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Interview: Tracey Spicer on her new book, that TEDx Talk and Storyology

Journalist, author, speaker and mentor – Tracey Spicer has packed a lot into her 30-year career. Following her 2014 TEDx Talk The Lady Stripped Bare, Tracey has become known for her passionate stance on equality for women in the media and the wider workforce. This year she released her 'full-frontal femoir’ The Good Girl Stripped Bare and is about to take part in the Storyology storytelling and journalism festival. Ahead of the festival, Tracey spoke with us about her book, TEDx Talk and what she loves most about journalism.

STORYOLOGY

You are taking part in an interesting event for Storyology, called After DarkWhat can we expect?

A series of compelling performances in the form of an audio-visual magazine live on stage. I feel incredibly humbled to be appearing alongside the likes of Caro Meldrum-Hanna and Trent Dalton.

You are also speaking in the Toward Newsroom Equality panel discussion. How close is the media to achieving gender equality?

Unfortunately, not at all. The percentage of female leaders in newsrooms has changed little in the past 30 years. The gender pay gap sits stubbornly at around 23 percent. And, according to our landmark Women in Media Mates Over Merit report, almost half of the women working in the industry have been sexually harassed. However, there is hope in the changing media landscape. Many new companies are helmed by women, and the pay gap is narrower in the online space.

What other events are you looking forward to at Storyology?

All of them!

THE TEDx TALK

Your TEDx Talk has been watched more than 2.5 million times. What motivated you to do this talk?

The media both reflects and shapes society. Over the past 30 years I've watched in dismay as female journalists are valued for their looks, rather than their experience, skills and abilities. An excessive grooming regime, encouraged by managers who want women to look like Barbie dolls, creates unrealistic and damaging role models for young viewers. It also reflects the time and financial burden borne by women in all workplaces. Put simply, it's a price men don't have to pay.

I thought the best way of exemplifying this disparity was through performance art. (I initially considered doing mime but refrained due to a childhood fear of clowns ...) So, I spent three hours in the make-up chair before going to stage to strip off my mask and remove my armour.

What has been the feedback you have received from the talk?

I expected it would divide opinion. However, I've received extraordinarily positive feedback from all over the world. Yes, there've been death and rape threats from men frightened by the concept of a woman being anything other than purely decorative. But this is vastly outweighed by the number of men who are showing the video to their daughters, before they become addicted to the beauty routines recommended by the pharmaceutical companies.

THE BOOK

You just released your first book, The Good Girl Stripped Bare – what can we expect from the book?

A history of the French invasion of Russia and the impact of the Napoleonic era on Tsarist society through the eyes of five families. (Sorry, that's War and Peace – I get them mixed up all the time ...) This is a humorous book with a serious message. There are plenty of terrific feminist tomes preaching to the converted, to solidify the base of the movement. I wanted to write a book to reach the centre, so a 16-year-old girl from the suburbs or a rural area would be prepared for what she might face in the workforce. It's also a book about class. When suffragettes won women the vote in the U.K., it initially only extended to those with property. We need to bring everyone along with us.

What are your tips for women to feel empowered?

Frankly, I'd prefer women to BE empowered, rather than FEEL empowered. There are too many empty catchcries in the highly commercialised 'women's market'. My main message is about the power of collective action, through a union, mentors, sponsors or the support of your colleagues. For women to be truly empowered, we need structural change. I'm calling for a revolution in the way society views women and girls.

WOMEN IN THE MEDIA

What inspired you to pursue a career in journalism?

I write in the book that it was Jana Wendt reporting from the Middle East on 60 Minutes. I don't think I just wanted to be a television journalist; I wanted to be a dark-haired woman of Eastern European ancestry, because it seemed more sophisticated than being a 'bogan chick' from Redcliffe. Seriously, our house fell silent at six o'clock every evening. Mum and Dad would dissect the news bulletins, railing against the government or big business and cheering on the underdog. So, my sense of social justice was the primary motivation.

You are also the national convenor and co-founder of Women in Media – what do women bring to journalism?

Our research, conducted with iSentia, reveals female journalists are twice as likely to quote a female expert in a story. Through this, women's voices are amplified overall. With only 17 percent of female 'talent' in business stories, and nine percent in sports yarns, the media is failing to reflect the diversity of the population. This is an abject failure of the fourth estate. It's even worse when you look at cultural diversity. For example, I'm mentoring a young woman from a Middle Eastern background who lives in Sydney's outer-west. She routinely uncovers exclusives after building up trust within her community. However, she laments the fact that so few of these stories are being told.

What is the most rewarding aspect of a career in the media?

The privilege of being a conduit to tell someone's story, the ability to give a voice to the voiceless and the power to hold government and business to account. I can't limit it to one!

What advice would you give to a young woman wanting to get into journalism?

Go in with your eyes wide open. Understand the challenges and barriers. Seek out supportive women and men in your newsroom. Know your rights and stand up for them. And join our community.

For a chance to be part of Storyology, enter to win tickets.

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