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