What’s A Lady Got To Do…

06 Jun What’s A Lady Got To Do…

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 30.5.22


Sometimes you’ve got to wonder what a lady has to do to get some respect around here. I’m not talking about me – I make some of my living by telling jokes in pubs so I’m not expecting a room to fall into reverential silence when I turn up. That would be weird.

Mostly when I walk into a room I get, “You’re a lot shorter than you look on TV” which you could also say to the Queen but I bet they don’t. I’m also often asked if I’m going to sing because vast numbers of people can’t tell the difference between me and the divine Jackie Clarke which I find flattering because a) I can’t sing and she really can and b) she is much taller.

But I’ve been thinking about some of the other women I respect and admire – educated, experienced, successful – who nevertheless have been publicly dismissed and diminished as lightweights despite quite a lot of evidence to the contrary.

It’s usually by a man who would have little-to-no idea what it took to get her to an elevated position where he might notice her and therefore take his pot-shot. I’m not sure this happens to men – I can’t think of examples of local businessmen being dismissed as “a little bit of Eurasian fluff” or accused of using their “sensuality” to sell company shares the way Nadia Lim was recently.

It must feel so weird to be diminished this way when the real you – the one that lives in the actual world – has post-graduate qualifications in your field of expertise, has built a business and a successful career, won awards, written books, become a household name and hosted a primetime television series throughout Asia to an audience of 130 million people.

You fondly hope an attempt to belittle someone so obviously successful just makes them snort-laugh, but we know the damage this can do to every potential Nadia Lim who hears, yet again, that there are those who think she is not enough. If you’re a kid who sees a successful woman being disrespected, it doesn’t exactly encourage you to follow in her footsteps.

I was struck by a radio interview last year with Dr Ayesha Verrall who I think we can respect regardless of any party politics. Dr Verrall has been in Parliament for the last 18 months, having arrived there from the kind of career that women of my mother’s generation dreamt of, and fought for. Medical school followed by years of specialist training and study in infectious diseases all over the world, and hands-on experience in public health and in leadership.

The high profile host replayed parts of this interview interspersed, as is his shtick, with clown car sound effects in the pauses she’d taken as she composed her answers.

It struck me how bizarre that might feel to someone at this stage of her career. You might be thinking, “Seriously? All those years led to today?”

My mother and her cohort were offered only teaching, nursing or secretarial school in the 1950s, and were dismissed for wanting more. So they wanted it for us – they encouraged their daughters to dream big, be ambitious, to create a woman-shaped space in rooms that didn’t have women-shaped spaces before we got there.

They wanted us to be taken seriously for the work we had done. I don’t think they were expecting clown car toots or being dismissed as fluff, and we owe it to them to not accept it.