Let’s toast a more diverse Guardian Women

// 21 July 2007

I read with pleasure last Tuesday’s G2 headline celebrating 50 inspirational years of Guardian women. Published on the centenary of Mary Stott’s birthday, it was a welcome toast to women journalists, women editors and critical, reflective, feminist writing on politics and social justice.

What a sad person I was 10 minutes later when I realized just how far the Guardian and the G2 women still are from reflecting the diversity of women in Britain. Not just who they are themselves – the writers, the editors – but also the copy they produce.

The special’s articles offer a retrospective on the key issues of the day over the last five decades. From Beatlemania in the 1950s and 60s to “the heyday of women’s lib” in the 1970s to radical lesbians in the 80s, girl power in the 90s and work life balance today.

Obviously this is the briefest of tours but I still can’t help feeling disappointed that G2 hasn’t made a little more effort at moving beyond the obvious – and the mainstream. What of the Brixton riots, ignited by the shooting of a Black woman by police? Or the feminist anti-racist campaigns on domestic violence that permanently changed the violence against women sector? And that was just the 1980s.

To be fair, Liz Forgan does fleetingly mention arguments between “third-world women and Islington schoolteachers” as having punctuated her time as editor. And there are three pieces about non-white women: one on the FGM that a woman now living in Britain went through in Somalia; another on living as a feminist in Egypt; and a third on violence against women in Nigeria. But only the third appears to be available in the online edition of the paper. Moreover their inclusion is more problematic than helpful: all are about the ‘other places’ these women come from, not about ethnic minority women’s issues and struggles in Britain.

I understand of course that the G2 special had to reflect the women’s pages as they were. We can’t change the fact that all the previous editors have been white women. Neither can we change the fact that most of the writers appear to be white, in the past and also currently. But it is not so surprising then that the montage that the special produces reflects this bias in its celebration.

Which brings us back to the G2 special’s headline: “50 inspirational years of Guardian women”. Not so inspiring to see more of the same I’d say. The best toast we could have had to the fabulous women’s pages would have been a clear signal by its current editor that they will seek to be increasingly relevant to the many diverse ‘Guardian Women’ that read them.

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