More promotional material has crossed my desk for another Australian garden show and yet again I see with disappointment an almost exclusively all-male lineup of gardening ‘stars’ being promoted as the headline presenters for the show. I mean no disrespect to any of these extremely knowledgeable and very nice men, but is there really such a paucity of female gardening talent in this country that of the nine “key industry figures” only two are women, and they’re both known as foodies rather than gardeners?
I’m reminded of a recent ‘Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians’ public panel that discussed the topic of women in politics. Each of our main political parties (Liberal, Labor, Greens and the Nationals) had a representative on the panel of five. All of the five were men. I wish I could see it as irony rather than a reason to despair.
When you go to a public event which is largely about gardening, the majority of the crowd will be women. When I studied at TAFE 20 years ago, more women graduated with diplomas in landscape design than men. I know that even among GardenDrum readers there are more women than men. At the Australian Garden Show Sydney last year, when the Horticultural Media Association of which I am a member fielded its own presenters on its own stage (ie not selected by an event company), there were more women than men, and very popular and successful they were too. This is not predominantly a ‘male’ industry. So why is my gender so under-represented when it comes to high-profile presenters on gardening TV, and as headline drawcards at public gardening events?
‘Gardening Australia’ TV has only two women out of nine regular presenters and has never had a female host. Better Homes and Gardens TV has two gardening presenters, both men. Of course, the BBC’s ‘Gardeners World’ is no better, with eight out of its eight hosts since 1968 all men, although its ‘assistant’ presenters run closer to 50-50. In Australian gardening radio, the proportion is also much better, with about 50% female presenters. Maybe success is dependent on women being heard, but not seen…
For many years, TV show executives were convinced that we wouldn’t take a female newsreader seriously, but now we have many talented and highly respected women reading our news, and engaging in fierce head-to-head combat with our wily politicians on our current affairs shows. But it seems that there’s a horticultural ‘grass ceiling‘ that female horticulturists and garden designers will have to break through before they will be accepted as having sufficient public standing, or popularity, or ticket-selling power to be invited to be a headline act at a gardening show, or heavens forbid, host a TV gardening program.
I think that part of this gender disparity lies in the view that if a woman makes something well with her hands, it’s ‘craft’, but if a man makes the same thing well with his, then it’s ‘art’.
Our gardening history holds many female role models who were seen as the gardening voices and ‘stars’ of their era – Edna Walling, Olive Mellor, Millie Gibson, Jocelyn Brown, Betty Maloney and Jean Walker, Kitty Henry, and Jean Galbraith.
And in 21st century Australia we can find just as many – landscape designers/architects like Fiona Brockhoff, Janine Mendell, Joanne Green, Sue Barnsley, Lisa Ellis and Kate Cullity; prominent women in the nursery industry like Amanda McKinnon, Sonja Cameron, Teena Crawford and Di Larkman; garden historians such as Anne Vale, Katie Holmes, Colleen Morris; garden travel experts like Trisha Dixon and Judy Vanrenen; and gardeners and gardening media women like Sophie Thompson, Helen Young, Linda Ross, Melissa King, Anne Latreille, Robin Powell, Annette McFarlane, Pam Vardy, Gwen Elliot, Marianne Cannon, Kim Woods Rabbidge, Judy Horton, Jennifer Stackhouse, Claire Bickle, Jane Edmanson, Sabrina Hahn, Deryn Thorpe, Denise Gadd, Marion Blackwell, and Holly Kerr Forsyth. And loads more. There’s a list of over 30 to choose from, and each of them highly capable presenters, and able to bring an audience with her. But maybe they were all busy….
This isn’t any sour grapes on my part about ‘not being invited to the ball’. I don’t promote myself as a public presenter; I am a creative and, primarily, an (opinionated) wordsmith. And this new garden show is only marginally worse in its selection of women gardening stars than most of the other garden shows we’ve had over recent years, where, by my count, women average just under 15% of the ‘centre stage’ or ‘headline act’ positions.
But it’s a loss to all gardeners, just like too few female CEOs diminish our economy and a dearth of powerful female politicians impoverish our governments. We need to hear women gardener’s voices, learn from their knowledge, hear about their ideas and opinions, and see their leadership. I want to enjoy their different sense of humour, and perspectives on everything from garden design to choosing a potting mix. And I want our next generation of gardeners to see that women can be garden stars too.
I think there is a perception, mostly among younger women, that there’s no need for feminism in the 21st century; that all the battles have been fought and won and that the free market will rectify any lingering inequalities. Maybe in some parts of the workplace things are better, where systemic discrimination was tackled by strong equal employment policies and laws during the 1980s. But, given the fine pool of women ready, willing and able to perform at this ‘headline’ level, it’s obvious that systemic discrimination is still alive and well in the horticultural media.