Sunday, October 18, 2009

Unusual Media Epiphany

I had an unusual media epiphany last week, and it had nothing to do with Trafigura, Jan Moir or the balloon boy, whatever that last one was all about.

No, what happened was this. I was sitting on a train, reading an article in the financial pages of the Guardian, on my way to a conference in Exeter.

So far, so unremarkable. The article was about WH Smith's business plans. It's going to open 80 new outlets inside office buildings, based on the success of a number of shops it's set up inside hospitals. Profits are up at WH Smith, the article added, thanks to the canny strategies of its CEO, Kate Swann.

It was at that point that I had my epiphany. Here was an article in a newspaper about a successful FTSE 250 company that happens to have a female CEO. Not only that, but it had been written by a female journalist (Julia Finch), and was being read by a female business person (me).

And yet at no point was the gender of the reader, writer or subject made an issue. The article didn't appear in the women's pages, or in a glossy women's supplement. The reporter didn't mention what Kate Swann looks like, what she habitually wears, or whether she has a partner and kids at home. There was no accompanying picture. There were no allusions to the glass ceiling. Readers were not invited to view Ms Swann's success as an exceptional achievement for someone of her gender.

It was just an ordinary article about business in the business pages of a national newspaper.

And I thought: 'This must be what reading the paper is like for men all the time.'

I know that by drawing attention to it I'm bursting the bubble of ordinariness surrounding this article, and turning it into something remarkable, and therefore defeating the whole object. But for a little while it did give me a glimpse of a glorious future media landscape in which women are just people, and our gender is neither here nor there. And that made me very happy.

Oh, and hello again everyone, I seem to be back!