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!

24 comments:

Fat Roland said...

Why hello there.

AA said...

FIRST

I hate it when people do the 'FIRST' thing, obviously it's really stupid and pointless, but I dunno, something just came over me. Welcome back!

(Er, I will now actually go and read the post)

AA said...

AND THAT'S WHY I HATE THE 'FIRST' THING

Sylvia said...

Hurrah! She's back! And yes, I quite agree. it's what it's like for men all the time. Unfortunately, I think the road towards equality seems to mean to some journalists that everyone should get the 'lifestyle' treatment too rather than concentrating on the matter in hand. After all - so much easier to fill a page with personal stuff rather than do some hard news reporting....

Oli said...

This blog never dies. It's the Michael Myers of the blog world. But with less stabbing.

Jayne said...

Oooh, hello there! Was going to try and be funny but can't top Oli...

Michelle Lipton said...

Hooray!

On both counts, but mostly for you being back.

Vicus Scurra said...

She's back! She's back! It's the same one!
And excellent post (although I am just a man).

chatterbox said...

A cause for celebration on many levels.

Rebecca said...

It's just that it's been so long in coming, it really is worth pointing out.

Glad to see you back. There's only so much that 140 characters at a time can cover, even serially.

John Cowan said...

Vicus: What do you mean, "just a man"? Why, without men there'd be no more women all too soon. Of course, one might argue that there *are* quite a few more than absolutely necessary....

I think it's wonderful that you were vouchsafed that experience, if only briefly (the minute you become self-conscious about it, of course, it's gone). I think it's even more wonderful that you're BAAAAAAACKK!

patroclus said...

Aww, thanks all. It's nice to be back. I hope to be reporting from the linguistically imperfect frontline of the hotel toiletries sector again soon.

Boz said...

BACK! *HANDCLAPS*

The business pages fill me dread and angst. I am waiting for the day when they finally find a way of photographing a high-powered business bod in a boardroom and manage to make it look interesting.

jill said...

Hooray - both for your epiphany and your return!

BPP said...

That's not what reading the paper's like for a bloke. THIS is what reading the paper's like for a bloke:

News
Tits
News
Tits
Tits
Tits
Sport
Tits
Sport
Tits
Sport
Tits
Tits

See?

Christopher said...

Much missed. It's been a long night.

Billy said...

Are you back for good?

*crosses fingers*

LC said...

Did the article at least include photographs of the reporter and business-woman, so we could judge their relative attractiveness before deciding how seriously to take their opinions?

*Whistles nonchalantly*

wv: cower - hah!

Valerie said...

I had a dream last night that you had posted on your blog (seriously). There are several strange things about this:

1) You had already posted to your blog, but I didn't know it because Bloglines is kind of slow on the uptake.

Do I have an RSS feed notifier built into my brain? This is worrying.

2) In my dream, you were posting about the effect of Web 2.0 on the appearance of photographs of women in the pages of the Guardian.

(Though I think this was affected by having gone out and purchased a lipstick the week before combined with Tim thanking you for Web 2.0 input in the beginning of The Noughties.)

And your point is really well taken, and I hadn't thought about it with regards to gender, and it bears thinking about. And some ankle-kicking, I feel. I noticed the general phenomenon years ago with non-white-skinned people. If someone was describing a tall white man, they'd say, "he was a tall guy in his 40s..." But if it was a tall black man, it would be "a tall black guy in his 40s..." They didn't feel the need to make the identification or comment on the race if the guy was white. I started rebelling by _always_ including the race if the person I as describing was white. I don't think it had a huge influence, but I felt better.

Anonymous said...

http://www.theonion.com/content/news/sexy_career_woman_to_take_hot_bath

cello said...

Hah! Hurrah!

Indeed. Worth taking a nano-second to celebrate.

And I had that Kate Swann in the back of my cab once when she was marketing Director of Homebase. Pretty terrifying but pure gritty determination.

Tim Footman said...

Which one are you again?

9/10ths Full of Penguins said...

I have been a long time reader of the Guardian, but now that I think about it I have never read the financial bit.

Hmm, maybe if they put some tits in it...

Good to have you back!

John Cowan said...

No bare breasts in newspapers on this side of the Pond, for what that's worth. Such pictures are mostly left to National Geographic, but less so as all the world dresses in T-shirts and jeans.