Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Thin Skin

I came across this piece today about Mariella Frostrup's apology to the editors of Radio 4's Today programme for calling them misogynists. Another hot-headed woman, I thought briefly and unconsciously, before looking into the story behind her accusation (like you've never fleetingly cursed 'Bloody woman driver', girls!) Turns out Today editor Ceri Thomas had hinted in an interview that the reason there weren't more female presenters in his line of work is simply that men have the thicker skin and therefore the employable edge to deal with the pressures of the job. What he said was this, essentially that women should have a place on the BBC but probably not on the Today programme, as it's really scary and tough and they might cry. Now, I can see how this was very tactless, especially as he works in the media, but perhaps the exceptional thickness of his very manly skin has numbed any sensitivity to such matters.

Here's a surprise though: I agree with him a bit. Not with the 'all women', but with the 'why not as many women appear on confrontational current affairs shows' bit. I'm a woman, and as a very tiny percentage of the population (and a small percentage of the media-career-inclined) I can tell you with no hesitation that I'd be too fragile and emotional for that kind of full-on daily environment. Most women I know are not ambitious enough, or conversely they're smart enough, to avoid any job where they may end up in rehab, heart-attack territory or simply hiding in the toilets in tears. That isn't necessarily to say we have thinner skin, although I secretly agree with that too - of which more later.

Jennie Bond, who apart from the curious 'ie' choice of name spelling has the hardy air of an ex-Olympian about her anyway, dismissed Thomas's comments as "complete bollocks" (interestingly gendered choice of words there) and quite correctly stated:

"I reported extensively for the Today programme and presented it for three years. It's tough, it's hard and it's challenging but of coursewomen can present it."

The point, I feel, is not that they physically can, but that they aren't. Most of the gals are going for cushy daytime sofas and entertainment reporting because it's fun, full of perks and they are less likely to be depicted as a stone-cold harridan in the media. Who wants that sort of pressure that early in the day anyway? Men, in my humble experience, seem more inclined to go for such 'challenging' (read: often unbearable) positions - they are less likely than women to weigh up home and work life, personal and professional happiness, and health and success before taking a promotion or new job.

"Women have a different way of having a thick skin," said presenting veteran Joan Bakewell when asked her views by The Guardian. Bakewell was dubbed the original 'thinking man's crumpet' after daring to be both a talented journalist and a regulation hottie (it's a bit of a sexist industry, in case you're not up to speed.)

"It's amazing how you can get your own way without being confrontational. Women are good at analysing how to tell a story. Don't you get tired of all those clashes [on the Today programme]? Look at Prime Minister's Questions. I think it's probably intolerable for any woman to watch that without hating all politicians. Women are bad at it [shouting at the dispatch box] basically because they don't like doing it, and it isn't the only way to do things, it genuinely isn't."

I quote Bakewell so heavily here because, crumpet or not, it's the sanest viewpoint I've read on the subject so far. Not wildly defensive, a la Frostrup (even when retracting her misogynists comment, she mainly conceded that the Today editors were 'not demons') and not blithely in agreement either. She simply iterates that women have a different approach that is valuably used elsewhere; I think, for example, that women make better interviewers for print. I dislike Jeremy Paxman but can appreciate his battering-ram function in the media sphere. Sometimes 'thin skin' makes for wonderfully perceptive journalism. My very first work experience placement was on the late Richard and Judy show, which I loved - live and packed with crazy segments, debate and guests of all backgrounds, the reason it worked was the combination of Madeley's rhino-skin pushiness and Finnigan's more patient and paced interview style. From this and many other media encounters, I learnt the valuable difference between trying to be a man in a man's world and using your innate femininity to get that bit more out of a situation. Would a male interviewer have boldly gone far as Caitlin Moran in her recent sensational profile of Lady Gaga, or would he have sat opposite her, barking questions and jotting down notes on the size of her thighs while half-listening to her answers?

I fear we may have become so fixated on total gender equality that the facts of our (sometimes wonderful) differences must be hushed up. Men and women are different, not in terms of either being harder, better, faster or stronger, but in having different skills and strengths. Nearly all stem logically from primal instincts (compassion, aggression, patience) and although there are always individual exceptions, look around in any workplace and you will see a lot of male focus and drive at work alongside a lot of female negotiation and diplomacy.

I am always eager to be proved wrong though, so if you are a woman who is ferociously determined to get to the front line (of journalism, management, politics, Afghanistan) please do comment with your thoughts.

No comments:

Post a Comment