Ali­son Mau: ‘Try nurs­ing, like other girls,’ I was told

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS -

Grow­ing up in a fam­ily of sis­ters, I be­lieved from moment one that girls could do any­thing – cer­tainly any­thing boys could do. When I was 12 I first had the no­tion that I’d be a jour­nal­ist when I grew up. My jour­nal­ist fa­ther grinned and said some­thing like ‘‘Bloody oath you will!’’

This must have come from my par­ents, be­cause it cer­tainly didn’t come from school. In sixth grade I was re­peat­edly sent to the prin­ci­pal for play­ing cricket in the ‘‘boys’ play­ground’’ (yes, bizarrely, there were gen­der-seg­re­gated play­grounds at Aus­tralian pri­mary schools in the 1970s.) I can still see my 10-year-old class­mates snig­ger­ing ‘‘yer gonna get the strap!’’ as I trudged down the hall to the ad­min build­ing, and they were right. What a solid com­mit­ment to cor­po­ral pu­n­ish­ment our schools had back then.

Years later, at a Bap­tist Girls’ col­lege, my favourite English teacher told me sadly that I’d be bet­ter to for­get jour­nal­ism and con­sider ‘‘nurs­ing or teach­ing’’ like the rest of the girls.

As a 17-year-old I took this as a mas­sive be­trayal. It’s only later I clicked that the blame prob­a­bly lay with the times, and not the teacher.

A gen­er­a­tion later, my daugh­ter had no such dis­ap­point­ments, I’m pleased to say, backed all the way by won­der­ful teach­ers.

But I di­gress. The 1980s and 90s were rough times for women in my in­dus­try, but with the op­ti­mism (or maybe ar­ro­gance) of youth we stood up to the worst of it, know­ing that things would change.

Many of us look around now and won­der why the equal­ity never quite ma­te­ri­alised. We’re puz­zled, but pretty sure it must be the fault of men. How else to ex­plain it?

Well, sorry ladies, but it may be time to take some of the heat.

Re­mem­ber when, a few months back, Min­is­ter for Women Paula Ben­nett re­leased stats show­ing the gen­der pay gap was real, and mostly caused by some­thing called un­con­scious bias? That’s where we make quick judge­ments with­out even re­al­is­ing it. Women and men who know way more about un­con­scious bias than I do al­ways point out that all peo­ple have it; men AND women. Ok, my con­scious mind says, I’ll ac­cept that. Bah! My un­con­scious mind re­torts. It’s not me, it’s the men – it must be the men, surely?

Then this week, an in­nocu­ous­look­ing press re­lease from Massey Univer­sity landed in my in-box. The head­ing didn’t ex­actly light me on fire: ‘‘Gen­dered Re­la­tion­ships and Work­place Ex­pec­ta­tions’’ it read. But the con­tents, the first re­search of its kind any­where, were like a grenade.

I’m para­phras­ing heav­ily, but the guts of PhD grad­u­ate Jane Hurst’s re­search goes like this; women are just as likely to have bad re­la­tion­ships with their fe­male bosses as they are with male bosses, but they’ll re­sent them more for it. In the worst cases they’ll quit.

It turns out fe­male bosses are in a bind; their fe­male work­ers ex­pect them to be more nur­tur­ing and un­der­stand bet­ter the com­plex­i­ties of a woman’s life. The work­ers do not ex­pect the same of a male man­ager.

Whoosh. This rev­e­la­tion took me straight back in time to my in­ter­ac­tions with a fe­male news man­ager a few years ago – the first woman to head the news­room. I was be­yond de­lighted.

But then, there was a small cri­sis, I ex­pected her to un­der­stand my view­point and back me all the way. She did not. I was be­yond an­noyed; I was ac­tu­ally a wee bit dev­as­tated.

In 30 years in the biz I’ve had fe­male and male man­agers who have shown kind­ness and sup­port. Oth­ers have been right bug­gers to deal with. Ev­ery­one’s style is dif­fer­ent and I should not be ex­pect­ing sweet or sour based on a person’s gen­der. Thanks, Jane Hurst of Massey Univer­sity, for clear­ing that up.

‘‘Most of so­ci­ety’s ar­gu­ments are kept alive by a fail­ure to recog­nise nu­ance,’’ says one of my per­sonal he­roes, the co­me­dian/actor/writer and mu­si­cian Tim Minchin.

‘‘Iden­tify your bi­ases and priv­i­leges. Think crit­i­cally about your be­liefs, then take them out to the veran­dah and hit them with a cricket bat.’’ Words to live by I reckon. Ali Mau hosts Ra­dioLive Drive, 3-6pm week­days

Tim Minchin poses with the cast of Matilda, the musical stage show of a lit­tle girl with two very dif­fer­ent teach­ers.

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