Settling for Second Fiddle

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
The Hoopla /
November 21, 2012 /

Link to original unavailable /

Shrew, nag, harpy, ballbreaker, bitch.

Women know these slurs well and are all too aware of the imperative to avoid them.

They’re accusations only ever directed at women and are too often the default dole-out when women’s behaviour dares drift from acceptable. (Acceptable in our culture roughly translating as anti-feminist).

Earlier this year, the media reported on salary negotiations on the Sunrise set.

Amidst details of Mel Doyle’s apparent $700,000 “pay day”, was co-anchor David Koch’s cool million.

That no one was even slightly surprised by this fiscal travesty indicates just how embedded the idea of women playing second fiddle to men in the media is. This article actually isn’t about that pay gap.

While, alarmingly, there’s always a story to be told about institutionalised discrimination and the suspiciously sexist subjective nature of “value”, right now I’m actually more interested in exploring why Mel didn’t speak out.

And why Jackie O (below with Kyle Sandilands) hasn’t spoken up.

And why nearly every woman sitting next to every male “talent” keeps her lips sealed on issues of gender inequality.

The answer, of course, is because ours is not a culture that rewards the feminist.

Instead of showering with riches that ballsy broad who dares name and shame discrimination, instead she gets penalised.

She gets dismissed as difficult to work with, as a prima donna, as God forbid, a diva, and in fields like the media – where there’s no shortage of ready, willing and very hungry and able replacements – it’s simply easier to hire the woman who’ll smile, shut up and consider herself as deliriously lucky to have a proverbial foot in the door.

I’m not even slightly interested in condemning those who choose to keep quiet, play the game and not ruffle feathers. Au contraire.

Aside from the poor taste of criticising the lifestyle choices of others, it’s simply too easy to consider the underpaid co-anchor, the reporter drowning in fluff pieces and the sports commentator with the “whiny” (read female) voice as hapless victims of patriarchy.

Not only does our culture discourage me from doing so – after all, any woman daring to admit to being screwed over by men does so at her own reputational peril – but construing these women as victims dramatically dilutes their agency.

Women are routinely accused of overthinking things.

One obvious way this plays out is the cost-benefit analysis conducted whenever a feminist-identified woman in the workforce has to juggle political obligations and job security and reputation and success and aspirations and esteem, all the while trying to pay a mortgage and properly doing her bloody job.

And then there are all those very many women who simply don’t identify as feminists at all.

As strange as I may find it, not every woman is interested in sexual politics and not every woman wants the responsibility, the burden or the imperative of equality on her shoulders.

Not every woman wants role model status or to answer yet another question about the portrayal of women in the media.

In a culture that encourages her to shake off sisterhood shackles, doing so becomes a default position.

Reasoning, calculating and strategising are qualities too often synonymous with masculinity.

Not only are women equally in possession of such attributes, but their deft usage of such lauded qualities underpins their reluctance to speak out about sexism. And likely explains many forced, gritted teeth smiles too.

© Lauren Rosewarne