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A gap in understanding

Jane Shillingford takes aim

My offering today will no doubt offend some of my ‘sister’ post-feminist scribes, but it addresses one of the dilemmas for modern women – the gap between what the vanguard of equality-strivers demand, largely for themselves, and the true concerns and instincts of the majority.

Before anyone attacks my pre-historic attitudes, let me declare an interest.

Career-wise I came up through the ranks during the late Seventies and Eighties when – allegedly – men were still men and women were mere typists, secretaries and gofers adorning the office, as most-recently portrayed in (what seems now to be) the hilariously bizarre Mad Men US television series. But let me correct that impression. Those of us who climbed the slippery ladder of success in the world of Fleet Street and women’s magazines in the second half of the 20th Century were exposed to a culture compared to which the attitudes and practices seen in Mad Men look positively anaemic.

To be frank, some of today’s wilting flowers who rely upon a mountain of equal-opportunity and sex discrimination legislation, employment tribunals and other PC-led rules and regulations to advance their cause would have sunk without trace thirty years ago. In my heyday, in modern parlance, you just had to ‘suck it up’ and get on with it. And that’s what we did. It wasn’t right, it wasn’t fair, but – in the world of journalism, a jungle if ever there was one – it was a question of survival of the fittest. Some succeeded and some fell by the wayside.

Inevitably, there’s a trade-off aspect to the advance of women in the workplace. The more equal you are, the more you get treated as an equal.

You could call me an old-fashioned girl, but I liked the differences that came with the gender divide. A man opening a door for a lady, rising from his chair as a lady arrived at a table, offering his seat on a train, Tube or bus, moving instinctively to the outside as a couple walked along a street. It smacked of courtesy and respect, even in Neanderthal types.

In 2014, of course, such niceties are in short supply – a fact that I regard as the price of female advancement, such as it is.

Is this a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’? I think it is, actually.

Today, on the website of the Daily Telegraph, entertainment writer Alice Vincent attacks the announcement by ITV that it is going to launch a ‘female-friendly’ television channel, see here – ITVBe ANNOUNCEMENT

Her indignant theme is ‘Why should broadcasters define what men and women watch?’

The answer, of course, is that they don’t.

As a general rule of thumb in business, and (surprise, surprise) commercial television was a business the last time I looked, the overriding imperative in the pursuit of profit is giving the customers what they want.

Those modern feminist pundits and opinion-formers who dismiss ‘women only’ marketing initiatives as a form of ghetto-creating conceit and condescension are being pretty selective in their view of the world.

womensmagsThey might as well demand that ‘women’s lifestyle’ shelves in newspaper and magazine retail outlets should be removed. To do so, of course, would be to ignore the fact that the vast bulk of women happily gravitate towards them – just as men naturally tend to congregate in the sections featuring computers, sport, cars, boats, photography and DIY.

In the cut-throat world of magazine publishing, nobody is saying that men don’t like home decorating or celebrity gossip, or that women are somehow excluded from computing, sport or cars. If a woman wants a car mechanics publication, for example, she’ll just walk to the section where these are housed and get on with it.

It’s just that – in general – issues of gender preferences, combined with the most efficient use of shop-floor space, dictate that such subject-divides ‘work’ in commercial practice.

How do I know that?

Because, if this were not the case, shops would arrange themselves differently, that’s why.

Generating turnover (and more importantly, profit) is not just the name of the game, it’s the only thing that matters. If you don’t believe this is what drives the attitude and decisions of shop managers, you might just try asking their bosses and/or shareholders.

It may be very frustrating for the Hampstead intellectual set, some female politicians and my more strident feminist fellow sisters in the media, but – if they actually ever bothered to check – they’d discover that the overwhelming majority of women in the UK, and indeed the world, have interests broadly-centred upon the home, motherhood, schools, children, relationships, fashion and celebrity gossip.

That might seem a pretty out-of-date view to some, but to me it’s not only blatantly obvious but straightforward common sense.

My thrust here is not to quibble about my assertion, or indeed to suggest that women need persuading to ‘elevate’ their sights, but simply to ask ‘So What?’




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About Jane Shillingford

Jane spent the bulk of her career working on women’s magazines. Now retired and living on the south coast, she has no regrets and 'would do it all again'. More Posts