This week, Christina Lamb guest edited the Culture section. Below is her editorial and her Rewind article. It was a pleasure to work with her, and we hope that you enjoy her illuminating insights.
Benn and Daniel
When the two male editors of Culture asked me to guest edit this special women’s edition, I thought it was very timely—expecting that by now we would have the first woman President of the United States and it could be a celebration of all things female.
Things didn’t quite work out that way. Not only did that glass ceiling fail to shatter but the man who held it up was a sexual predator who made derogatory comments about women. However, as Hillary said in her concession speech, “I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but someday, someone will.”
And meanwhile women are breaking barriers. We, in the UK, have our second female Prime Minister and plenty to celebrate here in Oxford which of course got its first female Vice-Chancellor this year. Under her guidance, hopefully the University will do more to promote the work of women writers, poets, thinkers and scientists in its courses.
As for women of the future, if the quality of contributions for this edition is anything to go by, we are in safe hands. Sadly, we did not have space for all, but here today is some fabulous writing on and by women.
When I joined Cherwell way back in 1984 and submitted my stories to a male editor and male news editor, Britain was under its first female Prime Minister.
Three decades and several national newspaper jobs later, we now have a second female Prime Minister, but I am still yet to work for a female editor or news editor.
This is concerning as men and women have a different way of looking at things. In my field, which is conflict reporting, my male colleagues tend to be more interested in the ‘bang bang’, while we female reporters prefer to concentrate on the people behind the lines trying to keep life together, who are usually women. And we see them as heroines not as victims.
So whatever I might report, the person deciding what actually goes into the newspaper—and with what prominence—is a man.
My own career was very much helped by a woman and fellow Oxford graduate—and an unexpected invitation to a wedding. After graduating I spent a few weeks as an intern at the Financial Times and one day the foreign editor sent me in his stead to a lunch of South Asian politicians. This led to an interview with Benazir Bhutto, then Pakistan’s opposition leader living in exile in London. The day I met her she announced her engagement, and some months later, I got home from work to find a gold engraved invitation on my door mat.
Benazir’s wedding in December 1987 was my first visit to Pakistan and an incredible introduction to the country. The ceremonies were as colourful and magical as something out of the Arabian Nights and followed by long discussions with her political colleagues fighting to topple the military dictator. When a fortune-telling parakeet on Karachi beach told me I would return shortly, it was right.
As a journalist I see myself as a storyteller and I guess it can’t be a coincidence that many of the stories I have chosen to tell have been those of young women. In recent years I have been lucky to work on books with two very inspiring 16 year olds—Malala, the girl shot by the Taliban, and Nujeen, a disabled girl from Aleppo who taught herself English by watching soap-operas and made the journey to safety in Germany in a wheelchair.
And it turns out I am not the only one whose life was changed by Benazir. She introduced another fellow Oxford graduate, then Theresa Brasier, to Philip May, now Britain’s First Husband.