Being an English Graduate Is Hard, Being a Female English Graduate Is Harder
Whether it’s a female member of staff at the BBC quitting because of pay discrimination, or the statement that, due to the gender pay gap, women essentially work for free from mid-November, wherever we look there are clear signs of gender inequality in the workplace. Recent graduate Kaya Gromocki looks at the challenges female English graduates face in keeping up with their male counterparts.
Being an English graduate is hard, regardless of your gender – especially those tense months post-graduation where you find yourself Googling everything from ‘how much do poets earn’ to ‘flights to Peru’.
This is the worst time for well-meaning family members to ask you why you didn’t study a ‘useful’ subject like chemistry.
And it’s also the time you privately wish you could swap all those hours spent on bar crawls, staggering through the city centre dressed as a binge-drinking schoolchild or slutty chicken, for a part time internship in the marketing department of a local start up.
“Looking at the number of women represented in the arts today, it still seems that it’s harder for us to get to those top spots”
It’s safe to say that many English students begin their new life as graduates pondering the uses of the modal auxiliary verb, or wondering how they’re going to apply their knowledge of Hamlet’s Oedipus Complex in the current job market. It’s a tough time for everyone.
But, as with most things in life, factors like race, sexuality and gender have an impact on your chances of success.
“Women have outnumbered men studying journalism, but 78% of all front-page stories are written by men”
Looking at the number of women represented in the arts today, it still seems that it’s harder for us to get to those top spots, even when coming from a background that is as female-dominated as English (74% of students studying English at UK universities are female).
Overall, 66,840 more women than men are now on degree courses, but women still don’t do as well as men in the long run. They might attend university, but they aren’t set to lead it. Studies from The Times Higher Education show that although women make up 45% of non-professorial academic staff, only one in five professors in the UK is female, and at some institutions, it’s a mere one in ten.
The careers that English graduates are typically considered qualified to enter include Journalism, Writing, Publishing, Teaching, Copywriting, Film Directing, Marketing and Librarianship.
These careers might sound tempting, but for many, graduating with an English degree can be the reality check that parents, teachers or grades have failed to provide in the past. It turns out, a lot of employers just want to know about your skills and experience. And this doesn’t include your ability to use iambic pentameter, your experience of staying overnight in the library, or, in a weak moment, attempting to snort coffee granules off the cover of a copy of War and Peace.
Perhaps one of the most desirable career choices for those from an English background, women and men alike, is journalism.
“If variety is the spice of life, then news in the UK is about as bland as Theresa May, running through a field of wheat”
Women outnumbered men studying journalism in the UK every year between 2007 to 2014, apart from 2008. But these figures just don’t appear to translate into success further down the line, with figures from The Women in Journalism Study showing that 78% of all front-page stories are written by men.
Not only do the minority of male journalists write the majority of front page news stories, but they also edit and run the newspapers themselves. If you look up the top newspapers in the UK, Google presents you with this list of the current most visited news websites. You can also look up their editors, who are named on the right.
The Daily Mail – Paul Dacre
The Daily Telegraph – Chris Evans
The Sun – Tony Gallagher
The Times – John Witherow
The Independent – Christian Broughton
The Daily Express – Hugh Whittow
The BBC News – James Harding
A list like this fails to surprise those of us who are used to a culture in which men are viewed as being more ‘competent’.
This belief is evidenced in recent research by physiologist Corinne Moss-Racusin, who conducted an experiment in which duplicate CVs with male and female names were sent to universities hiring for a lab manager position. The only differences on the CVs were the names, and – you got it – the hiring team rated the CVs with a male name as more competent and hireable than those with female names. Higher salaries were even suggested for the men, despite their applications being totally identical.
The editors of these leading newspapers and websites also all share a middle-class, heterosexual, Caucasian identity. If variety is the spice of life, then news in the UK is about as bland as Theresa May, running through a field of wheat.
Unfortunately, female English graduates looking to pursue a career in writing books, instead of front page news, are faced with similarly daunting figures.
“As women read and buy more books than men, having a majority of acclaimed books be about men, reviewed by men and pitched at men makes as much sense as having men design, advertise and market tampons”
Of the nearly 50 Manbooker prizes given since 1969, only 17 of them have been received by women authors, that’s just 34 percent. These 17 successful women share a quality with the editors of top UK newspapers – they are all white.
This trend is repeated across the board, with The Nobel Prize for Literature being awarded 110 times, but only 13 times to a woman. In the US, one of the most prestigious awards for the arts, The Pulitzer Prize, gave zero awards to female authors, writing about female characters in a fifteen-year period (2000-2015), whilst awarding eight times to male authors, writing about male characters.
Even when women are published, they don’t just struggle to be recognised for awards, even having their books reviewed proves difficult, with 75% of the books reviewed by TSL Publications being written by men, and 72% of its reviewers being male.
The irony is that research has repeatedly found that women read and buy more books than men. So having a majority of acclaimed books be about men, reviewed by men and pitched at men makes about as much sense as having men design, advertise and market tampons. Oh wait, they do…
“perhaps we just need to erase phrases like ‘female boss’ ‘career woman’ and ‘working mum’ from our vocabulary, and replace them with words like, ‘boss’, ‘career person’ and ‘working parent’”
It’s discouraging for female English graduates hoping to work in film or TV to hear that according to The Writer’s Guild of America, only 27% of film writers and 19% of television writers it represents are female.
It’s as if there’s some kind of mysterious black hole that swallows only women, given the fact there are so many women entering writing courses and careers, and yet so few come out the other end.
Perhaps someone could check that narrow 20-year gap, somewhere between graduation and the boardroom of top media and publishing houses.
Or perhaps we just need to erase phrases like ‘female boss’ ‘career woman’ and ‘working mum’ from our vocabulary, and replace them with words like, ‘boss’, ‘career person’ and ‘working parent’. This way, women don’t get excluded by simple language use before they even have to face being the one woman out of the ten editors of top UK news distributors.
“It seems like J. K. Rowling was right to opt not to use her first name, Joanna, for the Harry Potter series”
And for those that make the lazy argument that women might just not be as good at writing as men, there are female writers that have discovered the unpleasant truth that just using a man’s name can turn their chances around, even when they send the exact same submission.
Author Catherine Nichols changed the name on the proposal she was sending out to agents to a male one. When using a female name, she received only two responses out of a potential fifty. With a male name on her letter, five out of every six agents responded.
It seems like J. K. Rowling was right to opt not to use her first name, Joanna, for the Harry Potter series, after her agent advised her it might deter young male readers. Much has changed since the Bronte sisters and Louisa May Alcott wrote under male pseudonyms, but the idea that women are less competent writers clearly remains.
Another common career for English graduates is publishing, an industry particularly popular with women. According to an American survey, 78% of people in publishing are female, and 79% are white. So if women are dominating the field, then surely they’re leading it too? Nope. Another quick Google search of ‘top publishers’ brings up a list which was topped by Penguin Random House, whose MD is Markus Dohle, who is, obviously, a man.
The same is true for HarperCollins, whose CEO is Brian Murray, Pan Macmillan’s is Anthony Forbes Watson, and Oxford University Press’ is Nigel Portwood. In fact, nine out of the ten ‘top publishing houses’ had a male CEO, with the single exception of Simon and Schuster, which is directed by Carolyn Reidy. Once again, this tells us that, as a woman, working in a female-dominated industry is sadly no guarantee of getting to the top.
“once females leave the education system, society seems less inclined to see their potential”
However, unlike the outcome of the EU referendum, this result is predictable, with only 36% of secondary school head teachers being women, despite making up the majority in their profession.
Girls consistently outperform boys in their GCSEs: 64.4% of girls achieve the required amount of GCSE passes, compared to 53.7% of boys. They’re also more likely to go to university, but once they leave the education system, society seems less inclined to see their potential.
The glass ceiling, it would seem, is very much still intact, but the power to shatter it is in the hands of our generation.
To our male counterparts, entering positions of power in your new careers, think about how you can include women. If you have influence over who is being hired or promoted, think about the qualities and skills that person has, and try not to go with the (straight, white) male option, just because it’s what we’re used to.
And to my fellow female English graduates, we need to believe in ourselves rather than falling victim to imposter syndrome, continue to work hard and apply to senior roles because there’s no reason why we shouldn’t.
Remember: nevertheless, she persisted.