Here's a question with an even bleaker answer: where are all the
Cochrane conducted a
"diversity audit" and came up with some depressing, though not
altogether surprising figures. She found that on average only 22%
of newspaper articles are written by women, 28% of contributors on
Question Time are women and just 16% of contributors to Radio 4's
agenda-setting Today programme are women.
So far, so depressing. But while Cochrane points out the even
greater scarcity of ethnic minority women in British public life,
gay women are not even included in her study. Are we that
We can all think of plenty of out gay men in the public eye but
when it comes to the girls, we're counting on one hand. Clare
Balding and Alice Arnold? Celesbians Melanie Rickey and Mary
Portas? Cochrane didn't break down the figures so we can't be sure
how many of the journalists she counted are gay, but if the stats
are bad for women, they're going to be even worse for lesbians.
What we do know is that 22% of MPs are female and that, in the
entire House of Commons, only three MPs are out lesbians.
Cochrane quotes Nan Sloane, director of the Centre for Women and
Democracy, saying: "You have 51% of the population paying equal
taxes who are not equally represented when it comes to deciding how
their money is spent ... If you had more women involved, they'd be
more likely to pick up those nuances at an early stage and bring
their experience to bear…"
If Sloane is right, that having more women in government leads
to more women-friendly policies, then we should be worried both
about the lack of women but also the lack of lesbians. With a
continuing gender pay gap and women worst hit by government cuts,
two-women households suffer disproportionately.
Then there are issues at the heart of the LGBT community: laws
concerning civil partnership and same-sex marriage, sex education
and dealing with homophobic bullying in our schools. Aren't these
issues where the lesbian community should be represented by other
lesbians, for whom equality is a passion born from experience? As
Julie Bindel told Pink News: "The straight people aren't going to
fight this battle for us."
And as Cochrane points out, the presence of women in the public
eye is still all too often dictated by whether or not they're
attractive to men - so out lesbians provide an even bigger
conundrum. It's bad enough that women grow up with a media that
views them as the "other".
For gay women, it's even worse. Our invisibility in the public
eye is as much a part of the struggle for acceptance and
normalisation as the fight to combat prejudice in schools and in
the workplace. It's not a case of "role models"; we just need to
see more gay women making the news and more gay women reporting it,
until it's no big deal.