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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

OP's posts:
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Xenia · 07/12/2011 13:48

In a free market if someone doesn't offer the women MBAs without the potential what they want they leave and found better firms and indeed they do. More women than men under 40 are millionaires in the UK - okay some have made that by lying on their back in marriage to a rich man and doing very little except divorcing him at an opportune time when they have snagged him with babies, but some will have earned it under their own steam as it were.

I don't like assumptions that women want to bake cakes nad leave at 3. Most adults are pretty lazy and would like to go home and bake the cakes, not just women and some women are very sexist and don't give them rman the chance to work part tiem whilst they work full time. When we make it a gender issue we make things even tougher for women who do want those board roles and like that hard work.

On this. "However, please tell me that life has thrown some REAL googlies at you - that you have, let's say, overcome devastating bereavement or marital breakdown, divorce, domestic abuse or abandonment leading to episodes of depression? Did you fight back to recover from a toxic or dysfunctional family background that could otherwise have done a sterling job of buggering up your potential?"

I accept not all of us are dealt an unequal hand. Best of all I have so far always been healthy. Secondly happy. Those two uber alles count for most.

The good fairy at my birth also bestowed unto me a high IQ and I am quite pretty (or think I am which may be just as important). That's a pretty good deal.

I don't think I would write about my family here. I am not sure my childhood was textbook happy home and one reason I went to university at 17 was because of that. In fact the richest people in the uK who make their own money are those who tended to have had some problems as children.

Bereavement - eek, well my 40s has been steeped in the decline, dementia and deaths of both parents but that came about after I had worked for 20 years so we may not count that. Divoce and abuse, yes probably and also single mother of 5. But despite all that, laughing as I type, i still feel happy.

Is it just some of us are copers? The British Empire was founded on women and men like this. Whatever is thrown at you you cope with it, you manage, you make th ebest of it and that robustness which most people dont' have I seem to have and I am lucky for it. I have done a little bit of life coaching and that is one of the issues we have looked at.

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UnlikelyAmazonian · 07/12/2011 13:56

Interesting and considered reply Xenia. Thanks for that.

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edam · 07/12/2011 14:00

Apparently the reason Sweden has good childcare and men as well as women take chid-related leave is because Swedish women used a financial crisis as the time to campaign for social change. They had their banking crisis a few years ago and reacted by saying, right, the way the country and economy has been run hasn't worked, what kind of society do we want now and in future? Wish that was happening here...

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kickassangel · 07/12/2011 14:36

Going back to the comment about the house of lords

WTF???

because MORE people are affected by the discrimination of the inheritance laws, it's not worth changing??

The fact that it affects not just the females of those families, but means that the entire political system of the UK is skewed makes it OK????

I am close to combusting over this.

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ElephantsAndMiasmas · 07/12/2011 15:05

Very well put, kickassangel.

I don't know whether these man-friendly rules are enshrined in law or just in individual families entailments etc. Have other families got rid of these ridiculous rules? Of course, even better would be to get rid of the BLOODY hereditary peers in the first place.

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Xenia · 07/12/2011 15:12

Spain changed all its aristocrats' rules so that oldest girls get all but it didn't matter too much as none of them have much money or estates. The UK is very different. Obviously most of us want no sex discrimination but I think it will be set out in inidividual trusts. I am not a debretts expert though and much harder to change here.

The issue that if you are older you inherit is not very fair either although at least it's not sexist. it has meant our estates stay whole whch is rather nice rather than owned by 20 warring children each entitled to a 20th as can happen in France.

That does not affect most of us but Cameron is to be applauded at least for dealing with the succession to the throne issue.

As a capitalist feminist and free market libertarian I have nothing against inherited wealth at all. It is no different from my inherited looks or IQ or whatever. We are not identical clones. Woudl be a dull world if we were.

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Want2bSupermum · 07/12/2011 16:57

I have often found myself on mumsnet a few time reading Xenia's posts and taking large nuggets of wisdom from them.

I totally agree with making your own success. I was in investment banking and have switched to accounting (audit) with the aim of carving out a career either in internal audit or starting up my own business.

Right now DH is studying for an MBA, I am going for my CPA and we are both working full time with a 5 months old DD. It isn't easy and I was furious when I overheard a senior manager say they didn't want me on a job because they couldn't rely on me. I nearly blew a fuse as I am reliable and then remembered that the other women in the office who have small children are not reliable. If their child is sick they don't have emergency cover so take time off work. If you want a successful career you just can't get away with an attitude to work like that. Our closest family is 3000 miles away so I have a roster of sitters that I can call on in an emergency. I also have a sitter to come in during evenings and Saturdays as DH has to study and I am working.

I am one of those women who has a higher earning DH. It hasn't stopped me from calling him a lazy ass to his face when I see he hasn't done anything around the house. I do 99% of the housework because if he is home he is studying or looking after our DD while I do the housework. I think DH has benefited from me working. I talk to him about the discrimination I face in my job and it has changed his perception of women at work. He is mentoring two female sales managers in HQ. They are the first female sales managers in the history of the company and he reached out to them after I suggested that they might need a little bit of guidance and someone more senior to help them navigate through the all male customers and workplace.

It isn't easy when you move to another country. Kickassangel pm me and I will try to help you out. I am in public accounting so have contacts accross many different industries and areas. If I can't help you myself I will probably know someone who can. Also, look at your local town. When I was unemployed I volunteered my services to our town. I am now the 'main street champion' and offer free financial advice to small businesses looking to expand or open up.

One other thing, childcare is a huge issue in the UK. Here in the US we get a lot of tax breaks to help with the cost of childcare. It makes a huge difference and I see many more women in prominent positions compared to the UK. Rather than fight for 30% of boards to be made up of women I would prefer to see childcare being 100% deductible if both parents are working. If we lived in the UK I couldn't afford to work as salaries are so much lower and costs so much higher.

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Coldcuppacoffee · 07/12/2011 17:16

Very interesting read, ladies. I am going to try and be objective but my caveat is that I feel very invisible in my own career right now: 10 years in, second maternity leave and at the stage where most people make the call between a difficult next few years and taking your foot off the gas for a while.
*and I am done....

I don't really mind whether journalists are male or female, or comedians and I certainly don't believe in imposing a boardroom quota on number of women as it should be on merit. But I feel torn. A quota which is restrictive and unhelpful may actually make companies ask themselves why this is so difficult to achieve and that would be some progress. Women ( like me) need to be coached in advancing themselves, in the short term, like a man would. In the long term employers should be coached in embracing the differences between the sexes and their career behaviour. When gen Y are in charge, maybe this will be automatic?

I bloody love Mumsnet and what they stand for and how they have become influential. I believe a lot of highly talented women have sought refuge here and are probably a great asset. There are other companies like this, of course, and female dominated industries. But I also think that women only groups change the dynamic of a group, and not always for the best. So creating male/ female silos is not the answer either.

Frankly, I am too disillusioned by my own situation to see the wood for the trees. Of course the next heir to the throne should be female if that becomes the case, but as you righly point out, background and real life etc affects so much of our own circumstances. And, being on the verge of chucking in the corporate towel, as it were, I can't see much connection between what companies talk and what they do, so there's no easy or short term solution.

Sorry, that's quite depressing!

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LieInsAreRarerThanTigers · 07/12/2011 17:21

Want2beSupermum I felt uncomfortable about the 'roster of babysitters' who could be enlisted to look after your sick child...someone they hardly know when they are poorly? Perhaps you haven't really experienced this much yet as your baby is only 5 months old, but it sounded rather sad to me. I think it should be the employer's assumption that a parent of either sex needs to be there for a sick child. Shame if they assume it will always be the mother.

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UnlikelyAmazonian · 07/12/2011 17:54

The thing is this has turned into a chat between high flying successful women. Which is also somehow very depressing.

Here is Supermum agreeing with Xenia: "I totally agree with making your own success. I was in investment banking and have switched to accounting (audit) with the aim of carving out a career either in internal audit or starting up my own business."

and here is a current thread from the Lone Parents section: here

What advice can you give to the latter - I am in a similar kind of position. And I certainly can't afford life coaching (lol at the thought)

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EssentialFattyAcid · 07/12/2011 18:04

I love listening to Xenia challenging the staus quo on feminism.

However, would we not do better to challenge the status quo on "capitalism" as currently practised in the UK as well as feminism?

What could things look like if we challenged both? By definition there can be very few (although very big) winners under capitalism. Is this a good model for the majority of us?

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UnlikelyAmazonian · 07/12/2011 18:09

Also, supermum you are so lucky to have your DH looking after your DD while you do the housework. [green]

I do 150% of the housework, cooking, cleaning, keeping the house, getting the coal in, cutting logs, walking the dogs (slips down my list a little, I admit) washing up, washing up more, bathing ds every single flippin night, doing stories and bedtime and tackling his ever-growing questions about 'where is my daddy,' doing house repairs or booking builders to do them, collecting ds from nursery/CM, taking him to nursery/CM, shopping, cooking in batches and freezing it, all our xmas shopping and xmas cards, getting decorations out of loft including falling off ladder and nearly killing myself, cleaning p/t for a living, writing the odd article for county magazine, mending reclaimed furniture with a view to selling on, putting house on market as can't stand the shit I get from married neighbours (it's the women who give me the shit btw Shock...but it's North Devon though so my fault as I shouldn't have moved here apparently)

..and just generally existing, paddling frantically below the surface to keep a roof over our heads and my son full of good healthy food, and myself from a pit of depression.

I am not studying for anything as I really don't have the time or money - no family, H's family ditched us when he left...

However this thread has made me think. I might investigate the roster of babysitters idea. I would be a bit worried about how they would tackle ds asking about his daddy all the time (just a phase so he'd have to suck it up with the babysitters) and buckle down to studying. I have my fifties and sixties ahead of me. I have been setting my sights too low. I could be a lawyer if I stuck at it.

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Xenia · 07/12/2011 18:53

how can any woman with a brain and a reasonable relationship do all the housework. i don't think a woman for generations in my family would tolerate unfairness at home. We aren't made like that. Have we got special strong women genes and others kow tow to men who won't lift a duster? Why would you tolerate it even for one day? It's weird. It can all be about the men earning a lot more.

Feminism is about revealing the sexism of women who say all women want to dust and leave work from pathetic part time jobs on low pay a 2pm every day. Feminism is about sayhign hey loads of we women adore lpower and even sometimes love the excitement of an all night deal and want money and success. It's about ensuring we aren't told that is male and only available to men.

It's abotu going to back to work if you choose afer 2 weeks holiday and being as little criticised as a woman for it as a man would be. It's about allowing men to stay home 100% and you work full time if the man wants to and about no assumptions over because you're female you clean the house and stay at home.

Capitalism is wonderful. you won't hear any criticism of it from me and the more women and men pathetically cry for leading their field whilst being pretty bad at what they do and hardly working any hours and no one wanting the work then the better for thsoe of us who are good and are committed. Come forth the mediocre and we can vanquish you.

Fight tooth and claw. it's much more fun than simpering in lipstick waiting for a man to come home who is your only meal ticket and whom you must please or you will be on benefits.

Why can't successful women talk? It shows people where they could get to. I met someone yesterday and we were talking about the differences between us - they want their children to enjoy their work (as indeed do we all) and were saying money doesn't matter etc etc. They could be a good scientist - that's fine by me. I said why not suggest they be the next Dyson - is it because you are working class and have no money and go to state schools? Why can't you want to be the next Dyson rather than some low paid science person just because you come from a poor home? Raise your sights but it's a fight and I'm not sure the state system of schooling really prepares children for that competition and fight or shows what is possible nor all parents either. Great dear you'd make a great nurse they might say rather than gosh you're so clever, why not be a doctor?

I'm actually very busy (Christmas rush) but briefly... this is about visibility this thread. Women need to make themselves so. I could have just done my work quietly. I haven't just done that. I wrote 30 books. How many people have written 30 books in my field? No one in the whole country. How did I write 30 books? I got myself out of bed and just typed. Hard work. Anyone could do it who can type words on a page on mumsnet.

I don't just practise my work I give talks. I give 50 a year. I stand up . I show women not only quietly do work obedientlyh in offices but put themselves forward as very good at it. I talked in iran, Dubai, nigeria etc recently. it's huge effort. Imagine single parent of 5 arranging babysitting for business trip to Africa.

i can pick up the reference to the very poor low expectation low paid parents reference above when get a minute naother time but let's not assue lone parents are non achievers. I am a loan parent with loads of chidlren I have done quite well. I am nothing special. Most of what I do is just down to hard work and perseverance.

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thetasigmamum · 07/12/2011 19:17

Unlikelyamazonian It sounds almost as though you don't consider the problems faced by women in the workplace as worthy of discussion on mumsnet.

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thetasigmamum · 07/12/2011 19:34

Xenia Let's also not assume that nobody who goes to state school and grows up in a council flat ever ends up earning a six figure salary, ok?

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kickassangel · 07/12/2011 19:40

I agree with the theory of capitalism, xenia, but in practice it operates in a patriarchal society, so we are living with patriarchal capitalism, rather than 'pure' capitalism. therefore women don't have the same access to the benefits.

also, there is the issue of childbirth/health - for many women it is a minor impediment, but for others it has quite a negative impact. no men ever suffer from this, so women should be helped with this to even out their opportunities. In theory, pregnancy related sickness isn't meant to be held against a woman, but in practice it is - especially if the employer thinks the woman is like to have more than one child.

Personally I get so frustrated. I am good at my job - not just ok, but really very good. twice I have climbed the ladder of success, run my own dept, then moved & started again. my fault for following dh's career, but he earnt significantly more than i did, so what do you do?

at least now i have a decent job, and am close to being able to support dd & myself independently - which is important to my self esteem.

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verysmellyeli · 07/12/2011 19:52

I'm afraid as a state school educated public sector worker, I feel a little out of the thread now! I could also feel bad about some of the remarks about women not trying hard enough etc. but I will choose not to.

I think the real issue is about making sure that women are confident to achieve their potential. I think of my ambitions/achievements as a series of points on a graph. Each point represents different aspects of my life (work, children, relationships, hobbies etc.) If you join the points together you get a curve. It is the area under the curve that is important, not just the highest point on it.

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Xenia · 07/12/2011 19:58

The error I suppose was in marrying the higher earner. My children's father followed my career. You married up, I married down. Is that one difference although I accept that if people meet at university stage that theory does not always work but 4 in 5 women choose a man who is a bit older and earns and will earn more and often is a bit better educated than they are.

On health I am not sure how many women are badly affected healthwise by having babies. Plenty work until they go into labour and can get straight back . Indeed medical advice these days is that extensive "lying in" in bed etc is not good for you.

I was talking to daughter 2 about stoicism. I suspect that is what differentiates the men and women I work with you keep going and do well and those who stop work at every turn or put their feet up as soon as they have a pregnancy or male equivalent excuse. that's fine. Those ones jsut won't earn much and do well and those who struggle on come hell or high water will do. When I was arranging a conference call the other night noen of the women (or men) had problems with its late timing, no one said I've a toddler etc. We all knew it was important and got on with it.

It's a can do attitude that people who don't succeed don't have. I am lucky to have it. Is it made or it born within us?

Also may be my health is good because I cycled in pregnancy, had my children early because that's sensible, don't drink, smoke, take drugs or eat junk food and weight what I did at age 16? Could those things possibly have an impact on the fact I've not had a day off work sick just about in 29 years or is it just the simple soticism or luck of the good fairy conferred on me at birth?

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Want2bSupermum · 07/12/2011 20:03

LieInsAreRarerThanTigers My roster of babysitters is 5 people long after doing interviews and background checks this weekend. DD has not been sick but I know this will happen and we have to be prepared. DH only has 3 holiday days left and I can't take time off between January (well Dec 27th for me) and April 30th. DH can normally take time off but doesn't have the time due to taking days off to help me after DD was born and we were discharged from hospital.

UnlikelyAmazonian I never had life coaching! Would have loved to as I wouldn't have wasted my time with investment banking. I think the career advice I got as a teenager was awful. Had I known what I know now I would have done things differently starting with not going to university but doing the ICAEW CA after school followed by a part time MBA at 25. Anyway - will take a look at that thread to see if I can help.

Also, I am no high flier and I felt invisible when I overheard the comment made about me. I could fade into the background or find a way to deal with it. Time will tell if I need to leave to set up on my own. At least with accounting there is a need.

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thetasigmamum · 07/12/2011 20:11

verysmelly I broadly agree with you regarding how one should view one's life. It's definitely not just about how much money you earn or how high profile you are or how many publications you have. As it happens despite the terrible drawback (apparently) of being state educated and growing up in a council flat I am what most people would consider incredibly successful in my career. No, I don't own my own firm. And nor do I have 30 publications (10 is quite enough for me. I will almost certainly rack up a few more over the years but For the love rather than because I think it matters). And what I do is 'in the public interest'. But is my contribution to society as big as a (good) teacher's? I doubt it. I do what I do. I do it to the best of my ability, and as it happens the best of my ability is pretty damn good. I don't think that means my life is more worthwhile than anyone else's because everyone has their thing and if we all had the same thing, society would collapse.

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verysmellyeli · 07/12/2011 20:14

Xenia, do you think that those people with toddlers who needed to be in on the conference call with you perhaps didn't mention them for fear of getting short shrift, and simply drugged them with Medised to stop them interrupting? Grin

Anyway, this is about visibility rather than just achievement - although the two are obviously linked, the question is why do women who achieve the same as men get overlooked in terms of media prominence. I would be interested in your views on that.

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Want2bSupermum · 07/12/2011 20:17

I will add that when I was thinking about my career change, I narrowed it down to medicine, law, engineering or accounting. Law was crossed off with as different in every country and it really should not have been on the list in the first place. Engineering was crossed off because male dominated and not respected. Medicine was crossed off because it would cost $200k to qualify and I couldn't earn enough if relocated to Europe to repay the tuition. That left me with accounting! Through networking I arranged informational interviews with partners at accounting firms and decided to go for it. I got myself a 1yr internship where I earnt less than unemployment. Four years later I am still plugging away but getting there.

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thetasigmamum · 07/12/2011 20:25

supermum you are much much better off with a degree. Obviously there are people who do the ACA straight from school. But I don't know anyone who has done that and become 'successful' in Xenia's terms. I don't actually know anybody who did an accounting degree and has got to the top in the profession either although that may just be because one can't know everyone......

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Want2bSupermum · 07/12/2011 20:33

I agree that you need a degree but I don't think a bachelor program would be right for me. I just found my bachelor degree to be a waste of time. DH is doing an MBA and I help him with a lot of his work. It is much more interesting and the work covered has helped me a lot in my career. My BSc Economics didn't do anything but take up 3 years of my life and allowed me to tick a box that says I have a degree. I did enjoy reading around the subject but I could have done that in my own time while working.

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thetasigmamum · 07/12/2011 20:46

supermum That'll be because you did economics ;) (my husband is a university economics lecturer). The person who I respect the most, in the profession, did a history & politics degree. There is a big focus on recruitment of staff at the moment. I have attended several conferences and meetings, around the world, where a big question has been 'what sort of peopledo we want' and the answer is essentially 'rounded ones'. What does she know of balance sheets, who only balance sheets knows.........:)

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