The disparity between male and female voices in public life, particularly within journalism and politics, was highlighted at the start of this month by Kira Cochrane's piece in the Guardian. It featured shocking statistics that demonstrated the massive gender gap by looking at bylines of national newspapers; the Independent had the biggest difference with an average of 84% male and 16% female.
These results made me return to my copy of Cupcakes and Kalashnikovs: 100 Years of the Best Journalism by Women, an anthology edited by Eleanor Mills with Cochrane and given to me for Christmas a few years ago. Naomi Wolf writes in her introduction:
"I would wish it on the desks of every news editor; for surely reading about the issues of the day written in the first-person female voice [...] will jar any editor into awareness that male hegemony in the newsroom simply distorts the news and makes it frankly less interesting. [...] it is a blazing reminder of why it matters - to good writing and to good journalism - to get gender balance for the bylines who are tasked with writing history's first draft."
The anthology contains a varied selection of female writers, stretching from Emma Goldman to Nancy Mitford to India Knight, covering a range of topics that include war, politics, sex and motherhood.
Many of the themes of yesteryear are incredibly relevant today: the challenges of juggling a career and motherhood appear both in Mrs Alfred Sidgwick's 'Should Married Women Work?' - published in Good Housekeeping in 1924 - and Christina Lamb's 'My Double Life: Kalashnikovs and Cupcakes' from 2005, although many would perhaps find it hard to relate to the extreme sacrifices described here. It does illustrate the way in which balancing work and family life is such a huge issue; in her article Cochrane points to the decision of Gaby Hinsliff, former political editor of the Observer, to resign in order to spend more time with her son.
Nevertheless, the book is a reminder of the progress made in our society over the last hundred years. Djuna Barnes' 'How it Feels to be Forcibly Fed' from 1914 and Sylvia Pankhurst's article entitled 'Human Suffrage' underline the bravery of the women involved in the struggle for emancipation. It feels so relevant, with the women's protest in Cairo highlighting the battles still faced and fought by women across the world for liberation and democracy.
And it follows that the female voice needs to be heard.
With the events happening in Egypt, Reporters Sans Frontières stressed the dangers for female journalists working in Cairo, following reports of sexual assault. The organisation said at first that women should stop being sent to report on the demonstrations, which sparked much debate amongst journalists. Obviously, the safety of these women is of great concern. But should there be the withdrawal of female journalists from Egypt altogether?
In Cupcakes and Kalashnikovs, women write powerfully on war and conflict: Martha Gellhorn's horrifying account from Dachau, Mary McCarthy's report from Vietnam, Ann Leslie on the fall of the Berlin War. All of these demonstrate the value of female journalism.
A range of subject matters are covered in the anthology and the writing throughout is magnificent. There are pieces that are witty and hilarious - I'm thinking particularly of Jilly Cooper's 'If this is Sex, I'm Glad I'm English'. It reminds me of the female journalists that we have that are, yes, funny! Caitlin Moran and Grace Dent are a couple names that spring to mind instantly, constantly setting my Twitter feed on fire. Moran has had a spectacular year, winning every award on the planet it would seem, and this should be celebrated.
I'm not arguing that the gender gap isn't an important issue and doesn't need to be looked at.
There is a long way to go, and it will take time. I'm not suggesting that we should be complacent about the progress made so far, nor am I suggesting that there is a quick-fix solution to the inequality that remains; I do ask, however, that we remember to celebrate the wonderful work of female journalists - both past and present - and move forward from there. Cupcakes and Kalashnikovs is the perfect place to start.
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