I recently went to a talk at the 2012 Edinburgh festival by a respected political journalist on the topic of politics over the last few decades. And I despaired.
The journalist, Steve Richards, writes for The Independent and is, as far as I can tell, a genuinely nice guy and I quite enjoyed his gentle hour of talk and anecdotes – up to a point. He was giving his overview and some political insider gossip of the last few decades of politics, finishing with a short question and answer session.
After about 30 minutes I became a bit fidgety, not because the chairs were uncomfortable but because not one woman featured in any positive way, no, not even la Thatcher herself! I began to count the references and here they are:
- He mentioned early on his appearance on a talk show with a female journalist from the Daily Mail. His aside was that she talked for 28 minutes and he got 2 minutes in. Cue laughter, oh how you women talk so much! (Which is interesting in itself as research shows that in the media world men interrupt women far more than women interrupt men yet both genders seem to think women talk more – see this article Men and Women Talk Differently
- We then had a glimpse into some of the Wilson years when Marcia Williams got a mention. For anyone who doesn’t know, Williams was a hugely influential political advisor to the then PM Harold Wilson. Her mention was in the context of a plot to assassinate her because she had too much influence…
- And finally, Neil Kinnock was referenced as the man who had it all yet failed spectacularly to win an election for the Labour party. And part of his ‘having it all’ was his very attractive wife Glynis Kinnock, the third woman to get a mention in the hour.
So to summarise, we had a woman who talked too much, a woman who interfered, and a woman as an attractive wife.
By this stage my husband and daughter knew exactly what was coming in the Q & A session….but really, dear reader, I just couldn’t help myself. I had to point out (but not rudely I hope) that this was an account so male centric that even Thatcher didn’t get a look in and that the women he talked about were represented in very stereotypical ways. My question to him was what role, if any, does the media have to play in the very few women in positions of power in this country?
To his credit Steve was not too defensive and I accept his answer that he was reflecting what was happening in society and didn’t have much time: but this is the reality that women are faced with every day. Female contributions are often airbrushed out, or dismissed as being of little importance. I know men predominated during the period he was talking about, apart from one major exception, and I’m sure Steve didn’t deliberately set out to exclude women from his talk, or is a chauvinist, in fact we had a delightful Twitter change afterwards, but…Any woman or young girl at that event looking for some inspiration would have to conclude that politics is a man’s world. No doubt. I don’t think most of the audience even registered the fact that only men were referenced, even in answer to the question who are the up and comers?
And then the very next day ITN and asked me to comment on this news story! But that’s another post.
Here’s a review of Steve’s show at the Edinburgh Fringe and I have to say in fairness, on the day we were there it was very well received.
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Posted on August 27th, 2012 by Jane