Looking like a bad idea

My good friend Chris Brannick alerted me to this link on Yahoo. Bic – the company which brought you the Bic For Her, and hence underpinned Bridget Christie’s comedic output for the past 18 months – has done it again, posting the following advertisement on National Women’s Day:



In case the writing’s not clear on this pic, is says: Look like a girl – Act like a lady – Think like a man – Work like a boss.

Bic has already noticed how bad this is and has withdrawn the ad and issued an apology. However, it still stuns me that anybody could be dim enough to issue it in the first place. Sadly, I fear that a lot of women think in this way, and particularly women in the corporate world. Dr Phil’s wise words, that ‘people do what works’, comes to mind, which is even more depressing.


Look like a girl. You have to look young. You have to look full of sexual possibility, if not actually sexually available. If you are not young, you have to get yourself fixed so that you look young, even if that means getting yourself chopped  up and allowing yourself to be injected with poisons. You must conform to feminine norms. You must wear make-up and high heels and a skirt. You should probably grow your hair long, and, once it is long enough, you should not cut it short. You should dye your hair, since grey is not girlish.

Lady WorsleyAct like a lady.  My instant reaction to this is “what the **** does that mean?” Obviously, not saying **** would be a start. (I once said **** to a prominent cricket coach and he nearly fell over backwards. Clearly I was not supposed to know the word.) Anyway, casting aside modesty, quietness, moral indignation, sexual conformity and all the other ladylike attributes which I consider to be worse than useless, I’m aiming for Lady Worsley (right).

Think like a man. How do men think? Do all men think the same way? Should I think like A C Grayling, Nigel Farage, James MacMillan or Joey Essex? Go on – pick one! OK – I’m being a little disingenuous, – I dare say women in general do have different ways of thinking than men in general, but there is no way on earth that one is better than the other. Ooh – I know what I’ll do – I’m going to think like a PERSON! And that person is ME.

Work like a boss. I don’t have a problem with the idea that women can be bosses. However, bosses are not the only people who work hard, and in some places I have been, they work less hard than the people actually making the difference at the sharp end, so I have a bit of a problem (though not a feminist problem) with working like a boss. Also, I have no boss and I do not boss anyone, so I’m in limbo on that. Perhaps I need to start striding round my office shouting “Get me today’s FTSE figures! Devalue the yuan! Downsize the music department!”, in order to be taken seriously. I fear the chaps in the office next door might call the people in white coats to take me away.

Finally, it was with deeply mixed feelings that I noticed, also embedded in the blog I’ve linked to, a tweet from someone called Technically Ron, whose heart is obviously in the right place, but whose thinking is still at least partly bogged down in the patriarchy. He says he has tried to make the new Bic ad ‘a bit more relatable’, by changing the wording to “Look like a girl – Act like a Velociraptor – Think like a supervillian [sic] – Kill men with Biros”. It’s a nice try, but underlying this is still the idea that a woman’s not really worth anything until and unless she behaves like a stereotypically aggressive man while looking like a schoolgirl. Count me out.

Published in: on August 13, 2015 at 10:41  Comments (2)  

How to apologise (and why…)

I expect quite a few of my arts management colleagues will have had the same two emails recently from an organisation called TicketSource, which promises to sell tickets online through a free online box office. It held up the Cardiff School of Music as a case study, and says that all kinds of organisations can use its services to increase their ticket sales and make it easier for people to buy tickets.

Oho, I thought, sounds like a good idea.

Then I clicked on the ‘download pictures’ icon. Big mistake. Here is what I saw:

Gothic cellist

Isn’t she lovely? And obviously so talented. She wasn’t the only one either – there was an improbable saxophonist in unfeasibly high heels as well. I recoiled, of course – and closed the email, feeling that despite my initial favourable impression, I couldn’t have anything to do with an organisation that deployed images of this kind. I nearly hit the blog to complain about it at the time, but work was pressing and I didn’t get round to it.

However, a couple of weeks later, I received the following email, with the subject heading ‘TicketSource Apology’:

“We recently circulated a promotional email including a case study featuring Cardiff University School of Music.   The images included in the email were intended to illustrate the wide variety of musical performers who use our services.  They were not intended to represent Cardiff University School of Music itself and neither of the individuals portrayed have any connection with Cardiff University School of Music.  We acknowledge that the image of the female cellist featured in the email was inappropriate and a distasteful depiction of female musicians.  We would like to fully retract that message and wholeheartedly apologise to Cardiff University School of Music, its students, staff and alumni, for any embarrassment and inconvenience we may have caused them by dispatching the email without their prior approval.”

I tried to write back to them to say how grateful I was to them for this graceful and magnanimous message, but sadly it was a ‘no-reply’ email address. Instead, I’m sharing this with you all to see what you think.

My own thought was that they should have added something a little more specific in the way of: “In future we will make sure our picture editor does a little more research before using crappy photos created by people who know nothing about music.” That would have been good.

Pip pip!

Published in: on September 9, 2013 at 11:30  Comments (1)  
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Who is our John Amis now?

I was very much saddened to hear of the death of the music critic, writer and broadcaster John Amis. Here are some obituaries in the Guardian and the Independent. He was a genial presence on telly in my youth, always bursting into song on the TV quiz ‘My Music’ and popping up as a commentator and programme-maker. I once sold him a programme when I was ushering at a Docklands Sinfonietta concert in the 1990s, and I still kick myself for failing to offer an appreciative comment or any thanks for his work. Too late now.

Back then, in the 70s and 80s, there was a lot of talk about classical music woven into broadcasting in a way that doesn’t happen now – or perhaps I should say hasn’t happened for a long time. As well as John Amis, there was Anthony Hopkins (no, not that one)  with his introductions to music on Radio 4. It’s very difficult to find anything about classical music on radio 4 now – it all seems to be ghettoised. (more…)

Published in: on August 5, 2013 at 14:18  Comments (3)  

Questions for Mr Gove

My old horn-playing pal Sarah Rock is preparing for an interview with Michael Gove next Tuesday for BBC Radio 3. Tom Service will be doing the interview and it’s going to be broadcast in ‘Music Matters’ on Saturday, 15th June from 12:15pm on Radio 3.

Sarah asked through Facebook (perhaps unwisely, given the massive response she is likely to get) for suggestions from music professionals for any points she should raise with him. Here are my initial suggestions, which I’ve sent to her: (more…)

Published in: on June 7, 2013 at 12:48  Comments (12)  

Review: Scott and Bailey

I don’t normally review telly programmes, so this is a bit of a departure, but I just wanted to capture the glee which this cop series has induced in me. It’s such a joy to experience such wonderfully well-rounded female characters, so well-written, and with relatively realistic life-issues. I have to admit, it’s not at all realistic in one way: the idea that there are that many females bosses and high-profile female detectives in any single cop-shop in the UK is stretching credibility (the Chief Con, the Det Supp, and the DCI?). But the point is that the balance needs redressing, and Scott and Bailey does this brilliantly. (more…)

Published in: on May 25, 2013 at 16:37  Comments (2)  

The devastation of instrumental learning

I’ve just heard something incredibly depressing. I will anonymise the details as I think it may a be picture which is replicated elsewhere.

Imagine a medium-sized town in a shire county with four main secondary schools.

Not one of these schools has a school band or orchestra.

In one of the schools, there used to be 150 children learning an instrument. Now there are 30. Thirty.

Just in case you are too shocked to work it out, that’s twenty per cent of the previous numbers.

In the town itself, there is only one community music ensemble currently running. Only five young people under the age of 18 are taking part in it. (more…)

Published in: on May 14, 2013 at 14:52  Comments (2)  

Proving our worth – a couple of good links

To add to my previous post about the Culture Secretary’s recent pronouncements, I’d like to add a few things:

  1. Thanks to Paul Kelly for proving all the links to all the reports that I didn’t, ahem, get round to doing – it’s in among the comments on the original post.
  2. Apparently they order these things better in Canada – here’s a link to recent research showing the value placed on the performing arts by the Canadian public. This is from the Canadian Arts Presenting Programme via my friend Patrice Baldwin: Landmark Study Sheds Light on Profound Benefits of the Performing Arts.
  3. And I couldn’t put it better myself than in this Evening Harold spoof: “Singing in playground banned as Minister says culture must be presented as a commodity” – thanks to my friend Leaping Badger for spotting this.

Toodle pip.

Published in: on April 30, 2013 at 13:31  Comments (1)  

Proving our worth – yet again

The Culture Minister Maria Miller has asked the arts sector once again to prove its worth financially.

This is astonishing – the arts sector has made this argument over and over and over again for the past twenty years. The economic value of the arts to the nation was one of the chief reasons put forward by the sector when the first round of cuts were made. Jobs, income, regeneration, health, education – the positive impact is plain to see. This is further proof that the government doesn’t listen to or read anything the arts has to say.

Furthermore, it perpetuates the total ignorance that the government seems to have of the benefits which the arts confers outside the boost to tourism and the creation of ‘Brand UK’ or whatever. Evidence exists, for example, that the arts improve educational attainment, increase well-being and improve health. (more…)

Published in: on April 24, 2013 at 12:23  Comments (15)  


I’ve coined this phrase to describe the complete lack of awareness that so many people in power seem to have in relation to inappropriately sexual behaviour. It is sadly much-needed, as many recent cases in public and educational life have revealed.

The timeline usually goes like this:

  • An incident of inappropriately sexual behaviour occurs between a person in power or authority and a person of much junior status. The incident may be reported, or may even be widely known about, but it is covered up or brushed aside. (more…)
Published in: on February 26, 2013 at 16:40  Comments (3)  

On experts and teaching

That George Bernard Shaw quote – “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” – follows teachers around like a malevolent hobgoblin. Clearly the best teachers are those who can also ‘do’. My take on it is this: “Those who can, do – but they shouldn’t dabble in education unless they can also teach”.

This sentiment arises from the recent incursions into curriculum development by the historian Niall Ferguson, who perhaps does not realise that he is exposing himself on every front, through bad judgement, lack of knowledge of education and the kind of entrenched prejudice that has no place in good historical practice. (more…)

Published in: on February 19, 2013 at 12:55  Comments (5)