Patience is not a virtue I possess, so I recognise many of my frustrations regarding the way women are tolerated in business is simply because we are still so new at it. I understand we only have 60 years of being taken relatively seriously under our belt and the equal pay act only came into being in 1970 but I continue to be disappointed and often outraged at the perceptions of some men who STILL believe women should be full time home makers and mothers ONLY. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but many of these men control our industry, the media, our political landscape and our public sector. At this point their pre Victorian values and pontificating become an issue for all of us.
I accept we are still learning to play the game and striving to be taken seriously but sexism is endemic and quite often so subtle it goes unnoticed and unchallenged. Here is an example that raised my temperature this month……
On the drive home from the city the other day I was listening to BBC local radio’s coverage of the region’s Inspirational Women Awards 2012. The winners were interviewed by a male host as they left the stage holding their trophy. The winner of the media category was the first women ever to hold the position of Editor of a pretty well known and reputable regional newspaper. The host patronised her for a few moments then went in for the kill by asking her if she was a Mother? When she answered yes he then responded and I quote ‘ Wow, you must find it tough to manage such an important, high profile job with being a mother and caring for your family. How do you do this? At this moment my heart sank, but I remained hopeful that she would answer with confidence, certainty and a touch of indignation at the relevance of the question. I was disappointed, but not surprised by her answer.
She delivered the script many women do when faced with this blatant sexism. She expounded the saintly qualities of her very patient and supportive husband and expressed her gratitude and appreciation of her daughter who put up with her neglect as she sneeked into the back row of the school plays, always late and only had quality time to share with her at weekends. Arrgh! Why do we do this to ourselves?
The interviewer oohed and arrghed his way through her reply and finished with the classic ‘But do you think they will both be proud of you today eh?’ translated as ‘maybe they will forgive you for your constant neglect because now you can show them you are good at your job’!
Some of you will argue that he was not sexist in his approach, he was simply asking real questions that women want to know the answer to. I disagree, I subscribe to the Caitlin Moran definition of equality here. Ie. It is sexist behaviour if the same questions/approach is NOT acceptable to both sexes. So in this instance, would the interviewer have asked a man just picking up an award for excellence the same question ‘So Bob, well done on your award, are you a father and how do you manage to balance your career with caring for your family?’ No No NO, I think not!
Sometimes, in fact quite often, sexism lies just under the surface and it becomes so endemic we barely notice it let alone challenge it, but if we continue to walk around with our eyes closed and think we are rising above this attitude, we are in denial and nothing will change and we will only have ourselves to blame when we look behind and our daughters are NOT following us.
Breath Jane, breath!