where I was surrounded by great female role models, and a female tower captain who continued to encourage me to call things that were within my capability. As a trebles ringer on handbells, the opportunity to conduct in hand didn't come until relatively recently, when our regular conductor moved away, and with new band members and people moving from their regular positions, it was a question of who had the most spare "brain power". Given the choice I would still prefer to call from a working bell, because I like to be involved "in the action". My extensive experience of calling peals from 1-2 in hand, means that for peals of surprise I generally call from the 2, and the comfort I get from having the treble immediately next to me, and knowing where the call is going to be from the coursing order make up for the extra effort needed to learn a composition.
I have regularly been the leading peal conductor for our Association. This is partly because of the number of handbell peals that we ring as a proportion of the overall number of peals rung, but also because I organise most of the tower bell peals. I think this is an important factor for the aspiring conductor, male or female - you have to create your own opportunities.
As an aside, whether they had mellowed with age, or after 30 years of peal ringing with me they gained a respect for what women ringers can do, some of those early detractors became great supporters of mine in later life - inviting me to ring and call peals with them. They are long gone now, and sadly missed