Interesting women are far angrier than you would imagine
We silently fume as bland men pass us by on their conveyor belt to career advancement
‘Plenty of women get the joke that Jodie Whittaker’s first adventure as the new Dr Who will be politely correcting everyone who calls her ‘Nurse’.’ Photograph: Max Nash/AFP/Getty Images
Aha! In a flash, a man has solved the mystery of the gender pay gap. A Very Important Man. A man appointed by the British government to co-chair an investigation into why women fail to advance in high-level careers. And he has come up with the goods.
Last week, the BBC was forced to reveal that its highest-paid female presenter is paid one-fifth of what its highest male presenter makes and that hardly any of the top earners are women.
Addressing this scandal with all due masculine gravitas, Sir Philip Hampton declared on Thursday: “They [female broadcasters] are all looking at each other now saying: ‘How did we let this happen?’ I suspect they let it happen because they weren’t doing much about it.” If you didn’t laugh you’d have to howl.
Plenty of women get the joke that Jodie Whittaker’s first adventure as the new Dr Who will be politely correcting everyone who calls her “Nurse”. As we get the old Punch cartoon of a board meeting captioned: “That’s an excellent point, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.”
Because we have had these experiences. The writer and journalist Laurie Pennie recently tweeted: “Most of the interesting women you know are far, far angrier than you’d imagine.”
She is right. Most of the interesting women I know spend quite a lot of time fuming behind the fixed smiles (some of them lipstick-enhanced) we are obliged to wear to not make matters worse by revealing our rage. (For it is a truth universally acknowledged that a bitter woman in want of a pay rise or a promotion will get nowhere.)
Jane Garvey, who presents Women’s Hour on BBC Radio 4, and is, with Jenni Murray, among the distinguished women who didn’t make it into the highest-earning league, commented sarcastically after the release of the salaries that she and her guests would be discussing the gender pay gap on the show: “As we’ve done since 1946. Going well, isn’t it?”
Garvey co-ordinated a letter from prominent BBC women protesting that while the director general had vowed he would fix the situation by 2020, he had been well aware of it for years, not just at the top, but right through the organisation. A similar picture will no doubt emerge from the review of gender pay differentials being undertaken by RTÉ.
As we get older a large shot of ageism gets added to the bitter sexist cocktail
Invisibility can be useful. I suspected when I was writing one of my books that a lot of the men I interviewed were garrulous and revealing because they didn’t take me seriously. This was confirmed during a subsequent radio interview when one of them said with utter scorn: “This wee girl in Dublin doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
However, mostly it is the opposite. Bland white men pass us by on their conveyor belt to career advancement, scarcely noticing we’re there, greeted into their new jobs by men who chose them, apparently, in their own image. Best man for the job. No question. Misogyny is always indignantly, disingenuously, denied.
When I used the phrase “a safe pair of balls” in this newspaper some years ago over men getting all the big cabinet roles, there were protests at the undeniable coarseness of the metaphor, but a group of women – international diplomats – were amused and invited me to a lunch at which they told funny, awful stories about their own career struggles.
As we get older a large shot of ageism gets added to the bitter sexist cocktail. Women seem to be considered past it just at the point that men get distinguished.
A BBC journalist recently told me she had just moved from radio to television. A colleague told her he was surprised, then looked her up and down and said he supposed she’d get a few years out of it. He was, she said, older than her, and, she suggested, not unkindly – well, alright, not very unkindly – no oil painting himself.
I told her about how a friend in RTÉ who was leaving a presenter’s role suggested I inquire about it and I did, only to be told that it would be out of the question, that I was “completely the wrong age cohort”, by a man the same age as me in an organisation whose recent appointments have included several men considerably older. A man, younger – less experienced – got the job. He doesn’t even have a nice voice.
Oh well, as a male colleague recently commented in relation to a setback: “We just have to put our big boy trousers on.” Or our nude high heels, I did not reply, because he would not have understood the reference to all the ambitious young women who swish their manes of long shiny hair through the corridors of power in those very shoes, hoping they will do the trick where searing intelligence and superb skills and qualifications have so far not.
Earlier this year, a British court ruled that an employer, a leading accountancy firm, had acted lawfully when it sent a young woman home for turning up in work in flats rather than the heels stipulated in its dress code. How did we let this happen? Wanna step outside, Sir Philip?
Susan McKay is a writer and journalist