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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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sakura · 08/12/2011 09:20

and I didn't say I didn't think some men weren't lovely. Some men are better than others, of course. BUt men and women are very, very different. Men know this, it's women who are slow to catch on.

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thetasigmamum · 08/12/2011 09:26

sakura they really do. You are coming across as a Caricature, really. 'evolutionary truth' indeed. Biscuit

So you are retracting your comment 'no men aren't lovely' then, are you?

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Beachcomber · 08/12/2011 09:41

Hi Sakura. Nice to see you.

Patriarchal capitalism is so transparently a male supremacist monolith. I mean we have to have laws stating that women must be awarded the same treatment as men for goodness sake. It should be a given.

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verysmellyeli · 08/12/2011 10:18

I find myself agreeing with many of the points that Xenia makes - it shouldn't be a battle, we should all get on together - and I am inspired by her to try and be more visible in what I do. I shall regard it as 'voluntary work' for the cause of addressing gender imbalance (because it all takes up time, and personally I feel better about being away from the kids if I can define the reason and the motive pretty clearly - not very feminist, I know)

But I sort of get what sakura is trying to say - I work as a hospital consultant where the vast majority of my colleagues are male, and there is institutionalised sexism on a daily basis which many of the men barely notice. In order to progress, there is a formal and informal network of largely public school, white men which needs infiltrating. Committee meetings and lectures offereing networking opportunities are often in the evenings. One colleague of mine said to me recently (in an attempt at sympathy) 'I suppose it's very difficult for you to get organised to come to many of these things, whereas if I get home late my wife has got dinner on the table'. I was too Shock to formulate a witty response......

And I shouldn't have to act like a man in order to succeed, either. Women and men ARE different and I like to think that I bring positive female qualities to the job I do and the roles I take within that. I think what IS needed is more training for women in the professions about how to manage and lead. Yes, it may be tokenistic to start with - but bring on the tokenism, I say. The alternative is a continuation of the patriarchy. (DOWN WITH THE PATRIARCHY! Has everyone read Caitlin Moran??)

Encouragingly, for a while, when he started school, my son thought that only women could be doctors. Although he now wants me to be a dinner lady when I go back from maternity leave, so I guess I can't win.

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verysmellyeli · 08/12/2011 10:29

Also - this is very interesting. Suzanne Moore on why she doesn't do much telly.

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mumwithdice · 08/12/2011 10:55

But do not read the comments. I did, and they are depressing.

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LieInsAreRarerThanTigers · 08/12/2011 11:17

Yes that's a good point Suzanne Moore makes: 'Women, if I have to generalise, are very good at faking some things but not always the things that matter. We want to be liked and are fearful of being judged on our looks.'
And boy are they judged on their looks when they go on tv. (Thinking about Deborah Mayden (sp?) for example) It is the same thing that sometimes astonishes when a man doesn't seem to have to try very hard with his appearance or grooming and still gets a lot of female attention, and it often comes down to money or power, or being a good performer/entertainer, being conisdered more important in a man.
Xenia says she thinks she is quite pretty, perhaps this does help her to be confident in public speaking and appearing on TV, where many women wouldn't have that boost. Then there is the flipside of 'attractive' women in the public eye being just sex objects or pin-ups and having to fight to be taken seriously as a person with a brain, knowledge and expertise.

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LieInsAreRarerThanTigers · 08/12/2011 11:55

One of the less depressing comments on the Suzanne Moore article says this: 'If you are a man, appearing unlovable and ignorant is no problem. Low risk. Life goes on. Society tolerates it. Plenty of women will still want to have your babies.

If you are a woman, appearing unlovable and ignorant is really going to marginalise you as a cold, uncaring weirdo or something (particularly the first). Much higher risk.'

That is more or less what I meant, succinctly put.

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specialmagiclady · 08/12/2011 14:21

I haven't read all through the conversation - would love to but life is about to intervene - but wanted to offer up this:

One of the problems is that a successful woman's career path is often a different shape from a successful male's.

A man's career path is often a curve - starting low, ending high, sometimes tailing off a little at the end. That's a successful career, even if the curve isn't very steep, that's how it tends to be.

A woman's career path may be more of a wiggly line. Or two lines running parallel and meeting/crossing at points.

My mum is a really good case in point. A bright, high achiever after school and uni, she met and married my dad in the 60s. She had a few years out of work when we were little, but always always worked in various professional roles, part time when we needed her a lot, full time when we were older.

In her 60s once she retired she started to do voluntary work and now serves as Vice Chair of a major British charity. Yes, voluntary, but incredibly rewarding and high powered compared to her life supporting my dad's small-town medical career. She's never at home, she's always in Geneva or Kyrgystan or buzzing around London to various meetings. Good on her! She's a real role model to show that it doesn't all have to be over in terms of living up to potential in retirement.

Not quite sure what the relevance is but I suppose the thing is that those of us who've put career on the back burner for a few years have got some time to get it back. We just have to work bloody hard and that takes a lot of confidence and putting yourself out there...

Right, off to organise the world for no money too. Runs in the family x

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radiohelen · 08/12/2011 16:18

I think the problem is structural.

Our society is very tightly constrained in the industrial model. We run our education system this way (see the Sir Ken Robinson lecture on TED), we run our workplaces this way. This model is an 19th century idea based on society's needs in the 18th and 19th centurys. It's a factory system, you start at the bottom, work your way up and get to the top if you've dotted all the Is and crossed all the ts. In this model, Women stay home, the angel in the hearth, or they give up everything and behave like a man to get on. The men made this structure, they have made the workplace proscriptive to women.
What we need is an understanding that women's experience does not fit this model. We are not linear. We cannot easily follow a linear career course when we have kids and older relatives to look after. So we need a none linear model and a system that creates acceptance of it and gives it value.

The idea that someone may have several careers over a lifetime should be welcomed rather than viewed with suspicion. Motherhood itself should be seen as a positive learning experience to be valued by bosses. We should change attitudes so dropping in and out of the workplace is not seen as a negative but embraced as flexible and useful.

Women's careers are more like venn diagrams than a linear graph. We need to make the world sit up and recognise it's outdated structures and change them.

Oh and please write to Ceri at R4's today programme. When I wrote to him with my demo and CV I never even got a reply. They say women don't contact them about jobs on big radio stations but that's not true, sadly they seem to be woman blind most of the time.

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Xenia · 08/12/2011 16:40

I stand by my comment that men are lovely and I like them. May be that alone gives me yet another advantage in a world where men and women often work together. I also disagree with sakura on differences. I see al ot more similiarities between men and women as people than differences. Some men and women are lazy. Some have my work ethic etc etc.

I get worried when people say certain characteristics are male. I think that's very sexist and it stops women being how they might be. I think I have reasonably high testosterone levels (never had them tested though). I like to be best. I want to compete. I don't see why we should say those are qualities men have.Of course there are some differences but by emphasising them women can get pushed into a ghetto.

As verys said sometimes men and women will assume the woman is the one with duties at home. It's one reason I didn't make a sexist comment about childcare to the person on the thing I wrote about above when we were fixing a latish call. My children's father had it in reverse - loads of female teacher colleagues allowed home on the dot of end time and he most days there and in effect made to stay to 6 even though he was primarily responsible for the then 3 chidlren under 10 to let the nanny go home first. It was always assumed he wouldn't have childcare responsibilities. He was also once told he didn't get a pay rise because I his wife earned too much although that might have ben a joke...

Most of all I think humans if they want to get on need to develop a very thick skin (I get sick to death of weak very PC women always having a moan), be the stoic - be the type of Englishperson which our empire was built. Be strong and succeed. Be the best you can be and tell people you are. Work for yourself as I do if you don't like how things are going where you are at present. Also I say don't be too PC i do think we shouldn't let sexist comments pass or racist for that matter. I don't even allow the chidlren to use the word chav even though I'm accused of being snobbish on here. If someone makes a comment which is sexist or even if a colleague just announces he and his wife are having a baby you can ask which of you will be looking after it and has he yet looked for childcare etc. Make it the norm that you expect that person to have a non sexist relationship and deride them in a sense but very nicely if they don't.

I'm ab it too busy to read all the comments above but today I have been out at a meeting thing. This one was with men which was fine. i will earn more than any of them so that certainly helps a woman's confidence.. he he he...


As for the comment above about my saying I didn't look too bad i suspect that's because genuinely I'm okay, b ecause my looks are about 2% of how I feel about myself yet so many little girls seem to be brought up with your life ambition is the "wedding", here at 4 is your pink disney princess dress and no you can't climb a tree in that....kind of stuff, and I don't watch television or films. I certainly like to look okay and when I'm in my 50s may be I will feel affected if looks change. I think I use my looks. I don't mind showing some cleavage. I like wearing reasonably high heels. I do generally think life is quite fun.

I know that many feminists do love men. that#'s one problem with the word feminist that it has been given so many different meanings including man hating. I would be "capitalist feminist who loves men".

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UnlikelyAmazonian · 08/12/2011 18:14

Are you Fatima Whitbread?

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meloraspalm · 08/12/2011 19:27

I think the problem isn't to do with pushing woman into the male sphere of societal life, but society itself. Woman have children, men don't. Society needs to reward this fact (you wouldn't exist had no female-body bothered to do it for you!), instead of saying it's a personal choice. Children and mothers are segregated from society in all walks, unless they give the responsibilty of raising their children to someone else for a wage. Even then they earn less. Why aren't women clammering for decent part-time wages, for their other-halfs to work part time and take some of the career step-down.

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Pantofino · 08/12/2011 19:42

Women GIVE BIRTH to children. Men HAVE children too. There is a difference.

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Xenia · 08/12/2011 19:46

it's not a massive difference. Unless you're ill in pregnancy nothing stops most people in most jobs working to 40 weeks and then after if you are looking after a toddler and 4 year old it's hardly sitting around at home after birth so being in the average office is arguably easier.

Women don't clamour for their husbands to be entitled to part time hours and force them to do flexitime because most of them are not ambitious and are happy to sit back and rely on male earnings. They need to change their attitudes of course. Hence my work is not yet complete on here.

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Pantofino · 08/12/2011 19:50

In an ideal world, everyone should be able to have the set up that suits them best without being penalised. All employers should offer flexible working to everyone. There are non-parents who having caring responsibilities for example. Obviously we don't live in an ideal world, and businesses need to make a profit. I really think we have to get out of the 9-5 model and start thinking how to do things differently.

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UnlikelyAmazonian · 08/12/2011 20:20

what is the 'average office?'

It sounds increasingly like you have officer and board office goggles on. nothing else exists outside the office/boardroom.

Loads of women don't work in an office. certainly the many women on here you mentioned ealier who have set up their own businesses, don't work in 'an office'. Is the office the only set-up you recognise?

My ears feel banged together - just like my exH used to bang my head against a brick wall.

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Pantofino · 08/12/2011 20:37

"Motherhood itself should be seen as a positive learning experience to be valued by bosses." Um why? The fact that I managed to give birth successfully has NOTHING to do with my work.

The important thing is protecting the employment rights of women on one side, and remembering that FATHERS have families too on the other. When faced with 2 20 somethings in an interview it should be the default position that they BOTH might need time off for personal commitments throughout their career.

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Xenia · 08/12/2011 20:43

I don't think there's much disagreement on the thread except perhaps over whether we hate men. I certainly think women need to be a lot more visible. Take up those invitiations to be on television, volunteer yourself for things, push push push. Don't hold back. Don't be worried you can'ts peak in public. Get out there. Be the one with their name on things, not just a backroom person. Object if no women are not put forward. Ask why no men are on the board etc etc.

I was trying to find a more recent article than this by de botton but this will do dotsub.com/view/31bdc5eb-0f1b-465c-82fb-595bd68946bf/viewTranscript/eng It's not really on topic but it about "success" ( much prefer discussion of people rather than pigeonholing men and women).

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Want2bSupermum · 08/12/2011 20:48

I have flexible working and it doesn't help me that much. The work still has to get done and sometimes I just don't have the ability to work 120hrs in a week. If I work 4 days a week people still call on the 5th and I don't get paid so they can whistle dixie if they think I am going to take a 20% paycut!

Part of being visible is appearance. I think the biggest mistake made by both men and women is that looks don't matter. Just think of the clothing worn by those in male and female dominated fields. Nine times out of ten the fields dominated by women are perceived to be lower value because those working in those sectors don't treat the job as important. Part of creating the perception of importance is how you dress.

As an example, take the field of engineers, accountants, teachers and doctors. Teaching and the lower levels of accounting are dominated by women. Then consider the last 15 men and 15 women you saw from each of the above fields. What was your impression of their competence? I would guess that you thought those better presented were better at their jobs, at least initally.

It grinds my gears when I see a women in a position of influence but not making an effort with their appearance. It doesn't take much and is a very important part of women becomming more visible in society. You might be the most competent person since time began but if you don't look at least half decent then your credibility is gone.

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Pantofino · 08/12/2011 20:55

Want2b - sorry but I disagree. I work in the Telecoms industry. Loads of people wear jeans to work. People are very much judged on the job they do not how smartly they are dressed. Before this I worked in Pharmaceuticals with some seriously clever people - research scientists and the like, letters after their names like you wouldn't believe. Some of them were REALLY scruffy!

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Pantofino · 08/12/2011 20:57

Do you not think that focussing on appearance as opposed to competency is part of the whole problem here? Women must look smart and attractive to be taken seriously?

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Xenia · 08/12/2011 21:16

Depends on your industry. If I can't be bothered I don't bother. I am where I need to be, I earn a reasonable amount, usually the most of the people I am working with male and female so in a sense what I wear doesn't matter but people like to pay people like I am and part of what they pay for is that I look like what I'm supposed to be so yes I suppose I do to an extent play the looks game. However luckily in the UK we are not like some New Yorkers. Women don't have to get their hair done every week or spend a fortune on clothes. I'm glad we're more relaxed over here.

Also loads of the work I do is behind a computer screen. It doesn't matter how I look and that will be so for a lot of men and women.

I certanily accept that men and women who wear the right clothes for what they do tend to do better and that you need to crack the dress code for some things. Those of us who run things and can do what we like even then mostly choose to play the game but I certainly would always wear the same "uniform" and spend about 2 seconds thinking what to wear. In that sense I have managed to achieve the freedom most men have and if women could adopt that mindset think of the hours they would save every year.

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Pantofino · 08/12/2011 21:27

The question though has to be whether the "uniform" is important or right though surely? Men wear suits to work, so women should also ape this look, or forever be seen as lesser mortals? It's just fashion - and that is all. It is nothing to do with commitment to the job or competence. Just that some bloke - and it was a bloke - decided that this was how a man should be dressed.

I bet bowler and top hats are worn by few men these days - but these would have been an important bit of uniform going back.

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Want2bSupermum · 08/12/2011 21:31

Pantofino It applies to men too. From what I have seen here in the US, if you want to be taken seriously you must dress the part, regardless of your sex. Being competent is the first step, then you must be confident in your competence. Part of that is dressing the part. Wearing jeans and looking scruffy are two different categories. The two are different. I have worn jeans to work before but I didn't look scruffy. If I do wear jeans on a Saturday, with an ironed shirt and polished shoes!

Appearance isn't about being attractive. I think a lot of women get the two confused. I wear dresses because I think they look smarter and more professional but I look better in trouser suits. Look at Nicola Horrick. She dresses well and her appearance demonstrates competence. On the other hand, Margaret Beckett always looked like a mess and I think it affected her perceived competence negatively.

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