I want more commentary from women throughout the media and on issues other than motherhood, juggling work and children, sex and sex stereotyping. I am damn sure it is not mischance that more columnists and panel guests on current affairs programmes appear to be men in New Zealand. Age seems to make for more informed comment and older women are less besieged by childrearing. The Guardian has methodically looked at the numbers of women doing opinion pieces in the UK and come up with a figure of around 30%. It wouldn’t surprise me if that figure also applied here.
For years I’ve randomly counted letters to the editor in The DomPost from women. The general tone catches my attention. If it is fairly temperate the proportion of women writers is higher. If there is spittle up shoots the contribution of men. Overall I reckon 20-40% of letters are from women. This irks. Maybe fewer women write in.
I was even more irked by a huge banner headline (same paper) ‘NO MEN ALLOWED’. But less than surprised that the story was paltry. The part council-funded Dowse Gallery in Lower Hutt was showing a short film by a Muslim woman about Muslim women in their private quarters. It was to be shown only to women, one at a time, in a small room. It probably breached Human Rights Commission protocols. A few men were sufficiently stirred to complain.
Columnist Sean Plunket took up the story. A mediation meeting with the Commission was arranged. Plunket derided the ‘outcome’ as useless as there was no ruling and the discussion was confidential. A Commission member subsequently pointed out only the Courts can make a ruling and confidentiality is required to protect participants. A cartoonist succintly offered men probably didn’t want a bar of the film anyway.
Have we ever had a headline NO WOMAN ALLOWED ABORTION ON THE GROUNDS OF RAPE? We were regaled with huge coverage of abortion in the early days of the US election campaign. Thanks to our sense of superior enlightenment vis a vis the United States we were given the impression rape is a ground for abortion here. It isn’t. It is in the US because women have the right to choose there! We don’t!
A not dissimilar story covered three women untouchables who worked as cleaners in India who never got the money they were entitled to from their employer. Again we prided ourselves on our enlightenment but pay cleaners here peanuts. There was a story comparing the pay of John Key’s parliamentary cleaner with his pay but the determination to keep cleaners in their lowly place is shared by more than the rich. Middle class self-entitlement and complacency is far more influential in keeping down the wages of lesser mortals. The debate amongst high-earning feminists about how they should pay cleaners in the late seventies appeared to vanish effortlessly. Time to revisit? Or has inequality of outcome and associated poverty been abandoned in the too hard basket. Women are still earn less than men and have fewer retirement savings.
A woman journalist for the Daily Telegraph commented on a recent survey published in the American Journal of Political Science which showed women still played a lowkey role in group discussions. Her conclusion: women must speak up. Indeed. Why don’t we? Are there obstacles? Do men still pontificate in public forums, work and social settings. Happily this doesn’t seem to be the case in current affairs forums in mainstream media here where the women hold their ground very well. But the composition of the panels disappoints: usually one woman to two men. Who chooses guests, is the host more often a man?
Of course one should always be careful of what one wishes for in case it is granted. A recent count of letters to the editor had an almost equal outcome and those from women were as rancourous as those of the men. But only one letter not much later and again a day later. Is talkback radio confined to angry men and inciting hosts. Do women ring in ? Do we need a forum better tailored to women’s serious concerns?