Natalie Barr, pictured out on location, gives a no-holds-barred account of her career path – and life as a working mother. Picture: Channel 7. Source: Channel 7
- Sunrise star gives honest account of her career
- Reveals tough decisions made as a mother
- Shouldn’t be a case of ‘us’ and ‘them’ with men
AM I the only woman who’s not angry at men? I’m a woman and I have never felt discriminated against. There. I’ve said it.
I’m not angry at men. I can’t remember being passed over for a promotion because of a man and I have never felt undervalued because I’m a woman.
I went to a co-ed country Catholic school and the boys were my mates. Just like the girls. Maybe that’s where it started — my view that I was just as good as the opposite sex.
No one ever told me I wasn’t. And they still haven’t.
That doesn’t mean by any stretch that I’ve been positive and confident and happy every day of my life. It just means I don’t blame men for my troubles.
Natalie Barr worked her way up from cadetship and has now been at Channel Seven for 20 years. Picture: Channel 7 Source: Channel 7
When I was 20 I missed out on a cadetship at the ABC, but I didn’t for a second think it was because I was a girl.
I just had no bloody idea what I was doing; and they could tell.
Through the end of high school and university, I volunteered to work for free at the local TV station in Bunbury during my holidays.
I couldn’t have known less about TV news or being a journalist.
Every day I was there taught me something new, gave me a little bit more confidence in myself and made me realise that I had to take a leap and start applying to every news organisation in Western Australia for a job.
Work experience shaped my future and I still believe it’s one of the most productive things a kid can do.
As a result of one of those letters, a very nice person, who just happened to be a man, finally gave me a cadetship with a local Perth newspaper.
The pay was $142 a week. That was for a D-grade cadet, man or woman.
I loved it, worked my way up to senior reporter (in charge of a man) and then headed to Kalgoorlie for my first TV job.
I worked overseas for a few years and, of this December, I’ll have been at Channel Seven for 20 years.
Natalie Barr on Sunrise with Samantha Armytage, David Koch and Mark Beretta. She says ‘I don’t know what they are paid and they don’t know what I am paid’. Source: News Limited
For nearly half that time I was a reporter for the 6pm news. I started off doing very low profile stories, because I was a pretty inexperienced journalist.
I don’t remember the other junior male reporters being given better stories than me.
They were learning too. Some days I got a good story, other days the boys did. They were the days where the producer yelled at you if you stuffed up a story, and I can tell you it was definitely equal opportunity yelling.
I yelled back when I thought I was right, and I went home with my tail between my legs when I missed something the other journos had in their stories.
When my contract was up I forced myself to walk in and ask for a better deal.
Not a lot of women I know jump for joy when they have to negotiate with the boss but I don’t think that’s the boss’s fault.
Isn’t it ours? I chose to take just a few months off after I had each of my boys.
I wasn’t earning much but I sat down with my husband and we decided that it was worth taking a financial hit, paying a big chunk of my wage on childcare.
Our reasoning was if I kept working and was able to climb up the ladder, I might get paid more.
I’ve always thought that if you take years off work to raise your kids, whether you’re a man or a woman, it’ll be hard to get back into the workforce and certainly at the level you were before.
It’s great that many people have the choice to stay home with their children, but I also personally believe each choice we make comes with consequences that we have to live with.
For 11 years I’ve worked with some exceptional men on Sunrise.
I don’t know what they get paid.
They don’t know what I get paid.
Natalie Barr, pictured with Sam Armytage, says women need to be honest with themselves if they are to make progress in the office. Picture: Bradley Hunter Source: News Limited
But if I felt undervalued and ripped off, I’d leave.
I know there are many women out there who are trapped in situations where they do feel disadvantaged, discriminated against and overlooked because they are women.
In no way am I underestimating their pain and frustration and helplessness and the need for change in industries where that’s happening.
In the past few weeks though, I’ve felt that there has been a growing tide of women attacking men in general.
I’m starting to wonder if many of us need to find a better drum to beat than the one that blames men for most of our problems.
Isn’t it about time we took some ownership?
If a man got the job ahead of you, was it because he was better?
That can’t be impossible … can it?
Should we be brutally honest with ourselves and ask if we need to change the way we approach things?
I just don’t think “us” against “them” helps anybody in the long run.
Natalie Barr is the news presenter on Channel Seven’s Sunrise.
And the inevitable feminist slapdown:
The Sydney Morning Herald
21 March 2014
Natalie Barr doesn’t speak for all women
By Andie Fox
So you read the article by Natalie Barr yesterday where she asks working women to stop blaming men for their troubles and you want to tell her a few things. How she doesn’t have the first clue what feminism means (man bashing, really?). How her high heels, her white skin, her slim frame – all of it suggests a kind of compatibility with gender ideals that might at least warrant a moment’s reflection upon exclusion. Or how her industry has been notorious for dumping talented female colleagues five to ten years her senior, so just you wait.
But we should be cautious taking part in that conversation with Barr because it is yet another article focusing on the individual experience.
Often when we talk about sexism in the media we concentrate on the individual level at the expense of other levels of discussion. Maybe because individual cases of sexism make for more compelling reading than long-winded reports. Deeply personal stories are increasingly popular on the Internet as ways of exploring adversity, redemption and self.
These essays make sense of the world for us. As Chris Maisano noted, such essays are all about the writer’s unique journey working through what are seen to be personal limits rather than broader social problems. Barr’s article is typical of these stories, though hers is a particularly triumphant story for the marketplace with not just hard work but individually negotiated contracts being among her unlikely solutions to sexism. But there is a very big problem with these stories – they prevent us from seeing structural barriers.
Barr’s piece thinks of sexism as an individual experience. Her article sifts through the progressions of her life to evaluate whether she’s encountered specific acts against her. Barr then ultimately uses her own story of a woman transcending sexism to prove that this form of discrimination no longer exists.
You are intended to conclude from articles like these that if you aren’t progressing similarly in your career then personal shortcomings must explain those differences. The story of individual success, like a first female prime minister or a well positioned female television journalist, is meant to provide unquestionable proof that sexism is pretty much over.
Reading this you feel defensive, naturally. Your life hasn’t been exactly like these success stories. It is tempting then to continue this conversation of individualism and to describe the specifics of your own life as counter-argument. But unless we’re very thoughtful about it, this kind of discussion tends to be dominated by a lot of very similar voices (ie. those with access to the media), tends to over-generalise, and tends to limit definitions of sexism to intentional acts by one person against another. This capacity to recognise sexism rarely and only on an individual level means we seek to fix sexism simply by shaming offenders. Preferably in public. Sexism is therefore corrected by correcting the individual.
That kind of analysis is one of the reasons why men like our prime minister take such offence at being labeled sexist, despite numerous instances where his own words have marked him such. The failure to acknowledge how entrenched and universal various sexist attitudes are means being identified as sexist marks you as particularly repugnant. We ignore the reality that sexism can be perpetuated as much by inaction as by aggressive design.
But now viewed through the lens of individualism the sexist, too, can have a deeply personal story. He made a mistake, he broke a rule, he’s sorry if what he did offended you. He’s actually a kind of victim here, too, he wants you to know. Accusations of sexism, you see, are graded on the steepest of curves so virtually no-one, except the least sympathetic of villains, qualifies as an actual sexist. All other instances of sexism, watered down by individualism, are thus eventually transformed into reasonable actions and understandable views and your inability as a woman to overcome them is simply a character flaw of yours.
This conversation, hopelessly stalled around individual experience, prevents us from progressing faster to real solutions. The gross differences in outcomes between women and men in terms of income, violence and safety, workplace opportunity, political representation, divisions of household labour and social status affects us on a personal level, but their wider social context is masked by the distraction of individualism.
This is not to say that there isn’t value in sharing personal stories. There’s a rich feminist history that shouldn’t be lost in women telling their stories as a way of building community, initiating political awakening and demystifying our lives. But when the discussion of sexism is dominated by individual experience rather than a focus on institutional sexism, we fail to connect our personal difficulties to social issues. And in doing this, we endlessly explore individual solutions while the collective action that is required lies dormant.