Iain and I went to talk to students at the St Albans Girls school this week, and because they’re…ahm…girls, we thought it might be an idea if I let them have the inside track on what it’s like being a woman working in media.
I was a bit uncomfortable about that, if I’m honest. Who am I to speak for the experience of a whole gender? Sure, I’ve had a bit of a bumpy ride over the years, but I’m not sure how much of that’s related to being the proud owner of a cracking set of ovaries. Maybe I’m just a div*.
That said, it turns out I have been the recipient of a fair bit of bullshit over the years, stuff my male colleagues won’t have encountered. I’m not just talking about hiding in the stationery cupboard to avoid a particularly ‘enthusiastic’ co-worker – although I have been there, done that and sadly, there was no t-shirt for my trouble.
No, the bovine excretia to which I’m mostly referring came in the form of well-meaning ‘pearls of wisdom’ such as these…
“What you need to understand is, statistically**, women don’t like listening to other women.”
“The trouble is, Kath, clever women can sound a bit…stuck up.”
“It’s women’s voices, you see, they can so easily become shrill when pressing a point.”
And my personal favourite…
“What you need to remember is that the average listener has trouble distinguishing one woman’s voice from another.”
Of course this is all utter balls. But this was the stuff I was getting from various sources during the late 90s and well into the 00s from people (not just men) who thought they were doing a newbie a favour. And if my experience is anything like that of other women trying to make it in radio, where surely your voice and the contents of your head are more important than your genitalia, no wonder there’s been a big push to get more women on-air – they’ve been benevolently talked into support roles for years!
Sad to say, I swallowed the guidance offered so breezily and spent far too long struggling to be acceptable despite the terribly off-putting matter of my womanhood until I got some really great advice from two broadcasters I really rate, and get this…they were (and still are) both men!***
They convinced me that the hang-up I’d been labouring under wasn’t mine, or even the listener’s. Your audience responds to authenticity, regardless of whether it comes in a package with a packet or a hoo-ha.
Which is why I now know that rather than nodding, smiling and trying to overcome a barrier that wasn’t there, I should have responded to the helpful hints offered back then with the following ten little words…
*Undeniable, I’m afraid
**I was never shown these statistics.
*** One was the fantastically free and creative Ronnie Barbour, the other was the bloke who owns this website…although I’ve totally forgotten his name. Ewan? Owen? Anyway THAT guy.
Katherine and I went to Coventry last week at the invitation of Mark Brown, a lecturer at the City College. He’d responded to a message I;d posted on Twitter offering our services to talk about working in radio. I don’t quite know why I did it, and I certainly hadn’t run it past Katherine to see if she was cool with it. It just popped into my head. So I posted it. Boom.
Mark got in touch, as did a couple of other people. He asked if it was a serious offer or was I taking the proverbial. It was, I wasn’t. He told me about his class – a group of media students between the ages of 16 and 20, some of whom wanted to work in radio, and who he thought would benefit having a chat with some ‘professionals’.
Anyway, we arranged a date and Katherine and I thought about what we could tell them. How would we fill 45 minutes? Well, quite easily it turned out. We outlined a little chat about how we got into the industry, what our day entails and the relationship between producer and presenter as we see it. Played a few clips and answered some questions. That was that.
It seemed to work. The students looked at us the whole time (no one took out a mobile phone or looked like they were falling asleep) and we enjoyed ourselves. So, not completely selfless. But, I guess the idea behind it is ‘giving something back’. That sounds a little pretentious, so I won’t dwell on it, but it’s true.
Anyway, we have another chat at a school in a couple of weeks. And we are keen to do more. If you want an award winning presenter and an award winning producer to come to your school or college to talk about working in radio, send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll see what we can sort out.