A Glass Ceiling or a Glass Maze: What do we really think about working women?

Broadcaster: BBC 2
Year: 2009
Genre: Documentary
URL: http://bobnational.net/record/11233

Review by: Tracey Jones

Nearly a hundred years after women legally obtained the right to vote and some people are still questioning whether women should work or stay at home to raise a family. Pinch me – I thought I was in the twenty-first-century.  ‘The trouble with Working Women’, presented by journalist Sophie Raworth and presenter Justin Rowlatt, is described as ‘a provocative new’ two-part documentary investigating the ‘battle of the sexes’.

Doc 1

It explores what the British public think of women who work, it questions why men still hold the majority of senior successful positions and challenges the notion that women can have it all.  Unfortunately, it fails to take any of these questions seriously. ‘Provocative’ – yes – I have been provoked!  The programme, I believe, had all the best intentions of addressing a serious issue in our society, that is: the position of women and in particular working mothers.  Sadly, the misogyny that runs through the documentary is so blatant that they don’t even try to disguise it. However, that said, some important issues are raised.

The first area of problematic working women to be scrutinised is that of unequal pay and disparities in the representation of females in top positions within society.  Shockingly, a woman can earn up to a staggering £369,000 less than a man, in her life-time. Furthermore, even though women are nearly half of the UK workforce we are still fighting for equal pay.

Professor Ryan, from Exeter University, claims that of the FTSE 100 companies 22 consist of all male boards and less than twenty percent of MPs are females. She tells Raworth that people still ‘think manager – think male’ and asserts that it is a ‘double bind for women … if women are forceful, ambitious and competitive, people don’t like them’.

Despite Raworth’s assurance that ‘we women can have it all: a successful career and a family’ evidence from the documentary would prove to the contrary. In the medical profession fifty percent of GPs are women but a disproportionate ninety-three percent of Consultant Surgeons are male. The presenters visit a hospital and interview several doctors about their careers and their choices regarding having a family.  The male surgeon admits that ‘the twelve hour days and being on call disrupts family and personal life’ and yet he has five children.  Conversely, the female surgeon is in her late thirties, single and childless, with no plans to either marry or have children. She states that ‘professional women who have achieved great things are not married and [do not] have children’.  At this point in the documentary I want to scream- Why?!

Throughout the programme a weird stripy pod is wheeled about the city, inviting people in to talk and share their feeling about working women – you see they really are taking this subject very seriously.  Two young men wearing high-vis gilets and hard helmets tell the camera ‘I’d love to see a bird on a building site doin’ what we’re doing, they wouldn’t last a minute!’.  And a charming man from the Nationwide Building Society claims that ‘a woman’s place is to look after the home’ – how proud his parents must be.  My personal favourite is the man who has been studying the animal kingdom (so he tells us) and ‘clearly men are superior to women’.  No – actually I think this is my favourite (so many to choose from): ‘if all women were tied to the sink at home, looking after the house, there would be no unemployment’. Yes, that’s right – you heard it here first, unemployment is our fault. Pesky women coming over here and taking all our jobs!  But don’t worry, this is nicely balanced out by the intellectual ramblings of a group of women who claim that women shouldn’t be the first to be made redundant because women have children and we need children to populate the planet – I see their logic (not).

Doc 2

For more serious intellectual opinions on the subject of working women the presenters conduct part of their interview at a boxing club (where we all know that the most liberal minded gentlemen inhabit).  Not surprisingly I am rather aghast at the small mindedness of these, so called, twenty-first-century men.  In particular, Boxer Dean Cooper delights in revealing how archaic his attitudes are.  He believes that ‘it’s a woman’s job’ to run his bath, make his dinner, iron his clothes.  Moreover, he states that if a ‘man wants to come home and do his own cooking, washing and ironing …they’re mental! They need psychiatric help …It’s a man’s world’. What a catch.  Then he claims that no woman can ‘succeed like a man’ in his life time, but when he is challenged by a young female boxer about successful women such as Margaret Thatcher he stumbles over his words, even stating ‘I don’t think so, no’. Well, I can assure you Mr Dean Cooper, Yes we did have a female Prime Minister!  At this point in the documentary Raworth actually shows some real emotion and anger towards the misogynistic opinions of this buffoon rather than just laughing it off as in the rest of the programme.  She admits to feeling ‘utterly drained’ and believes that the debate about men and women’s gender roles has not moved on since the 1970s.  When questioned whether the ‘glass ceiling’ still exists she claims: ‘I think it’s less of a glass ceiling, more of a glass maze’.  But surely that is worse – it’s it?  We’ll have to watch the second part to find out, but to be honest; I really hope it is better than the first! I won’t be holding my breath.


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