Glossy Covers: Kate Ellis talks female status in Sunday Life

Glossy Covers: Kate Ellis for Sunday Life (+ fun, fearless females)

Federal Minister for the Status of Women Kate Ellis spoke to Alyssa McDonald about the complex  "tangle of issues that challenge women's career progression" for Sunday Life's latest cover story, 'Tipping the Balance'.

This is not the first time Ellis has teetered on fashionable stilettos for a magazine: last year, in her capacity as the Federal Minister for Early Childhood, Education, Childcare and Youth responsible for the Body Image Advisory Board, she posed for Grazia's body issue, which garnered her a few eye rolls and a, "What was she thinking?" right here. 

On reflection, it's this sort of judgemental discourse that is part of the problem for women. And for that I apologize. However, I do think we have a responsibility to get the message out that it's not what you look like but who you are (and what you do) that is the important thing while aligning ourselves with media that places more value on women's non-physical attributes, and not that which undermines and distracts women with the perceived importance of the body's more superficial capacities (aka crimes against womanity). 

And yet, image is still important. "Performance counts for about 10 per cent of getting promotions, image is about 30 and exposure is about 60," Claire Braund, executive director of the advocacy group Women on Boards, tells McDonald. 

How to find the balance when you know quite well that stereotypical hot/sexy = power images can bring women (particularly young women) harm, but you can't very well present people with a wad of text and no image; a talking head with no head, so to speak? How to not be a stumbling block in the whole female objectification debate, yet still participate in the dialogue?

Magazines and blogs and the media at large have a major role to play in the perpetuation of the discourse that posits a woman as the sum of her body parts, her clothing, her beauty (or lack thereof) while her capabilities play second fiddle. 'Fashion Jury', 'Who Wore It Better?' and 'Check out her cellulite!' messages pervade gossip magazines, tabloid papers and celebrity websites. 

But, hey, with the status of women in Australian media (except, perhaps, at Fairfax, home to Sunday Life) – and the commensurate celebration of women who have nothing to say and the too-often intentional demoralisation of those women in positions of power (see Julia Gillard, Cate Blanchett, Therese Rein) – is it any wonder?

Comparisons between girls start in the schoolyard and seemingly don't desist. With this competitive environment keeping many women from progressing for fear of judgement (for being too fantastic or for falling short of the mark) or facing ridicule, coupled with our biological capabilities, "the complexities of the domestic sphere", institutionalised sexism and socio-cultural norms, the glass ceiling is still harder to penetrate. It's a shame to think that facing the odds many women just give up.

Anne Ross-Smith, professor of management learning at Macquarie University tells McDonald that she calls this female conditioning 'girl disease':

"Girl disease, reticence, lack of confidence or simply being "risk-averse" - while nobody interviewed for this article considered women to be innately less ambitious than men, everybody recognised the phenomenon," writes McDonald. "But it's clear women want senior roles, Ellis argues. "Last year, we opened 70 positions in partnership with the Australian Institute of Company Directors," she says. "Across Australia, we had 2000 applications from women who believed that they were ready to go on a board."

Clearly, many women are cutting through. Including Ellis, who sums up the debate best: "We want people not to even notice anything unusual about the gender of our leaders and I think increasingly that will be the case," she tells McDonald. "If you work hard and you do a good job, maybe it makes things easier for people who come after you who may not fit the mould."

On that note, Ellis has been nominated as one of Cosmopolitan magazine's 2011 Fun, Fearless Females which sees super-female trailblazers competing in stilettos. If the shoe fits, wear it?

Girl With a Satchel


Behavioural Economics Australia said...

I agree with your ideas. It's the person not the dress code. But it applies to more than just fashionable women like Kate Ellis.