Are We There Yet? Women Inequality and Media with Anne O’Brien

Anne O Brien Maynooth University

Women Inequality and Media Work

Women’s Voices and women’s stories are still  not getting aired at the same rate as mens. This is what comes through in Dr Anne O’Brien’s new book ‘Women Inequality and Media Work’. Women only get a small percentage of airtime according to Dr O’Brien.  “Globally women get about the mid-twenty percent airtime across radio and television and according to the psychology literature, if women speak for more than 30% of the time, they are seen as dominating.  “In her research for the book, Dr O’Brien talked to women in production roles, and also to presenters on air on radio and television. Despite the #metoo movement and #wakingthefeminists and various government initiatives and gender audits, there is still much work to be done to level the landscape for women working in media in Ireland, both in front of and behind the cameras and microphones.

Women who work in media and film in Ireland still often have to negotiate their credit even though they have done the work even when it is agreed in advance. “They have to negotiate their rate, they are often not paid the same rate as the men doing the same job when working freelance,” Dr O’Brien discovered.

Undervaluing Caring On Set

In her research she interviewed many women working in production in Ireland and what she discovered was the undervaluing of women’s caring skills in making productions flow seamlessly. “There was an expectation that women would not just ‘look a certain way’, but that they would ‘behave’ in  a certain way. A lot of that is around care work, emotional work, making sure that everyone on the team was getting along, if there was a row that the women would patch it up. If someone was having a bad day that the women would soothe them and that they would basically grease the relational wheels of production all the time, but that was never taken seriously as work, it wasn’t taken seriously as a skill.”

Putting a financial value on those skills would be a start in redressing this.  “A lot of the skill, emotional intelligence and collaborative capacity that women have, that they bring to work, gets made invisible as something that ‘comes naturally’ to us.  It is not valued it is not even seen it is not visible so it is not rewarded it is not part of the formal workload or job description but it is still very much expected, yet if women don’t do that work they get a pushback from that.”

One woman starting out in the industry expressed a clear desire to be a director and yet she was not shown new equipment when it arrived. She was always steered toward the support work, production managing, production co-ordination, the minding of teams and that is a strong pattern we see in the media in Ireland Dr O’Brien believes. “Men still tend to dominate in technical roles in roles that would lead to directing. Women directors say that they face the gender bias when it comes to telling mens stories, whereas men claim to be able to tell women’s stories all the time.” Women say they had to prove that they could tell men’s stories even when they were not about soft and fluffy topics.

Dr Anne O’Brien is a lecturer in Maynooth University in the Department of Media Studies and coordinates the audio-visual production modules. Her research focuses on gender and creative industries, women’s production work and representations of women in Irish broadcasting.

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Dr Anne O’Brien’s Top 5 Leadership Advice Pearls

  1. You Don’t Need To Be Perfect Sometimes we look at the role and think oh god how would I ever be able to do it that? Then you think about some average man who is doing the role and ask yourself well could I do it that well. There is a huge pressure on women to be perfectionist about things and to have proven those skills before we go for it.
  2. Chance Your Arm Pushback is inevitable. I think we have to get a little bit better at chancing our arms and then when there is a backlash and we are punished we should move past it and see it for what it is, that you are trying to take power, you are trying to own your own power and there will always be a pushback to that.
  3. Stay In The Room If we can de personalise those things, stay with it, stay in the room and keep engaging with it that’s really important.
  4. You Are Not Alone. There is a need for collective action to bring about change. It is not up to individual women to take this on and change the world. The only way we are going to change the world is by working collectively.  That is what was so interesting about the #wakingthe feminists movement. It was a collection of women, a very spontaneous but very well understood and a very clear agenda for what was wrong and for what needed to change and how that needed to change.
  5. It is not your fault. I think women need to refind that sensibility about wanting change. We saw it brilliantly with the repeal movement last year. When women get an idea about wanting change they can generate it. But the key to doing it, is doing it collectively and to not internalise these things as your personal problem to be solved.

Go To Song

Dr. Anne O’Brien’s Go To Song  is Forrest by The Cure. It is just great imagery to get lost in.

Women Inequality and Media Work Published by Routledge

Thanks to our Podcast Sponsor is IITD

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Angela Mezzetti

Angie Mezzetti is a Dublin born journalist, documentary producer and former RTE Newscaster with a passion to see more women represented at senior decision making levels in all kinds of organisations. She runs Ocarina Productions
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