“There goes my hero…” Interview with Jackie Ashley

A vintage Pamflet interview with one of my personal icons, Jackie Ashley, to celebrate International Women’s Day…

You know how sometimes you feel like you wouldn’t actually want to meet your heroes, just in case they turn out to be knobs and totally shatter your illusions? Well I’ve had my faith restored in human – and celebrity – nature recently which has given me hope that this doesn’t always happen. My first hero-meeting encounter was with Blur’s Alex James – as recounted in The Adventures of Miss P, and this is my second – an email interview with the best journalist in the business who just so happens to be a woman – my hero, Jackie Ashley. I think you will agree when you read it that this is a prime example of heroes more than living up to your hopes for them…

Do you consider yourself to be a feminist? (and if not, why do you think ‘feminist’ is such a problematic term for women?)
Yes, I have always considered myself to be a feminist, though I no longer wear the large grandad shirts and blue dungarees that I used to live in as a student.

Did you have any/many strong female role models/mentors who encouraged you in your chosen profession?

My two mentors are Mrs Huggett (Katherine Huggett), a brilliant English teacher at Rosebery school, who inspired me with a love of literature and language; and Harriet Harman MP who encouraged me to keep working after the birth of my children, and urged me to fight for part-time work.

Are you accepted by male colleagues as a fellow journalist, or seen as different?
There are now so many female journalists that I don’t think we are seen as ‘different’. But I am still aware that there’s a lot of male bonding at, for example, football matches or in the pub, which I can’t be part of.

Do you actively mentor younger women in the same career?
I always try to encourage younger female journalists. Even today I find young men tend to have a natural self-confidence about their ability to do a job which women lack, so it’s important to make young women feel that they can achieve whatever they want.

What do you see as the key issues affecting women today – are they the same as the issues affecting all people (pensions, health etc) or different?
I think the key issue for women today which doesn’t affect men so much is work-life balance.  I don’t know many women who claim they have got the balance absolutely right between looking after their children and keeping in the swing of things at work. With so many marriage breakdowns, pensions are a huge issue for women.  Too many women rely on their husband’s pension, only to find they are left in poverty if the marriage fails. And finally, caring tends be a duty that falls to women in the majority of cases, so that often a woman will move seamlessly from looking after children to caring for elderly relatives.

Who/what inspires you – a favourite book, song, poem etc.
If I had to choose a favourite book it would probably be ‘Pride and Prejudice'; my favourite play is ‘King Lear’ and my favourite piece of music is Handel’s ‘Messiah’.

Work/life balance – we should be able to have it all, shouldn’t we?!!
We should be able to have it all, but that day will only come when men share ‘it all’ and I’m not sure that will ever happen.  Despite the best of intentions and strong feminist theories, experience suggests that men rarely shoulder an equal burden when it comes to looking after family and home.

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