September 20, 2012

IconClare Balding, Sue Perkins…. where are all the other lesbians on TV?

Clare BaldingI love Clare Balding. There. I’ve said it. It’s not an ‘easy tiger’ kind of love (well… maybe a bit), but a deep admiration.

Here is a woman who, all her professional life, has lived in a stereotypical ‘man’s world’ and has come out very much on top.

Not only has she equalled the achievements of the most successful men in her field, but she has arguably bettered them.

First as a jockey, and now as one of television’s most sought-after presenters, Balding has paved the way for a new wave of female talent, chomping at the bit (excuse the pun) to take advantage of the groundwork she has laid.

But, hang on… I just can’t see the hordes of female talent… sorry, maybe it’s because I’ve mislaid my binoculars… no, no… it’s because they’re not there. Well, they are there, but they’re not there. In the spotlight.

 Balding the Trailblazer?

In a recent interview with the Times, Balding bemoaned the lack of females on television and in newspapers. And whilst I agree whole-heartedly with her admission that the Olympics was fantastic for showing off female talent, it is clear that there is still a long way to go.  Further still, perhaps, for gay female talent.

If I asked you to name me 3 well-known, British lesbians in popular, mainstream light entertainment I bet you would get as far as Clare, Sue Perkins… and then grind to a halt. I know I did. Ok so I know there’s a few of you going hoarse as you scream, “HEATHER PEACE!!” at me, but with all due respect to our favourite hot-cop, I can pretty much guarantee that if I asked any non-lesbian who she is, they would be mystified until I identified her as, “that English teacher from Waterloo Road. The one without the stubble.”

 Bring back the girls

A recent Lesbilicious article discussed the issue of a lack of ‘out’ lesbians in the Olympics. Clearly this is a problem, but is one that is so much more wide-spread. And it’s a problem because of a snowball effect: more female talent needs to come through into the spotlight, so any gay women are emerging from a smaller pool to start with.

Factor into that the issue that many women are scared to come out anyway, either because their fame is partly based on their attractiveness to men, or else just because they are scared of prejudice and resulting career damage, and the end product is virtually no gay females on our screens or in our newspapers.

I mean, what would happen to Nigella’s fame if she suddenly came out? For legal reasons, I am in no way suggesting that Nigella Lawson is gay. I’ll leave that assertion for my own fantasies…

In her Times interview, Balding recalled an incident, before she came out to her parents, when she showed them an article about Ellen DeGeneres, stating that she admired her greatly but not explaining exactly why.

In many ways, both Balding and Perkins have the same charm and ‘likeability’ factor on-screen as DeGeneres. People love them. And why? Because they are highly skilled, professional presenters, with whom we as an audience feel comfortable and content.  They are household favourites across the land. And all of this, regardless of their gender or sexuality.

 Time for change

The more I read interviews like Balding’s in the Times, and the more I watch TV programmes like Hilary Devey’s Women at the Top, the more I am torn. Part of me is inspired by the publicity that these successful women are giving to the issue of their lack of successors, but another part of me is appalled that we need these ‘boosts’ at all. There is no push to get more men to do anything. They’re just getting out there and blithely doing whatever they damn well want. And good on them. But, come on, ladies, let’s do the same. Let’s all work, male and female, to create an environment where there is no glass ceiling, no gender prejudice, but lots of opportunity. For everyone.

I’ll end as I began; I love Clare Balding. For who she is and what she does. The Olympics proved that she is indeed a national treasure and was confirmation that it isn’t just me who would much prefer to see her on our screens than Gary Lineker or John Inverdale. Let us celebrate this strong, professional, classy and talented woman, and join her campaign to support and elevate all those like her. Arise, Dame Balding.

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Sue Curley

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