Sky News – 100 Women

Kaitlin Shaw looks back on Sky News' 100 Women debate and how the opportunity re-ignited her long-held passions.

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“We would love you to be part of the show – how does that sound?” On 5 March 2018, I received a phone call that would change my life and career-goals forever.

As a young woman, my political and legal right to vote has become increasingly important to me as I have matured. With movements such as #MeToo and various political developments within Britain (e.g. Brexit, Theresa May becoming Prime Minister), the ability to voice my opinion and have a real impact on daily life has a new and all-too-real significance for my ability to push for change. With seemingly daily scandals about sexism in the workplace, persistent pay-gap differences between male and female workers (e.g. Hollywood, famous news networks) and new stories about sexual abuse/violence against women being published frequently, I (alongside many other women) feel it is my duty to initiate positive change whenever and wherever I can.

So, with this goal sitting in the foreground of my brain, I turned my attention to a brilliant opportunity. Found and encouraged by my family, I found myself sitting in the library applying for a live television debate concerning the topic of modern feminism. Taking under 10 minutes to apply and assuming that – out of thousands of applications – I couldn’t possibly be chosen, I pressed “submit” and assumed I would end up watching Sky News’ “100 Women” from the comfort of my bed as opposed to being on the show.

Weeks passed, and I had heard nothing from the Sky News Production team. Assuming that I had not obtained a place as one of the 100 women required for the show, I made a note of the debate in my iPhone calendar and promised myself an hour out of studies to watch it on 7 March. However, two and a half days before the show was due to air, I received a phone call that I will forever hold responsible for fully igniting the passions I now have to work within broadcast journalism/television, but also to push for equality for all.

“We would love you to be part of the show – how does that sound?” – this was the starting point for one of the most hectic days of my life. Frantically emailing tutors to figure out whether I could get time off, it was determined that I had one day to travel from St Andrews to London and back. Living in Ascot during the holidays, I know London well and was excited at the prospect of travelling to Osterly to the Sky studios. After finishing lecture notes, packing and booking a last minute flight, my closest friend drove me (at a most ungodly time) to the airport on 7 March, and by 1 pm I had already done five hours of travelling across four different forms of transport.

Arriving at Osterly station and getting the Sky shuttle bus to the studios filled me with a confusing mixture of nerves, excitement, hope and feistiness; despite having never been on live television before, I was determined to fight the corner for women and engage with a discussion as important as this. Picking up a wristband and walking through to the main waiting room, the sheer variety of the 100 women present blew me away – from full-time workers to stay at home mothers to students to passionate campaigners, the buzz about the room was undeniably electric. Waiting for two hours before the show began, I was able to talk to multiple women about their views and future goals for equality. Despite some having smaller-time goals (such as getting husbands to understand that taking time off work to look after a baby is not “un-manly”) and others having larger (such as eliminating unequal pay and sexism in personal workplaces through calling out unfair bosses), one thing was very clear: we all wanted to see women get not just a foot in the door, but to be able to open the door fully and experience life as equals to men.

Kay Burley, the presenter for the show, came in half an hour before live-time and gave us a pep talk. A small but bouncy woman with one of the most fantastically fiery personalities I’ve ever encountered, she stood on a chair to encourage us to speak our minds, speak up and enjoy ourselves. With a round of cheers from the group and the buzz of nervous-excitement, we were lead into the studio in groups and assigned to a seat. Sitting a few rows from the front under hot studio lights, the bustle of workers and cameras whizzing around me ignited an excitement for television I had never fully experienced before. With lights dimming slightly and one final pep-talk about the important nature of the show, Kay Burley adjusted her question cards one final time and began.

Over the next hour, a variety of questions and topics were fired across the studio. Addressing a panel of influential women (ranging from a fire-fighter to a politician), Kay approached key ideas of equality within the workplace, the sexist naming of roles or responsibilities, sexism within Parliament/displayed by political figures, men and whether they are willing to change or improve on sexist behaviour and the experience of transgender women with sexism. With a varied panel full of brilliant women (for me, particularly Michelle Collins) and some fantastic keynote speakers (e.g. Chelsey Jay) from all walks of life, it was a debate that stirred up some interesting lines of thought; with questions such as “Do you consider yourself a feminist” directed to the audience, there were certainly some (albeit small) points of tension during the show. While all “100 Women” may not have agreed on sexism in modern Britain, this variety was essentially helpful – carried by Burley, it kept the debate flowing in ever-changing directions and made for an exciting show.

Although I would have loved some more hard-hitting issues to have been deeply discussed (such as violence/sexual assault against women, the debate surrounding eating disorders within me and women and how society reacts to it, or perhaps the “lad culture/frat boy” mentality present at universities, schools and workplaces across the UK), I immediately knew the show stood for something incredibly important. Having travelled from different areas and each having different occupations or professions, “100 Women” stood proud as a conglomeration of “women” as realistically present in society – not a perfect, pre-destined crowd selected on educational basis; we made up a raw and accurate presentation of women in Britain today.

As I sat on the bus, then the tube, then the plane and then in the car on the way home, I thought about the significance of the day and what it stood for both personally and generally. Personally, that fantastic burning need within me to both push for change within attitudes to woman and follow a career within a sector I find huge excitement in had not died out – “100 Women” had, in a variety of ways, truly shown to me what I want to do when I graduate and which topics I find exciting to discuss. Generally, in celebration of International Women’s Day and the 100th anniversary of women partially achieving the vote, the show stood for something much larger – a group of women discussing the past efforts of women and recognising how their actions resulted in aspects of our freedom today. Although sexism is still alive and well – whether in the workplace, religion or academic institutions – we are definitely progressing and reaching the goals we, as females, need and deserve. Although I might still get harassed for wearing a shorter dress on a night out or be spoken to in a condescending manner when revealing I am a woman at university with big life ambitions, “100 Women” has given me hope. We will get there, to the promised land of equality, and we are making every effort in our power to do so.

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