Sunday, 23 August 2015

“Within 30 seconds of meeting someone, judgements will have been made on that person.” ~ Renata Singer

By Joceline Loo

The importance of personal presentation is magnified for women in the media spotlight. Two powerful and inspiring women from the television frontline – Ita Buttrose (A PassionateLife)  and Jessica Rowe (Is This MyBeautiful Life) – came together and shared their experiences o with host and moderator Renata Singer in  "Women In Media: Keeping Up Appearances" at the Melbourne Writers Festival.

The session begins with an image, projected overhead, depicting the ideal of a female newscaster – young and pretty, with long blonde hair. The two speakers, both sporting short haircuts, are quick to demonstrate how far women have come from the days where a lack of stockings could cost a woman her job. Ita shares with the audience an early-career memory of a ‘stocking allowance’ of twelve shillings and sixpence. Under pressure to grow out her hair, Jessica once had her trademark pixie-cut hair trimmed even shorter. A former brunette, Ita eventually decided that “blondes had more fun” – and added that knowing what looks good is important. Despite her professed love for lace dresses, she chose a sharp pantsuit for the session to cater to audience expectations.
Ita's newest work A Passionate Life. Pic Joceline Loo.

The focus shifts toward the double standard both speakers have faced in a broadcast and media hierarchy dominated by men.  “Men don’t get that kind of scrutiny” Ita asserts – when it comes to behaviour and appearance, they get away with more.  Jessica recounts being kept away from reading the top news stories or conducting interviews due to her gender, despite a half-decade of broadcast experience –and how flabbergasted she was when her suspicions were proved to be true. The industry has seen significant change, and she reassures us that there will be a point in a contemporary woman’s career where she may stand her ground.

Jessica honestly discusses her experiences with “aesthetic enhancements” claiming that she went under the knife for reasons of personal vanity, not public image.  But such procedures will always attract scrutiny and the nature of broadcast culture means that Ita and Jessica are no strangers to public criticism: from issues with Ita’s age, to Jessica, who was once asked not to laugh on broadcasts because her laughter was ‘loud and annoying’. “If I can’t rely on my own laugh,” she responded, “What can I rely on?”

It is surprising to learn, as Jessica suggests, that many appearance-based criticisms actually come from other women: “We are not gentle enough on other women, more often than men”. With women making up over half of the Australian population and outnumbering men in our universities, women now start on ‘a level playing field’ – and rather than taking each other down, our struggle now must be to help our fellow women up. Ita proposes a shift in how women see themselves ageing, saying “you’ve got to feel lucky to be old. Not everyone gets there. If you’re in your thirties, you may be old to a fifteen year old”.

This was an honest and heartfelt discussion on the pressure of keeping up appearances, behind the scenes of the media industry’s glitz and glamour. To young female journalists, Ita and Jessica recommend a thick skin and to “be true to yourself, believe in yourself, and carry yourself with integrity and courage.”
 Edited by Brittany Moore

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