‘The Good Girl Stripped Bare’ – An interview with Tracey Spicer

Introducing the first in a series of interviews with some of our favourite women. This time around, we speak with Tracey Spicer – author, journalist, newsreader, mother, mentor and advocate.

After having read Tracey’s new book “The Good Girl Stripped Bare”, we knew that we couldn’t give up the opportunity to ask Tracey a few questions.

Enjoy! (oh, and if you haven’t read the book yet – what are you waiting for?)

Optimiss: Your new book “The Good Girl Stripped Bare” is a very frank and open account of your life to date. What made you decide to write your story now?

Tracey Spicer: Writing a memoir was never on my to-do list. I’ve always been the kind of person who looks forward instead of back. But after becoming active in the women’s movement over the past decade, I realised we must learn the lessons of the past, in order to forge our future. So, when ABC Books/HarperCollins approached me to write my life story, I decided to use this as a framework around which to weave the history of feminism, from the suffragettes to today.

O: In your book, you write that women coming back from parental leave were not provided the opportunity to work part time or job share at the commercial networks. The reason that was given was that “it had never been done before”. Why do you think that leaders are so wary of supporting new ways of working? Is it changing?

TS: It’s a combination of factors. Media management is predominantly male, so there’s unconscious bias in every decision. Some male managers believe, deep down, that women shouldn’t be in the workforce once they have children. In an extremely competitive environment, they fear making the ‘wrong’ decision. I also reckon they’re uncomfortable about appearing too ‘feminised’ by creating a family-friendly workplace. In other cases, it’s laziness, or the path of least resistance. It’s easier to replace the primary child-carer with a single bloke who has no children. State and federal legislation, and action by unions and women’s groups – as well as high-profile litigation by people like me and Talitha Cummins – have changed the culture to a degree. There’s a new breed of executives, like Angelos Frangopoulos and Michael Ebeid, who are more open-minded. However, many middle managers, despite being aged in their 30s or 40s, are behaving like the dinosaurs of the past, because of role modelling and entrenched misogyny. Furthermore, women are reticent to take action against their employers for fear of being branded ‘troublemakers’.

O: Your decision to take legal action against Network Ten for maternity discrimination must have been a difficult decision. What gave you the courage to take a stand at that time?

TS: I’d simply had enough after watching the vast majority of my female colleagues sidelined or sacked for committing the crime of having children. I had the privilege of a supportive family, substantial income and profile, to be able to give voice to the voiceless. So many women can’t speak out. I wanted to give them a platform, support and advice. My key message is, “You’re not alone”.

O: The title, “The Good Girl Stripped Bare” echoes the message throughout your book of you feeling that you needed to conform to the expectations of others. Many women find their voices later in life, in the 40’s and 50’s when what others think doesn’t carry the same amount of cache. What are your three top tips to help younger women shake off the restraints of always pleasing others and instead focus on meeting their own potential?

TS: Excellent analysis of my book and brilliant question! My advice is that speaking out is the best thing you will ever do. Once you start, you can’t stop! This will change the culture within your organisation. If more women do it, this will become easier for everyone. And, if you are sidelined, there are plenty of family-friendly workplaces where you can go. Or, build your own future by working freelance, creating a ‘portfolio career’. There’s never been a better time to do this, with the fragmentation of the traditional workplace and exponential advances in technology.

My second piece of advice is to seek out your sisterhood. At Channel 9 in Melbourne, we called ourselves the ‘pussy mafia’. You can share ideas and strategies to change the workplace from within. This also creates a valuable support structure.

Thirdly, explain to your family and friends why you’re calling out everyday sexism. It can be confusing for others when we start to claim our space. By breaking down the history of feminism in basic terms, you can bring your loved ones along on the journey. This also avoids the risk of a potential backlash. VIVE LA REVOLUTION!