WOMEN ON TOP: SUCCESS AT LAST? ; A Century Ago, a Heavyweight Career Was an Option Open Only to Men. Now Women Walk the Corridors of Power to the Manner Born - as This Portfolio of 100 Pictures of Successful British Women, Taken over a Two- Year Period by the Photographer Emma Boam, Demonstrates. but, Wonders Deborah Orr, Have We Come as Far as We like to Think We Have?
Orr, Deborah, The Independent (London, England)
Here they are. Working women. A snapshot of success - not only of their own success, but of the success of Western womankind. These are pictures of a special kind of working woman. These are pictures of "career women" - to use a term that even now can be employed pejoratively if the user so wishes - who have reached the very top of their chosen professions.
Many of them have at least one "first" under their belts: first woman astronaut, brigadier, climber of Everest, Speaker, Prime Minister, and so on. That is part of the territory. The new territory that they have helped to map as women break through the glass ceiling. Their power-wielding presence illustrates women's progress in the world of work. For some, the triumph of women in the workplace is the single most satisfying reward of the sexual revolution. For others, it remains a terrible mistake, a mistake which even now is laying waste to our social fabric. But even these diametrically opposed views offer one point of agreement: this seachange is significant, perhaps more significant than any or all other consequences of the "genderquake".
Can 100 black-and-white portraits of high-flying women - chosen on the grounds of visible success but filtered by availability and willingness to be photographed - really be so representative? And, in so far as they can, what do they say to us? Is this a celebration of the progress we made in the last century of the second millennium? If it is, what kind of progress do these photographs represent? Their very existence is testament to the fact that women as successful as these are still, en masse, a novelty; and the implication is that such successes are remarkable, not yet entrenched enough to be unassailable. But break down the mass a little, and patterns emerge.
Some things are not quite what they seem. It is diffi- cult to believe that some of these women, or women like them, might not have achieved pre-eminence had they been born 100 years before they were. There were Judi Denches back then, and Joan Collinses and Kathy Burkes (though perhaps not quite so many). Nearly half of the women pictured on these pages work in the arts and the media, professions that have for centuries found a place for females.
Another handful of the 100 work in fashion or retailing, and, again, this is work that has traditionally relied heavily on women. These women now have status and control - and sometimes wealth - which would probably have been denied to nearly all of them in the past. But the fact remains that the majority of them have found their success in industries that have placed a premium on the particular skills of women since before the dawn of first-wave, let alone third-wave, feminism.
The gender divide between the arts and the sciences has been exhaustively noted already. But it is still astonishing to see, there before you in contrasty, grainy black- and-white, that while five women represent the progress of women in healthcare since the days of Florence Nightingale - again, women have never been entirely denied a role in medicine - there is not a single portrait of a significant female scientist. How much has anything changed since the day in 1953 when a couple of flashy and confident chaps hijacked the painstaking work of a female colleague and found fame as an earth-shattering double- act, Watson and Crick, the darlings of deoxyribonucleic acid (or, more snappily, DNA)?
In the case of scientific research, the answer has to be: not a great deal. There are various factors in this profession that may militate against women, and none of them is to do with the innate intellectual abilities of men. Instead, the scarcity of high-flying women in science may be to do with the sheer difficulty of organising a life round the sacrifices that work of this nature demands.
This kind of work often involves chasing scarce funding around the world, moving from one country to another to access investment and equipment. …