The Knot

Friday, June 25, 2010

Gillard Forces A Change To Our Reality

Above: Prime Minister Julia Gillard

If anyone doubts the significance of a female Prime Minister of Australia they should scan the news feed of a teenager's Facebook page.

Since Julia Gillard became our 27th Prime Minister on the morning of June 24, much of the traditional media reporting has focused on the fact that a woman has finally reached the country's highest office, 11 years after New Zealand. Even those who intensely dislike her politics have to admit that a female Governor-General swearing in a female Prime Minister represents a coming of age for our nation.

But it's in the social media that it becomes apparent the timing of this momentous occasion was long overdue. Teenage girls shared their elation almost unanimously in the news feed that I read on the evening of Gillard's rise to power, posting status updates that included: "A female PM! Yay!!!", "Go Julia" and "Can you believe it! Wow!" Most of the postings by teenage boys in the same news feed were less enthusiastic: "A female PM? That's just silly", "How gay", "A woman can't run Australia" and "Who does she think she is?"

A highly intelligent 16-year-old at my son's school, who has aspirations of reaching the top job himself one day, noted, "there are two things that a woman should never do: drive a bus and be Prime Minister". That comment apparently got a huge laugh from the boys traveling home on the bus, driven by a woman.

In the 21st century it's shocking to hear young, relatively well-informed men sharing such archaic views. However, we shouldn't be surprised given that until last Thursday they hadn't previously had to think about the idea of a woman as ultimate leader of this nation.

As most teenagers speak words that reveal the views of their parents before they've been out into the real world to formulate their own, it is clear that there is much work to be done if we are to become a nation that believes in the best person for the job - any job.

So as we force a change in the perception of many: young and old, male and female, Labor and Liberal, the irony is that we have our ousted PM Kevin Rudd to thank for reaching this important milestone. It was Rudd who gave us our first female Governor General and Rudd who chose the most capable person in his cabinet to be his Deputy, regardless of gender. Rudd nurtured Gillard. He talked her up and he entrusted her with key portfolios that would eventually position her as a likely future PM.

Rudd will always be remembered as the Prime Minister who apologised to the stolen generation, but he should also be remembered for his foresight and courage in choosing capability over gender. Hopefully our impressionable young men will one day understand the significance of his actions and begin to make gender neutral decisions too.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Definition Of Inappropriate


When David Jones CEO Mark McInnes was forced to resign last week as the result of 'inappropriate behaviour toward a female staff member', the rules of corporate Australia changed forever. The 25-year-old who alleged the inappropriate behaviour by her boss took a brave step forward on behalf of all women in the workforce.

I have had a long professional relationship with McInnes for most of the years that he was a senior executive at David Jones, through my publishing careers at Fairfax, EMAP and in my current role as Publisher of Independent Digital Media. I always found him to be charming, witty and incredibly astute and can honestly say that I never witnessed his alleged womanising. But then, if the media reports about his penchant for slim blondes is correct, I'm clearly not his type.

The victim of McInnes' alleged approach was right to take the stand she did, and the Board of David Jones moved swiftly to appropriately terminate his position as the company's most senior executive. David Jones is, after all, a public company and the Board's business is to mitigate risk to brand and reputation. They had no choice.

But what if inappropriate behaviour occurs in a private organisation and the perpetrator is the Chairman of the company? And what if the victim of inappropriate advances is a female director of the Board? What would be the course of action in that event? I may decide to investigate further, buoyed by the courage of the David Jones marketing executive. Apparently the inappropriate behaviour does not need to be current to be relevant to a course of legal action.

As the most senior male executives in companies across the nation receive a much-needed wake-up call at McInnes' expense, there are women who are starting to ask the question of what constitutes 'inappropriate behaviour' in the workforce. Have they in fact been putting up with similar or worse? Yes, I've started to hear the whisperings.

Inappropriate executives: be very afraid.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

SATC2: Embracing Your Outer 40s

I resisted seeing Sex And The City 2 with the media scrum because I wanted to see it as the makers intended: with a group of girlfriends my own age.

Five 40-something women left our partners and children at home for the evening, slipped on our favourite heels (that would make Carrie proud) and swanned down to The Verona in Paddington for a spectacular ride.

From the extravagant gay wedding and references to eighties fashion, to Carrie's to-die-for maxi dresses in a multitude of colours (I’m about to embrace my outer emerald green) SATC2 is a visual fantasy. But it’s not for everyone.

Unlike the series and first movie, where the girls are in single land hoping to find Mr Right (or in Carrie’s case – land Mr Big), time and lifestages have moved on in this second instalment. Carrie is still married to Mr Big and is experiencing the slump of the terrible twos (the Gen-X version of the seven-year itch; we have always been such an impatient lot). Charlotte has two little girls and is living the parenting hell of the original terrible twos (I’m allowed to express this as I’m a mother, PC or not). Miranda is smashing herself against the glass ceiling of her law firm and the reality of having it all: the husband, the child, the career, has resulted in battle fatigue (and for the first time I realised that although I have identified with Carrie throughout the series, my life is really Miranda’s). And Samantha is going through menopause.

SATC2 is generational, meaning that it would be hard to identify with the girls in their new lifestage unless you were over 40. We post-40 girls laughed, nodded, oohed, aahed, and averted our eyes ...only slightly...when Samantha's legs were in the air yet again. I loved that the film kick-started with the Liza Minelli version of Beyonce’s Single Ladies and wound up with Carrie and her BFs singing karaoke to Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman. If those two songs don’t divide a generation, then nothing will.

Carrie’s clothes were breathtaking, thanks to the clever stylist Patricia Fields. I love that Carrie visited a traditional souk market in Abu Dhabi wearing a Dior singlet and cinderella-style ballskirt. Carrie didn’t sacrifice her extraordinary heels for her time in the desert. There was nothing she wore that I didn’t immediately want to own. Hell I even adored the headband she wore as best man at Stanford’s wedding.

Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha are representative of women post-40, if you can ignore the glamour and exotic location. What woman hasn’t harboured doubts about her marriage? What mother hasn’t wanted to lock herself in a room away from her screaming child? What career mum hasn’t felt pulled and pushed, unappreciated and guilty? And what menopausal woman hasn’t worried about maintaining her sex drive? Those are the honest truths of ageing, characterised for the big screen in a way that we want to see it: glamorised rather than raw. If I have to go through all of those things then god damn it, let me be frocked up to the nines wearing the best shoes my money can buy.

No one is holding them up to be role models: apart from the critics who do so for target practice. These women aren’t pretending to save lives, they aren’t developing anti-cancer drugs in their spare time and they aren’t kicking goals at the World Cup. They are merely providing much-needed escapism from the reality of most 40-something lives. What's wrong with a lot of fantasy?

I have a number of favourite scenes: Miranda and Charlotte being honest about enjoying their break away from their children, every scene with Aidan (you're either a Big or an Aidan woman) and when the women of Abu Dhabi strip off their burquas in female-only confines and display the very best of Louis Vuitton. I was in neighbouring Dubai a few years ago and was delighted to see some of the world's most divine and expensive shoes: the very latest Manolos, Jimmy Choos, Louboutins poking out from beneath burqas. Those women love fashion as much as we do. The difference is they can actually afford to wear the very best of it. While we wear our style as a badge, they strip down to high fashion only for each other and for their husbands. Vastly different cultures can still bond over fashion.

SATC2 has been panned and praised in equal measure - well actually it's mostly been panned by the critics and celebrated by moviegoers who have voted with their pockets.

If I have one criticism? Not enough shoes.