International Women's Day: some random thoughts
Men certainly seem to dominate the upper echelons of print and broadcast journalism and although some of my favourite journalists are in fact female, their careers seem to be generally blighted by sexism and ageism, which get better or worse, depending on what the part of the world they work in.
It wasn't that long ago that BBC boss Mark Thompson came under fire for replacing a mature female judge in a popular dance show with a pop star 36 years her junior.
The fact that in television, older, grey-haired male presenters carry on commanding respect well into their retirement age, whereas their female counterparts get sidelined as their age starts to show, could be a reflection of a society's warped views about women, and not exclusive to the industry.
Women's value and employability should not be conditional to age or appearance, but women in highly "visible"jobs such as television or film, do not always have a choice.
Anna Ford (photo right), a journalist worshipped by her male peers as something nearing a sex goddess in her heydays, decided to retire in April 2006, at 62, saying:
"I might have been shovelled off into News 24 to the sort of graveyard shift.”
But I am placing my bets we would be perfectly happy to accept a geriatric Paxman on a zimmerframe presenting Newsnight.
The BBC announcing the recruitment of “older female newsreaders” soon after the Strictly Come Dancing judge swap saga, strikes me as being laughable. I can visualise a screaming headline: “Older women join ethnic minorities and the disabled under positive discrimination scheme.” Or, more bluntly, as The Independent put it: Must be Female. Young Need Not Apply.
The future is not orange
The very idea that women are so vulnerable they need to be placed in a special category of their own is preposterous.
I worked for many years in publishing and have always been outraged by the existence of the Orange Prize for Fiction, a literary prize awarded solely to women. Some might say it provides women authors with an extra opportunity to have their work recognised. My view is that it implies women writers are so lacking in talent that competing for the Man Booker Prize alone doesn't suffice.
It is most unfortunate that the current sponsors of the unisex Man Booker Prize are an investment company called Man Group, giving the prize its present name. Had they not decided to retain the “Booker” from its original name, Booker-McConnell Prize, the country's most prestigious literary prize for fiction would simply be called Man Prize.
It is ironic when you think women read more fiction than men.
Too many women spoil the broth
Publishing may be a sub-sector under the media umbrella, and pay equally poorly at entry level, but unlike in print and broadcast journalism, women reign in the world of books .
In an industry known for the predominance of female workers it is not uncommon for women to climb their career ladders to become directors and publishers in their 30s and 40s. A female-dominated industry can make it easier for women to break the glass ceiling; it may even offer better working conditions, such as flexitime for working mothers and good maternity leave terms, but publishing also has its drawbacks.
For young, single female workers hoping to meet future partners at a book fair or book launch party, the prospects of finding an eligible bachelor among the married and gay men are dire. Let's put it this way: book fairs and book launch parties are not exactly a speed dating scene.
Had I known this in my early 20s, I might have chosen journalism sooner. The idea of being able to approach an intellectual-looking sub in a newsroom to consult about the correct use of commas is a major turn-on compared to the girls' club that publishing is.
Women in uniforms
Some women-dominated professions seem to deceptively put them in a position of power, when they are the ones most susceptible to malicious exploitation.
I am thinking of nurses and flight attendants. The uniform makes them look as if they were in a position of control, and yet they are less threatening to men than an executive woman in a power suit. This seems to enhance their sex appeal.
Perhaps you will remember Virgin Airlines' 25th anniversary "Still red hot" TV advert. A group of model-like gorgeous flight attendants march down the airport with the pilot, wearing the airline’s red suit – short skirts and red pin heels – while men ogle, drop phones and hamburger fillings in astonishment. The ad concludes with a passenger saying, “I need to change my job,” and the other “I need to change my tickets.” Despite complaints that it was sexist and insulting to women, the Advertising Standards Authority dismissed them, saying the ad was " unlikely to be seen as a realistic depiction of the profession", as reported in The Guardian.
We may be well aware real-life stewardesses don't actually dress or walk like the ones in the Virgin ad, but it does add fire to some people's fetishist fantasies.
Flight attendants working for Japan Air Lines (JAL), the bankrupt airline recently rescued by the Japanese government, are facing not only the risk of losing their jobs but the double humiliation of having security chips sewed on to their uniforms to prevent them from selling them to the black market when they've been laid off. The story was broken by Sky News and appeared in The Times, The Telegraph and the The Daily Mail.
Last week the carrier announced 400 cabin crew jobs would be axed, and the local sex industry was already going into a frenzy to lay their hands on their uniforms for customers keen on role-playing. A JAL suit on online auction sites are said to be selling for thousands of pounds. Go figure.
Bras on fire
Is there a solution to women being exploited, patronised or sidelined because they look too sexy, too vulnerable or too old? Should we be stomping off to Westminster to burn our bras in front of Parliament like the feminists of the 60s? What would we achieve? What do we want to achieve?
I guess no single answer can sum it all up, as each woman has her own battle to fight. For some, it may be as basic as learning how to write their name so they can access better opportunities (65% of the world's illiterate population are women). There is still so much work to be done.
Whatever it is that may be constricting women from achieving their right to achieve, be it a brasserie they can easily unhook, or a social stigma or discrimination that are harder to undo overnight, today is a day for reviewing milestones past before we set goals for the future.
The long path already travelled, makes us what we are today, collectively, for we women are more powerful than we imagine.
As Alice Walker said:
"The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any."