On 28 March, LJMU presented the latest talk in the Athena Lecture Series with award-winning journalist Samira Ahmed delivering the keynote address: ‘My life as a difficult woman’.
With recent reports around gender equality, the theme for this lecture was in line with the International Women’s Day 2018 campaign: Press for Progress. The audience filled the Johnson Foundation Auditorium eager to find out about Samira’s experiences of being a ‘difficult woman’ and how she became a respected figure in the media.
Samira opened her talk with her theory that when women are described as 'difficult' because they ask questions, such as “why am I on less pay?” Women, she argued, are still expected to know their place.
The talk was peppered with examples of ‘difficult women’ from politics to pop culture. Samira took the audience through a series of portrayals of women, ranging from the female characters of 90’s Disney films (Mulan, Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules) to Madonna, who Samira credits as “one of my biggest role models”. She highlighted the level of criticism around Madonna’s 1990 ‘Blonde Ambition’ tour and argued a male counterpart would not have experienced the same. Nevertheless, Madonna challenged what was expected of her to be a woman, paving the way for her success and that of other women.
On battling entrenched discrimination, Samira stressed the importance of persistence with reference to the women who led the Ford sewing machinist strike in 1968 battling pay inequality. It unfortunately took several years for their work to be recognised equally and for them to achieve equal pay but ultimately they succeeded.
Samira recognised the media’s influence in portraying women and the sometimes damaging ways women are portrayed. For instance, how deliberately provocative headlines are used as ‘clickbait’ online. She urged the audience to voice their opinions on news via BBC Newswatch to encourage a more diverse group of opinions.
After the keynote address, Samira took questions on breaking into journalism from a panel of LJMU Journalism students Bronwen Jones, Simran Roy and Joshua McDowell as well as Howisha Charlery, Vice President of Community Engagement at LiverpoolSU. Samira’s key message to the students was to “always ask for and expect equal pay”. On the subject of knowing if you have equal pay to colleagues, her tip was to “just ask”. The worst response will be “no” but you’ll be no worse off.
There was just enough time for a few questions from the audience before Professor Leatherbarrow, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Scholarship, Research & Knowledge Transfer) and Chair of LJMU Athena Swan Working Group concluded the event, thanking the student panel “who have done the University proud.”
The Athena Lecture Series is organised by LJMU’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Team. Their next event, ‘Let’s Talk Disability and Mental Health’ will take place on Wednesday 18 April.