Once journalists had got over the fun of sandwiching Zoë Ball’s name into amusing headlines, they homed in on a well-worn angle. There were few stories about how warm, engaging and otherwise talented media presenter Zoë Ball had been appointed as the next presenter of BBC Radio 2’s weekday breakfast slot; instead the headlines were full of exclamations that she is to be the first female presenter of the show. You can hear the big reveal here, with an emotional Zoë raring to get started. If it niggles that the current Breakfast Show host, Chris Evans, preceded the interview with Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun, our sense of injustice increases with the discovery that she is to be paid less than Evans . Yet, this too makes for smug news, with Ball reported as being the BBC’s highest paid woman. Although Jane Martinson calls their inequality of pay an ‘outrage’, she acknowledges that we’re talking about vast amounts of money. It’s the enviable difference between £1.2m and £1.6m, or does this difference run deeper?
I have friends who are vocal about being feminists. I’ve seen some who trample men to advocate their womanly rights and most, like myself, believe that feminism is a matter of gender equality. They found it hard to understand why I stayed away from the university’s society, bewildered by my remark that I had as much intention of going to a meeting of feminists as I did to the nonexistent Alliance of People with Brown Hair. In a culture of true gender equality, there would be no need for a Feminist Society – or for the Trampled Men’s Brigade, come to that.
Although we have undoubtedly become a much more accepting society in the last century, we have a lot of work to do before we can call ourselves a fully equal and diverse nation. Interestingly, this is the second time that Zoë’s status as a woman is being used to make history; in 1997, she was the first female presenter of Radio 1’s breakfast show. Notice from her interviews how she is thrilled at the privilege of taking over from Chris Evans. Her acknowledgement of being the first female presenter of the show pales in comparison to her fountain of enthusiasm for the role. You’d think that journalists would have a more interesting angle to take than recycling the one they employed twenty years previously.
This way of thinking stems from my experiences of how society views me as a disabled person. Whether the public are questioning me, grabbing me or looking determinedly in the opposite direction, I am treated as blind, therefore different, and what your classical philosophers call ‘the other.’ We are quick to pick out the ‘other’ in people: an unusual hair colour, a rare name, an accent that isn’t regional. For me, being an ‘other’ means that I view things differently, use alternative means of achieving my goals, and I have a good laugh along the way. I can often be found chuckling to myself for reasons that aren’t always apparent. Finding a brailled card in the shops is so rare that you can imagine my amusement when I discovered that it read: ‘with festive fishes for the season.’ Or when I fight to keep a straight face as I ask my friend to accompany me on an urgent toothbrush buying mission because I got the toothpaste mixed up with the hair remover and have a bald brush to show for it! I wouldn’t have blamed you for giving me a few strange looks on that night out with my visually impaired friends. You would have watched us, after a few drinks, get up and meander across the bar, clearly in search of the loos. We crossed the room together, opened the door, piled in, and then realised that we had ceremoniously shut ourselves in the broom cupboard! How we laughed amongst the mop buckets!
The point is that it’s ok to be ‘the other’ if it means being a unique package of your faults, differences, and the quirks that make you memorable. Zoë has those too. Her fully functional toothbrush is only evidence that her mistakes come in other forms. I find it sad that in the era of great advancement, we are unable to see difference as one of the few things we have in common. Zoë isn’t Radio 2’s first female breakfast show presenter; she’s the person whose music taste sometimes matches mine, and whose manner of speaking makes us all feel included. I wish her every success in her new role and if one of her nights out ends in a broom cupboard, I’ll be laughing with her.
Thank you for those challenging thoughts on ‘the other’. We’ve all got a bit of ‘other’ in our makeup, and your writing makes me want to think more about why we feel the need to weigh (or price) the merits of one other over another…