When I worked for British Cosmopolitan in the 90s the magazine had a Political Editor and I wrote about “women’s issues”. For example, how women received, on average, 25% less for doing the same job; how so few women were in FTSE-company boardrooms; how only a quarter of Westminster MPs were women; how women were systematically raped during the Bosnian war …
I blame being a twin for my feminist awakening. Because when my brother and I became teenagers, I sensed my opportunities becoming curtailed while his were wider. His work options were painted more broadly, mine were narrower. His social life freer, mine focused on being safe. It seemed so unfair. In seeking to explore the causes of the unfairness, with the aim of changing it, I found my career.
My reports for Cosmo earned an honorary plate in the 1990 Media Awards from The 300 Group. Their goal was to reach 300 MPs in parliament out of a total of 650.
Twenty-five years on, it’s no surprise so little has changed. I decided I was on a hiding to nothing running women’s issues; that even if I aspired to earn a 48-piece Wedgewood dinner set, my journalist’s efforts would not make a speck of difference because this particular time in which we live rewards white, middle-aged men. It’s just how the system works. It’s not OK. It’s not most men’s fault, but all benefit while few realize.
I stacked my gold-rimmed plate with the everyday kitchen crockery and got on making my own way doing the things I loved with people I liked. I didn’t want to be angry anymore, constantly standing up for women’s issues when so little could be done.
The Matildas are in China next week. Our national women’s soccer team (one of the top ten teams in the world), has put on hold an ongoing pay dispute to continue its planned tour of preparations for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games qualifiers. Thanks to an interim deal struck by the players association, the Matildas are picking up where they left off in September, when a tour of the USA was abandoned over dismal rates of pay. Apparently, a new “Whole of Game” pay deal is in the wings, pending a players’ vote.
At the least, it’s embarrassing. Last season, the Matildas became Australia’s first senior team to win a World Cup knockout game with a 1-0 win over Brazil. While players were paid $500 in match fees, their male counterparts received $7,500 – for doing the same thing.
It’s a bit rich when it reaches the point when women can’t afford to play for their country, while women who frock up for their men steal the headlines.
As a new sporting season opens, images from last season’s are still fresh; Brownlow Medal night celebrating pregnancy style, enormous engagement rings and fashionable wives. How ironic that the ultimate winner, Nat Fyfe, brave enough to go dateless, had no chance of being upstaged by a gown split to the navel.
She is a qualified speech therapist with a Bachelor of Science, but Rebecca Judd has made a career out of being a footballer’s wife. After 11 Brownlow appearances she is powerful, styled as “Queen of the Brownlow”, and with today’s social media she’s managed to make it all about her. Her @Becjudd Instagram account posted a selfie on the night with her husband poking his head into the picture in the background.
I’m not criticizing women who want to realize their beauty through a man. It does all look rather glamorous. But it’s just the degree of attention they inevitably receive for doing so in public, when essentially their choice of a mate is about their own private life – nothing to do with us. Except, in raising their private life to the level of national importance, isn’t it time they realized they are making it harder for women who dedicate blood, sweat and tears to achieving something for themselves?
It’s not simply about being in the spotlight wearing posh frocks. There’s a knock on effect. If women’s sport fails to attract the right amount of media attention, then commercial sponsorship and overseas career paths are denied. Without the platform or profile that clubs can trade on when a talented player advertises a global brand, for example, would Tim Cahill have ever played for Everton, or Luke Brattan move to Manchester City?
If the career path isn’t there, women are discouraged, and it becomes a vicious cycle. It’s understandable why girls wouldn’t want to aspire to be the best soccer player in the world when they are so unseen and paid so little.
It must be more than galling for Matildas players to see complete Brownlow outfits and up-dos worth more than their annual salaries! (Most of the Matildas earn $21,000 a year on FFA contracts.)
Something, or someone, has to give.
I would respect Rebecca Judd more if, instead of thanking her outfit sponsors, she considered donating the value to supporting a Matilda get to Rio. This year’s Brownlow gown featured intricate Egyptian-style beading, with Rebecca confessing she “felt like Cleopatra” on the night.
We need to ask more from women who seek and attract the limelight as our national female role models. Follow Hollywood’s lead, where the #AskHerMore red carpet campaign is encouraging red carpet reporters to go beyond appearance and ask women about their achievements in Hollywood – not about the dress.
It’s taking a paradigm shift, one domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty has her finger on. It’s up to every woman in their own world to hope to make a difference, ask more of themselves so that, rightly, more can be asked of men.
First published in Tasweekend, October 17, 2015