On a recent trip to London, my husband and I happened to walk by the Houses of Parliament. It was a few minutes before 3pm and we wanted to wait to hear Big Ben chime live over the city. As we were walking along, among the many camera crews, I noticed this woman with a well worn notebook peeking out of her handbag. I noticed the inconspicuous headphones she was wearing around her neck and then I saw the microphone. Radio journalist I thought, but who?
As I passed her and the man she was speaking with, I casually tried to sneak a peek at her badge and it said Carolyn Quinn. I was excited because I admire women like her, hard-working, diligent, intelligent, dedicated. I wanted to go back and say a word of support, but then decided against it, as she was working and I didn’t want to interrupt her.
The great thing about radio is that it if you listen regularly, you do so because you are interested in understanding the issues without the distractions of images and colours, without having to nitpick about someone’s horrendous tie, hair-dye or make-up, age or sex. I know very little about Carolyn Quinn, but knowing anything about her personal life or fashion sense is irrelevant. All I care about is that I trust her to do her job and inform me and the many Radio 4 listeners about the political issues of the day.
It’s not easy being a woman anywhere, let’s face it. But I am reminded almost daily how badly Middle Eastern men treat their women. John Humphries questioned whether universities should accept monies from Middle East regimes that treat their women ‘deplorably’ yesterday morning. But there are many ways that women are treated deplorably in the West, too. Just the other day, Kate Moss revealed that topless photos were a requirement to move ahead in the modelling industry. Where is the moral outrage of an under-age teen having to bare her chest for the world to see? Isn’t that child exploitation? It seems to me that at the same time people are crying out over Jimmy Savile’s abuses, people give themselves permission to view images of a topless model because it’s out there in the public domain. To me it’s the same thing, but somehow it’s become more socially and culturally accepted.
The fact is women’s bodies are the canvas upon which societies are measured. If you’re covered from head to toe, you’re said to be subjugated by your men-folk. But are you any less subjugated if you pose semi-nude? Why does the West continue to push that image of homogeneous beauty it wants all women conform to. If we all looked like Kate Moss or Keira Knightly, then what makes us unique? What differentiates us from others? Isn’t that another ‘veil’ of sorts? Doesn’t that also make us into objects to be admired or sneered at if we are unable to meet the standards that the fashion industry and the media pressure women to achieve? Our identity as women shouldn’t be written on our bodies, nor should our bodies be used to measure our successes in life. We should be measured by our contributions to society at large at any age and in whatever form or shape we come in. It’s harder said than done and sometimes I think we’re our own worst enemies.
So I try to switch off the TV or only watch things that don’t celebrate greedy consumerism and conformism to certain beauty standards and instead listen to professional journalists like Carolyn Quinn or read intelligent fiction by women (and men!) with something real to say about life. But it’s very hard to find those smart women in the British media, because yes, they are outnumbered by men and by young sexually objectified women. Where can I find all the female professionals in medicine, art, history, academia, science, politics, education, industry and comedy?
After four years of living in the UK, I’ve come to enjoy British television staples such as Have I Got News For You. But I get bored when it’s only men on the panel, because the banter is just so laddish (especially when hosted by Jeremy Clarkson). It seems that even as an audience women are not respected and I’m not surprised that there have been voices calling for more women to be represented on shows like the Today Programme and in the media in general.
There is an inquisitive, intelligent and engaged female audience out there and they want to hear from both genders equally about a diversity of issues, not just women’s, but it seems that the media still think they are only speaking to men — or dollified women.