As my status as a ‘sometimes working outside the home, sometimes flat-out inside it’ mum-of-two dictates, I don’t always get to listen to Woman’s Hour. Thus I have spent the last couple of days getting myself up to speed with the content of this week’s much-discussed Power List. The media response to the exercise I have read comes to two broad conclusions; 1) it was great that the programme decided to put the List together in the first place, and 2) there were rather a lot of glaring omissions, and it’s all a bit depressingly white, wealth-inherited and middle-class for most people’s tastes. Suzanne Moore (not exactly known for her avoidance of controversy) had a right old go at it. Other’s weren’t so tough, but still, the overall feeling I got was, not that plussed or fussed. The Guardian’s list for International Womens Day last March seems to have been much better received.
I’ve admitted before now how much I’d like to be on Woman’s Hour. I have had a fondness for it ever since I heard a piece on it in the late 90s that actually led to me getting my infertility getting diagnosed. I’ll grant you that reads a little odd, but for me, information is power, and I went to the clinic that was carrying out the ground-breaking inhibin B testing WH had discussed, and got some answers. Anyway, a little off topic, but you get my point. In the absence of all else its production values are high, and we’re lucky to have the BBC, even if we (the nation) like having a regular pop at it. But I can see how the Women’s Room came about last autumn, as a result of the whole ‘why are you talking about women’s issues without talking to women?’ debacle, (if you missed it, WH had a good old look at the hyperemesis thing with lots of male experts). To its credit, the BBC has now set up a course to train women of expertise in dealing with the media, (there’s a good discussion of it here on an interesting blog).
So, where were we? Oh yes, the Power List. I did some research prior to writing this blog post (for research, read I asked my mum who she thought should be on the list). My ‘participant’ listed these women; Margaret Thatcher, Helen Mirren, Duchess of Cambridge, Jessica Ennis, and the Queen. I pointed out that of these five undoubted women of influence, only one of them was on the List. Now we can accept that, by definition, only women who have somehow got themselves in the gazey-glare of the public/media were going to make the List. Even getting to a position of being influential or powerful will always be a conundrum for many of our sex. It goes something like this: “What did you say? You want me to save the world? Oh, Sorry, I didn’t hear you properly, I was too busy changing the baby’s nappy / trudging around the supermarket / rushing to get to the childminder’s on time….” Even those women who have managed to solve this dichotomy sufficiently, in order to function in more than one realm, have not all made it on to the List. There are some surprising omissions, as the newspapers said.
I’ve just looked back at the full Power List now and while my ignorance means I don’t know a lot of the faces, what I note is the lack of women with disabilities or non-white skin colour. And I would question some of the inclusions versus the omissions. So the musician Adele is in there, but not Annie Lennox? She’s been at the top of one of the most competitive industries in the UK since the early 80s and has used her influence to the good by campaigning hard for HIV, poverty and women’s issues around the globe. There are a few senior female clergy from the Christian traditions, but not Baroness Julia Neuburger, a chief Rabbi and popular speaker. No sports women, not even the cover girl of last summer, Jessica Ennis. A smattering of judges, but no Helena Kennedy or Cherie Blair? (I’ve written on Cherie before; not my favourite person but she did some pretty good stuff, all the same.) The so-called ‘soft power’ of social media is acknowledged through the inclusion of the Mumsnet Founders Carrie Longton and Justine Roberts, and Martha Lane Fox of lastminute.com. But given how much the average modern British woman relies on the internet for everything from health information, education, entertainment, recipes, social networking, employment and doing business, one might have thought the women of the web would be better represented. There are women from the media included, but no Mariella Frostrup, Julie Burchill, Zoe Williams or Caitlin Moran? That’s odd, to me. JK Rowling is there, deservedly so, but Julia Donaldson, the woman who has really changed the face of young people’s enjoyment of stories over the last 20 years, is not. Even Delia and Davina McCall don’t get a look in, despite the size of the franchises. Nor Gina Ford, (love or loathe her philosophy, that’s not the point) even though she’s so well-known we barely bother using her surname. And my mum is right to be incredulous at the absence of Margaret Thatcher, whether or not she was your cup of political-tea.
I’ll concede that my life can be influenced by women whose names I don’t know, and even by people I’m not that keen on. But I am still left thinking, ‘that List doesn’t represent me’.
So here is the List that does.
My Mum We’re not much alike and don’t agree that often. We joke about that nowadays. But, she’s a grafter, my mum. She works very hard, she tries to do things properly, and she has been a fine example of self-sufficiency. For most of my childhood she was a single parent, and she made astonishing sacrifices to give me access to education and extra-curriculum activities she felt I deserved, and that she had never had. She is supportive of me in my parenting despite her own full-on full-time job. Her life has been subject to the horrible ebbs and flows of this country’s economic story, but she is still out there, getting on with it. Respect.
My MIL My Mother-In-Law fulfills no clichés. We rub along just fine, and she has my admiration. She has been one of millions of remarkable women who has been the power behind a man who has done Big things. She raised her boys, ran a home, worked for her husband and elsewhere, cared for her own mother, cares now for her grandkids. In the 70s she got three boys under five to bed on time and then hosted dinner parties for her husband’s fast growing architecture business. Hats off.
Connie Booth I mentioned yesterday my fondness for British comedy, but it is, I grant you, tough getting an ‘in’ if you’re a woman. The lack of ‘funny women’ has even been discussed on QI, from a psycho-sociological point of view. These days, there are sufficient members of the ranks to give cause for hope, and Sarah Millican did make it on to the actual List. But for me, Connie was there at the start of it all. She brought much-needed depth to the then very male world of Monty Python, and then, co-wrote Fawlty Towers. We mustn’t forget that. John Cleese didn’t write it on his own. Connie was right in there, carving out one of the most assertive, inspiring female comedy characters British TV has ever seen – Polly. I can quote her for hours. She shaped my formative years. My husband vetoed me on giving our baby daughter her name, but otherwise….
Nigella Lawson Like Delia, an odd omission, given the influence she wields in kitchens across the country. But it isn’t just her cooking. She has shared her, albeit privileged, life with us, through the early death of her husband and mother, and done so eloquently. She is also, in body image terms, a better role model than most. I love her for those curves that have nothing to do with the pursuit of a size 8. And that she gets filmed in her jammys raiding the fridge.
Caitlin Moran Three months ago I would have said she made me laugh but would not have necessarily included her on my List. Then I read How To Be A Woman. Suzanne Moore was right to assess this as a book that has reinvigorated feminism, and I say that, again, whether or not you enjoyed it, or agree. It got women talking, and thinking, and that is what counts.
Julia Donaldson I am amazed at the body of work this woman has produced. I barely go to a single early years setting where I don’t hear one of her stories being told, read, enjoyed. Without a shadow of a doubt she is shaping the language skills and future reading careers of a generation, or two. (I’m hoping her influence is greater than Michael Gove’s, otherwise we are all screwed.) And while I love a romp through a bit of Harry Potter, and have oodles of respect for what JK has achieved, Julia’s use of english knocks that other bestseller out of parks, fields, counties even.
Ellen MacArthur I was working in Cornwall the week Ellen got back to Falmouth having broken the round the world record. I finished the visit I was doing with 20 minutes to spare. I was 15 minutes away from Falmouth. Half an hour and one badly parked car later and I was on the quayside, with a thousand or more other people. And there she was. Modest of stature and enormous in all other respects. She has faced herself, and seemingly insurmountable physical challenges, with modesty and grace and tireless determination. And now she quietly beavers away at a tonne of charitable and young-person-motivational stuff. Awesome.
Oliver James These days, not only am I a feminist, (thanks Caitlin), I’m enough of a feminist to include a man in my List. I often rave about James’s work. I think Affluenza is possibly one of the best books I have ever read. But I include him here for his book How Not To F*ck Them Up. In it, he, with proper research based backbone (take note, Liz Truss) encourages women to be the kind of Mother they know themselves to be – but sometimes feel too guilty to admit. If you’re a Hugger, and you want to be at home all the time, do it. If you’re an Organiser, get back out there and do your thing, (just make sure you choose your child’s caregiver with care). And if you’re a Fleximum, then be there for the kids, and be there for yourself too, as you juggle, juggle, juggle. James gives you a secure licence to parent according to your instincts, reassuring you that your child’s needs will be met if just a few simple guidelines are followed. For that, he is more liberating for us women than pretty much any other writer on parenting.
Bloggy-Tweety-Local-Faraway-Mummies If I know you only from the interweb, or you see me every week, or just sometimes, You are all on my list. I’m not picking any of you out. I’ll be here all day (when I should be going to the supermarket) if I try to. You know who you are.
I hope that I manage to get on my daughter’s list one day. And that I manage to share with her what I have learnt from the women (and man) on my list, in the hope that they help her to be a thinking, confident and assertive woman in her own right. One who can choose her own list, perhaps.
Who’s on your List?
This is not a sponsored post, but I want to say Thanks to my web-chum Jax Blunt, who taught me how to make my weblinks look so much better. There you go, the soft-power of social influencing media at work. Cheers Hun. I feel empowered.