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Shocking, stunning, horrifying, unmissable. Guardian report on female invisibility.
282

Bidisha · 05/12/2011 00:00

The Guardian's Kira Cochrane has produced an exhaustive, serious and very informative, though devastating, study about the representation of women in all walks of life, from politics and the media to comedy. Full disclosure: I am quoted in it briefly. The article is the result of several months' study by a diverse group of researchers and gives a complete picture of just how strongly women are pushed out of the public frame - and how this impacts on girls and young women's sense of their own voices and possibilities.

I would urge anyone who cares about this to get onto the Guardian comment thread and talk, give your own experiences, encourage other women, participate positively and in solidarity. This is a hugely important article and it's all about us and our place and space. Don't let the derailers and trolls dominate!

Here's the article: www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/dec/04/why-british-public-life-dominated-men

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kickassangel · 10/12/2011 06:14

Well done theta. Though the fact that you're one woman in ten goes right back to the start of this discussion. I'm assuming that you're not the only female in your field?

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Xenia · 10/12/2011 06:18

Given how unimportant in terms of time spent thinking about them clothes are to most successful and high paid professionals male and female it is a bit of a pity that a thread about getting women out there and visible has turned into "what to wear". It makes it less interesting to most people because we don't spend our time obessing baout clothse. Like most professional men professional women whether they are getting ready to operate in theatre or rushing to their next board meeting tend to adopt a uniform they wear most days (although we do change our underwear). I am not saying that in some organisations it doesn't pay (if you are male or female and probably more so if female) that you look right but I do think once you've got it about right don't give it a second's thought.

One reason my life is fun and I have time for a lot of stuff is that I don't spend much time at all on all this stuff (although I accept that some women perhaps those brought up in sexist homes delight in hours spent in front of the make up mirror and Saturday mornings shopping for clothes which would be the first stages of hell for me).

To get visibility you need to push yourself forward. If I say on here that I like success, power, money people (some, not all) say I've adopted "male values". That is what needs to be overcome. In the 1800s in the UK they used to say women's brains could not cope with becoming doctors because of the physical limitations within them. They are both prejudices which need to be overcome. In addition most successful people male and female also like spending time with their families and on their hobbies. I have not really noticed a massive difference with men I've worked with over nearly 30 years. They also might well like their work and be good at it but also want to get home to see the baby before it goes to bed or go out as a family at the weekend. There are more similarities and not between men and women in my view.

So I suppose one issue is to ensure how can women say "how can I be more visible" today? Join. Chair things. Particularly pick things where women are under represented. Volunteer. Be on press panels. Go on television things even if it's unpaid.

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Himalaya · 10/12/2011 09:03

I think Xenia's point about 'out-earning your man' (or at least earning the same) is important. It does not mean that everyone needs to be a high flyer in the private sector though.

But it does mean there is something wrong where there are so many couples where the husband is a high flyer and the wife is treading water at work, working part time or working below their qualifications (graduates/teachers working as TAs etc...) In this situation you can say "money isn't everything, that's not what motivates me" etc... But if the reality is that your lifestyle and size of your mortgage is determined by the husbands earnings then it's not that money doesn't matter, it's that it's taken care of. Then his job and ambition becomes non-negotiable, and one of the dominant factors preventing the wife turbo boosting her own career.

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midoriway · 10/12/2011 13:45

Haha himilaya. As the person who originally made the point above about descrepancy in income in couples having a crippling affect on women's working potential, I have to say I think you are spying on my domestic set up. I am a graduate/ex-teacher considering to re-enter work as a TA, because it fits in better (What a depressing phrase) with DH's career and ambitions as an international executive in IT services. This works out for me as long as our marriage works out, but what happens if things go south? I'm screwed, having given up the best 20 years of my working life, plotting domestic bliss.

I am surprised that as a daughter of a strong feminist to find myself in such a precarious position. I think it comes from an utter complacency that DH's income would always be there, DH would always be there, the income would always go up, and so far it has, but I'm not blind to the precariousness of my situation.

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lollygag · 10/12/2011 16:45

Midoriway,
You are in a precarious position because you chose an easier route than the one to being an International Executive in IT Services.This probably took years of sacrifice and hard work of a technical nature.You are not a victim you just didn't do as well as your husband.By the way what's your degree in?

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ChickenLickn · 10/12/2011 17:50

Xenia Sat 10-Dec-11 06:18:13

"like" :)

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Pantofino · 10/12/2011 18:08

Midori - as a qualified teacher it is never too late though to get back on track a bit. My dsis gave up her accountancy job when dn was born 14 year ago. She has just started as a NQT teaching maths - she is 41.

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kickassangel · 10/12/2011 20:49

lolli - I think you have a pint there. when one partner's salary dominates the decisions so much, it really pushes families into making points based on that. it can stress out the one who feels obliged to provide, or make the one contributing less feel undervalued. it makes it harder to have equality within the relationship as each has a limited insight into the other's role.

the fact that men out earning women is prevalent, means that society is quite twisted to try and deal with those imbalances.

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kickassangel · 10/12/2011 20:50

sorry - himalayas point!

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brdgrl · 11/12/2011 04:14

But if the reality is that your lifestyle and size of your mortgage is determined by the husbands earnings then it's not that money doesn't matter, it's that it's taken care of. Then his job and ambition becomes non-negotiable, and one of the dominant factors preventing the wife turbo boosting her own career.

OK, but I think there is another thing going on when we are talking about couples choosing a lifestyle that is not based on mortgages and promotions. I don't disagree that women should be working in their field and using their degrees and experience f that excites them (or that men should be staying home if that's what suits them!), but I think something is wrong when the onus is put on women to become more 'career-driven', and the language is about "out-earning your husband" - rather than for a re-examination of the way we value people's contributions in all areas of life. Because at the same time that women are being discouraged from succeeding in the workplace, men are discouraged from being equal partners at home; it holds back a woman at the office if she takes a day off because her kid has a medical appointment - but a man isn't expected to do such things in the first place. It isn't even enough for men to have the option of paternity leave, for example, if workplace culture and men's attitudes mean that they don't take it.
I feel like I am being a bit inarticulate - but I do think something feels wrong to me when the answer is to say that women need to get out of the home and earn more. (And I don't mean this as some sort of SAHM defense, either.) I guess I feel like it is a step backwards, though, because it sounds a bit like "women should be more like men" rather than "people should be treated equally and have equal opportunities", plus it seems to be about "lifestyle" over life. We are broke, we rent our home and get by, so there is no sense of "it's taken care of"...we both work PT now and if one of us gets a FT job, that will be the one who's working - and sometimes I hope it's me,because I love my work, and sometimes I hope it's him, because I love being at home - but I don't think between my work or my home-work that one is more important than the other, and I feel lucky to be married to someone who feels the same way.

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brdgrl · 11/12/2011 04:25

If I say on here that I like success, power, money people (some, not all) say I've adopted "male values".
Just to add - I am not saying this. I don't think there is anything intrinsically male about those values - but i do think that they are one clear set of values, and that success in life ^for some people* means something very different, and I would like to see a society where men and women both can choose a different path and be supported in that.
I do think that while those are not "male values", there is something about the 'out-earning' argument that suggests women should imitate traditional male behaviour or career paths, and that is what I object to.
But I agree with you, xenia, about women and visibility through unpaid work - sadly, i think women's volunteer work is not always seen as "real work", or seen as being as valuable a contribution as whatever paid work the husbands are doing.

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Xenia · 11/12/2011 07:05

Well uit's pretty convenient and a large reason sexism survives that we have heaps opf women marrying richer men and being able to indulge their non material values whilst lover boy works hard at the coal face and has visibility in terms of his career.

In some ways the reason nearly 30 years on that I earn a lot is that I married someone who would earn a lot less (that was rare then and it remains rare now), that he (not I) suggested if we couldn't find a nanny etc he would look after the babies, we moved for my work and I ended up earning 10x ewhatg he did and I have "visibility", money, a bit of power, status etc etc. You canm by the way have all those things AND have values which mean you want alife of caring for and loving those close to you, contributing to the community etc. Indeed I would argue get the woman on £500k a year and she will be able to engage in a much more balanced nicer life with time for non working values as it were than if she's struggling to make ends meet on a pittance.

I certainly do not thinki in terms of righting this balance between men and women the answer is for women to do a heap of voluntary work. First concentrate on earning your pile and developing your career and part of that process will be making yourself the leading expert in your field. I didn't write 30 books because I was some kind of wonderful academic or a genius. It was just pure hard work around the rest of my obligations. Anyone could do it.

However most men and women are not interested in being very successful at what they do nor want to put in the effort and that's fine too as it leaves the field wide open for those of us who do.

This is a thread about career visibility and getting women out there as known and on boards and panels, in the cabinet etc. Women need to be a lot better at blowing their trumpet.

In many careers there isn't sexism. There was a lady surgeon writing in yesterday's Times magazine about it. She was saying whatever your gender if you don't get the hours of experience of surgery (and it would be the same in my area of work too) you won't be much good - end of story whether male or female. Instead for many couples the "problem" is woman marries man who is a bit older. He earns more. He may be is also or instead a bit better educated or slightly higher social class. You come to the discussion about babies and child care (we had it even before we got engaged) and it's bound to be the lower earner who may give up work if childcare does not work out. Of course it is. So if you went and married Mr dustbin man and you earn £80k then it's not likely you and he will want to give up the £80k when baby 1 comes along. Ditto if Mr Manager on £80k marries woman on £20k.

Then just as careers really get going in their 30s onwards Mrs Lower earner is at home ironing shirts and putting her all into supporting the career of the £80k man. It is very hard to break this cycle unless you marry someone not very sexist and you both work full time and you still push your career. In some cases his £80k or £800k or whatever it is frees you u p to develop a career yo might never had have had but not always. It's as likely you will go into the home like a 15 year old Pakistani girl abroad and that will be your sole realm really until you die. You are as invisible in terms of public profile, money, power etc as some women in countries where women have very few rights.

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Himalaya · 11/12/2011 09:15

Brdgrl - yes I agree with you (...I think...) I think what we should be aiming for is economic equality within marriages over the long term (i.e. One might earn more for some time, one might be a SAHP-  but it doesn't imply that these roles should become fixed for ever)

I don't think the 'Xenia Proposition' has to be taken in the narrow sense of every woman should aspire to be Nicola Horlick, give birth in her lunch break etc... It could also mean you both decide to work part time and have a relaxed but materially low-key life digging the allotment or whatever, or anything in between.

But I think the problem comes when the woman takes time off to be a SAHM or takes the PT career slow track, while at the same time buying into a lifestyle which can only be sustained by the husband maintaining his high flying job and career ascendancy. Then it becomes practically impossible for her to do the things needed to get her career back on track when the time comes that she has had enough of giving up on her aspirations - e.g. relocating the family/working late/travelling etc...because they are so emotionally and financially tied into the husband's job demands and career path being absolutely unassailable.

I do think attitudes have to change at work, but they have to change at home too (and possibly more importantly at this point). 

Midori (I promise I am not stalking you in RL Grin) I know quite a few graduate/teacher-mums working as TAs or very minimal hours. But all the teacher dads I know are on the headship track. In fact if a teaching dad decided he wanted to be a TA rather than using his training I think it would be seen as a bit odd/lazy/letting down his family responsibilities. Deep down (or not so deep) I think people still think it is a man's role to provide for his family materially, and a woman's role to provide practically and emotionally.

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midoriway · 11/12/2011 10:11

Himilaya, Xenia, I demand that the pair of you stop spying on my life and its cock ups for fodder on "How not to do things"Grin. In reality I have a lovely chap who bangs his head against the wall in despair at my lack of career ambition as he thinks I am smarter and more capable than pretty much everyone he deals with on a daily basis. I've promised to lift my game by working towards a PhD, and entering a new life as a minor academic. Pay will be rubbish, but visibility and influence will hopefully be there. (Academics out there reading this and scoffing- Please don't poor scorn on a humble woman who just wants to understand cross cultural influences in the early 20th century a little better).

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midoriway · 11/12/2011 10:29

I know Xenia is trying to get thread back onto visibility of women in public life, and away from general moans about inequality in relationships, but here is something that should provide food for thought.

Why do lesbians earn more than straight women? Have they cracked the system? They still face sexism, with the extra added fun of homophobia, yet time and time again surveys show they are doing better economically.

www.theatlanticwire.com/business/2010/12/why-do-lesbians-earn-more-than-straight-women/21705/

Lots of good stuff in this article.

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Xenia · 11/12/2011 10:34

Despite my exhortation to young women to out earn men, set up businesses and be the next Branson, Dyson and their female equivalents or our leading surgeons rather than care home workers, I don't suggest that there is one true path in life. Peoplee can be teachers, academics and all sorts if they want to, just don't moan about money etc if they make those choices.

Himalaya is right that my point is more general which is why I used Mr £80 nad Mr £800k. you could easily use a £13k minimum wage earner and Mr Big Bucks on £28k. She kisses his feet in a sense because he is so much richer than she is - all relative. (Well not quite because if you earn £13k full time in the UK the state if there are chidlren makes your income up to higher levels with up to £20k= housing benefit etc etc so there is a bit of an income trap in the middle as the squeezed middle know only too well but that's a separate issue).

The midori other half is just what many women and men find great in marriage - your other half making you a better person, encouraging you, helping you fulfil your own potential. Many a wife of a financier has made a fortune on the back of his investment - I am thinking Mrs netaporter here but I might be wrong - obviously even if you get family/spouse money (Mellon at Jimmy Choo had her father's money to start) much of the later success comes from your own efforts.

In other words the rich or high earning husband can also help some women to get visibility (Mrs Gates has done great work in philanthropy adn they seem to have a pretty equal marriage although I would much rather she was the one who founded Microsoft not her husband) and encourage women on. Whereas Mr Sexist Pig whom you ought to be able to suss out in due diligence between you get enaged and discard is the one to avoid who will h old you back, feel threatened by you and tie you to the home.

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LeninGrad · 11/12/2011 10:56

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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kickassangel · 11/12/2011 17:35

However, I still find it hard to believe, that when it comes to putting together a panel for tv shows etc. that it is impossible to find an even balance of m/f participants.

e.g. they want 10 'top' doctors - are there really only 3 women in the country (or just in London) who could be on the panel, or do they look at the list & think - 'ok, we've got 3 women, that makes it look equal'?

and even if the ration of m:f doctors is 7:3, shouldn't they be trying to address that, and reflect a more even balance in the hope that this will lead to greater gender equality?

The media are great at saying that they reflect real life, and denying the influence they have. But if they have so little influence, then advertising wouldn't work, and look at how much money the media makes out of that.

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Xenia · 11/12/2011 17:49

They should try harder.

Although it is a hassle to go on these things. When I was on television recently first of all I looked up the issue for an hour, then their car was 50 minutes late! then I endured a driver who talked to me for 50 minutes, the interview itself was fine but they only used about 5 minutes of it if that and then I was driven home. I would estimate it took about 4 hours in all and no fee. So yes I increased women's visibility but I lost an evening with the children and/or I lost 4 hours of what I otherwise might have earned. That's why I turn some things down. If I were bored without much work and lived alone without a family I might do a lot more of that kind of thing just because tha'ts better than sitting staring at four walls but for a lot of people, male and female, it's not worth doing.

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Pantofino · 11/12/2011 22:02

kickass, I suppose they just don't think about it. Which is sad in itself. I meet suppliers on a daily basis. They seem to be mostly men. When I meet someone with an androgynous name - eg Chris - I am always pleasantly surprised when they turn out to be female...

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kickassangel · 12/12/2011 00:48

Xenia - you're assuming that women don't agree to do these things. I would assume that any woman who has worked hard enough to be a success is likely to agree, but that they aren't being asked in the first place.

It isn't just about whether women put in the effort - for them even to be presented with opportunities, there has to be an 'in' for them. They could hire a publicist if a media life is what they want, but the kind of people who get called in occasionally as an 'expert' tend not to do that. Yet, the article shows that it is predominantly men who do these kind of events. Do you really think that women are asked and say no, or do you think that less women are asked than men?

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verysmellyeli · 12/12/2011 07:47

I don't think women get asked to do things in the media as often as men - I usually say yes if I'm asked but it doesn't happen very often. It helps that one of my professional organisations has offered me media training and is very pro-active at trying to address the gender imbalance. The organisation offers me a sort of platform, too, which is not always available to individuals - and channels media enquiries which might otherwise go into the ether - people in the media need to know where to look and need people who will say yes and deliver, as their deadlines are usually short and time for research minimal).

Although I hate doing it! My overwhelming feeling about all the press that I have ever done is the feeling of sweaty incompetence Grin

Moving away from that a bit, can I ask people what they think the solution is to the 'problem' that many women don't want to work full time as Xenia would like. Many professional women I know want to have a family, take an active part in looking after children AND work. Is it impossible for women to take high-powered, visible roles if they don't work full-time??

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LieInsAreRarerThanTigers · 12/12/2011 10:15

To answer eli's last point, (as I think that is the most important point here, not the unrealistic expectations that we should all somehow fall in love with labourers or milkmenGrin The best employers are trying to make it possible with flexible working practices for people to achieve success and visibility in their work without having to forego time with their families.

e.g: A neighbour is a manager for a major telecoms company, is close to a 6 figure salary in his 30s, works from home 2 or 3 days per week and is only back late about once a week, goes away occasionally. He takes an active role in childcare doing the school run often on his work from home days. The fact that his wife, an electronics engineer, has chosen to put her career on hold and stay at home is not a function of her husband's work/career, but what she wants to do and she can afford to. It may also be because her employer was not as 'family-friendly' as her husband's, but I don't know that. Why don't employers nurture their best employees and make more flexible working possible? It's a long slow process of change, but I hope it will continue to change and improve, helped along by legislation.

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LieInsAreRarerThanTigers · 12/12/2011 10:20

And lots of men fear and resent women who earn more than them, so I think we may be faced with a shortage of lower-earning partners...

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Want2bSupermum · 12/12/2011 13:17

Xenia why not ask the media to come to you? When at the bank we did this all the time. When we had a brainstorm about how to increase our presence the marketing director said that my boss must do more commentary. The boss didn't want to do it because he wanted to go home and spend time with his wife and kids. I came up with the idea of them coming to us. It was rather simple to do. We took over a conference room, made it into a media room and had the media people set up in there. Instead of it taking up 4-5hrs of his time it took up 30-45mins and it was scheduled into his day so he could leave before 6pm.

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