I learnt to ring a bell aged 12, the daughter of a ringer, but really started my ringing journey from the age of 16. I cannot say that any of the ringers I grew up with and received help from ever put me off making progress, or from trying to learn to call/conduct or ring further around the back, yet I do not feel I reached my full potential. The first barrier for me, when young, was a lack confidence. I hated going wrong or making mistakes as a teenager/young woman, so when opportunities arose, or others tried to encourage, I generally did not feel able to take them on despite really wanting to. Perhaps this is common in girls back then.
Secondly, I am 5 ft 2. The assumption amongst some ringers (esp. men) was that being young and small I would not want to or be able to ring heavier bells, and when I did choose to, the comments would go along the lines of 'are you alright ringing that one' or 'that rope is short' (even when I knew it wasn't). Being less sure of my abilities, and rather self conscious, I began to accept my lot.
Next came children. Family life really took over, so I gradually ceased to ring very much for a period of 10 years. I returned to ringing, but had to relearn a lot of what I had done before, and being older, found this harder. My ability to concentrate for any length of time had decreased, and I had less time to travel around to strengthen my ringing skills.
Perhaps there are fewer women taking part in high ranking events partly because of a natural lack of confidence and reluctance to be in the spotlight that some of us have, along with not being able to maintain a certain standard of ringing due to family commitments. Perhaps once we have families to care for, striving to take part in high profile competitions and ringing at the top of our game seems less important or not achievable due to the time required to practice. Perhaps many of us are simply not so competitive.
Now my children are older, I now have a bit more time, but I feel it is too late to make vast improvements in ringing. I love ringing and really regret not taking up more opportunities to progress when young and able to absorb and retain things more easily. I hope now, with changing attitudes (there has been a lot more encouragement for women to achieve in traditionally male careers over the last 20 odd years), that young women feel more confident and able to pursue their ringing career and start redressing the balance.