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March 5, 2021

Spicer’s war on sexism

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Tracey Spicer isn’t your usual news broadcaster.

For a start she’s a self-confessed bogan from the Brisbane backwaters. She’s also one of the few women in her industry who have publicly spoken out about the sexist treatment of women in TV and has actively declared a war on excessive grooming with her TED talk that depicts Tracey ‘deconstructing’ her perfect look. In the talk that went viral, Tracey starts out as the perfect picture of womanhood, but by the end she stands in a singlet and exercise pants, barefoot, bare faced and frizzy haired. Women just couldn’t get enough of the Spicer strip.

‘I think it struck a chord with women because we are finally realising women have been valued for looks and men for their brains. People are seeking authenticity,’ she says.

Her book The Good Girl Stripped Bare gets behind the news to explore the world of helmet hair, masses of makeup and fatuous fashion in an era when bosses told you to ‘stick your tits out’ or ‘lose two inches off your arse’, or doozies such as ‘quit before you’re too old in the tooth’.

‘The media shape and reflect society,’ says Spicer. ‘It’s crucially important that we have age, gender, race diversity, and the audiences are crying out for reflections of themselves on TV – but we still have this 1980s way of presenting our news, with women who look like barbie dolls. It is changing, but not that much.’

Spicer was keen to investigate hiring policy. ‘I have this wonderful researcher, and I said find me the international research on which TV executives base their hiring. As it turned out there was no research. These white male middle-class men have made decisions based on their gut or other parts that I won’t mention for hiring women – not based on focus groups or data.’

Tracey believes she was up against structural sexism, and when she was sacked by email after having a baby, this
is when the good girl, the nice Tracey Spicer who just tolerated it all behind a painted-on smile, went postal. Well legal. She took her network to court
for pregnancy discrimination.

‘When I took my legal action against Channel 10 for being sacked for pregnancy discrimination, it happened at a time when advertisers were crying out for more women on TV; they wanted some role models out there. I think part of the problem of the industry is that we have a bit of Stockholm Syndrome. We have all been fed the story about what women should look like and how they should behave so we just humour our captors.

‘I am calling for a revolution,’ laughs Tracey. But it’s not really a joke. I get the feeling Spicer means it. She’s sick of institutionalised workplace discrimination and she’s put out the call to bring it to a close. This is not the nice, controlled Tracey Spicer I have seen on the news.

This Tracey Spicer has her mask off; she’s unguarded, she’s funny and insightful.

‘The problem for many of us women is that we have internalised the misogyny,’ she says. ‘We need to teach our children to be critical thinkers.

‘I am a second-wave feminist. I understand the third-wave feminism but don’t really agree with this “choice” feminism. I think you are just embracing your gilded cage. That’s what Betty Friedan’s books are all about. She was warning us about what was coming. The era when women embrace botox and say, “I just want to be the best person I can”.’

Botox is the new best friend for women in TV. It is the currency extender. ‘I don’t know many men in politics or the public eye who have used botox. I understand why women in the media feel the pressure; often audiences are critical and we because we don’t see older-looking women in those roles, being younger is the default. The more women are in the public eye who age naturally, the better. Although you infrequently see older women in the workplace.

‘I had an epiphany once when I was at the ABC and I saw a tour group of viewers all with this beautiful silver hair. I looked at the news group and there were silver-haired men. But no grey-haired women.
I have started growing out my greys.’

Tracey’s book is not a ‘name and shame’. ‘I wanted to highlight structural discrimination and I did name the main protagonists because I wanted them to see what they did.

‘This is a comedy book,’ says Tracey. ‘I worked very hard at putting a lot of satire and parody and absurdity in it as I wanted it to be able to reach a 16-year-old who lives in regional Australia, who doesn’t want to be a hairy legged feminist but realises that she’s on board with the politics.’

As for Tracey Spicer, well she’s an ‘ageing radical’. ‘You get to the age where you don’t sweat the small stuff anymore and you feel confident to claim your space.’

And that’s just what Spicer has done in her book The Good Girl Stripped Bare.

In this frank and funny ‘femoir’ – part memoir, part manifesto – Tracey ‘sheconstructs’ the structural barriers facing women in the workplace and encourages us all to shake off the shackles of the good girl.

NORPA presents Tracey Spicer in conversation with Dr Kristy Clarke this Sunday at Lismore City Hall at 3pm. Tickets $20/$35 www.norpa.org.au or 1300 066 772

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