Welcome to this week’s Future Female, Emma Pritchard Jones, whom I’m honoured to feature after watching her recent TEDx talk “The Toxic Female Gaze”, where she discusses, “how obsessed the media is with women, sadly it’s often not their talents which is at the centre of attention, but their bodies and age”.
Emma is a BBC News journalist who specialises in arts and entertainment. Her work has appeared across the BBC, the Associated Press, Getty/WireImage and The Independent. Since 2001 she has reported from every major entertainment event in the global calendar, from the Oscars to the Cannes Film Festival, and interviewees have included every A-list filmmaker.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I’m a journalist, I started working at the BBC very soon after I graduated. I trained in the newsroom as a reporter, realised I loved arts and culture, and started specialising in that. I still work with the BBC but as a freelancer, it enables me to work for many other clients now too.
Why did you start Electra Media and what is your mission?
I started seeing the discrepancy and the appallingly low figures for women filmmakers and writers in Britain around 2009/10. This was backed up by figures from Hollywood, but at the time it was only Geena Davis who was publicly exploring the issue. At the same time, I was and am frustrated by the stupid questions we ask famous women, and how journalists focus on age, bodies and relationships. Electra’s mission is twofold – to not only provide an interview platform for women in the film industry, but when I interview women, I don’t want to hear about their personal lives unless it directly affects the project we’re discussing. I want to hear about their beliefs and opinions and their work. Otherwise another generation of women will unconsciously absorb the message that what you look like and how old you are is all that matters in life.
What does Future Female mean to you?
To me it means there’s a change coming. Women are no longer prepared to put up with the crap we’ve absorbed, furthermore it’s my belief we want to support and inspire each other into being better. It means there’s a generation of female leaders being created in so many fields. I am so excited !
What is your creative process – is there a particular way you prepare for an interview?
I do my research but I see interviews as a chat – one with a point to it, where I do most of the listening. I’m doing my best to listen and understand what their project has been like, and to understand their beliefs and opinions. In essence, I’m doing my best to understand that person and where they’re coming from at that moment in time (I interview men as well as women, by the way!) and to provide questions and answers that will interest an audience. So I’m afraid I never prepare questions anymore apart from in my head. I don’t recommend this if you’re just starting out, it’s just experience and I say that without any pretension.
What do you love about being your own boss and what are the challenges?
I love the freedom and the potential to live one’s life on one’s own terms. I’d have never done most of the things in my career if I’d stayed corporately employed, although I am tremendously grateful to the BBC and the rigorous training it’s given me, and continues to give me. It’s not to say I wouldn’t work for an organisation again, but it would have to be an offer I couldn’t refuse. The downsides are having to be very organised, a planner, a pitcher of ideas, and good with money. You have to see far into the distance, anticipate your earning capability for different months of the year, and adjust accordingly. You also have to very much like people in journalism, it’s rare to get work without personal contacts.
How did the TEDx talk come about and what do you hope to achieve with it?
A friend asked to put me forward to the organisers, and I am forever grateful. I feel that we can talk about gender equality, but it will be lip service until there’s a root change in the media’s attitude towards women and what makes a woman successful – who she is, not what she looks like. You can’t escape the media, particularly social media, and it’s a poison infecting girls. Generally speaking, women’s confidence is affected by this expectation of having to be physically perfect, hold down a successful relationship, be a fantastic mother and hold down a career, and not get old. That’s even before we get down to actually thinking – what do I want to do with my life? So I’d love a lot of women and men to see my talk. It’s not anti-men in any way – it’s women feeding off the media’s portrayal of female success, and it’s up to us to make a change. Ted x Talk
There’s a shift in how women work, was it a natural progression to set up Electra Media?
I think more women want to run their own lives on their terms, and Electra is part of that. It’s also because the thing I most want to see change in the world is a woman – wherever she is from – being able to fulfil her purpose in life. I think I am just trying to live out my own purpose in creating this platform, and doing the TEDx talk.
What is your view of the evolution of women in film?
It’s great that the media’s waking up to the conversation. I see more films by female directors getting included at film festivals, and that’s where it all starts. My one concern is that it mustn’t be superficial lip service to statistics – and the natural default of the studios is to provide what one psychologist once called “fighting female fuck toys” so boys will go and see the film too. Wonder Woman avoided that, but my concern is we won’t necessarily see three dimensional female characters coming out of the big studios. Too often a “strong woman” is defined as someone who can kick the crap out of a man. Also, I hate the fact some journalists now think an ok question to ask actors is “what was it like to work with a woman director?” I find that offensive. And poor journalism.
If there was one thing you could change in your life as a woman what would it be?
Only that I feel there’s something in being female – generally speaking now – that seeks to keep the peace. Being a peacemaker is a wonderful thing, but when it’s at the expense of your own wellbeing isn’t so great. Sometimes there are things that need to be said and fought for, and when I was a very young woman I strove to please others to my own detriment. It was ingrained in me.
What are the key messages on gender equality to pass on?
My attitude is just to do it. Electra doesn’t have a whinge section, and I’m not going to ask anyone “what’s it like being a female in the industry” because I’m not there to complain about the current system, I’m there to change it. Electra was set up because I think women need to know about other women of inspiration, without hearing about their skincare regime or 50 being the new 30. I think that once we’ve sorted out the statistics, the conversation will move to these issues, of what we’re focusing on in women’s lives. I would also like women in the UK/developed world to really start caring about other women in the world who cannot pursue their dreams, even if it’s something as simple as going to school. I’d love there to be a real sense of sisterhood amongst women that doesn’t polarise or negate men in any way. Some of the conversation is getting toxic, and I don’t like it.
What are you reading at the moment?
At this very moment I am reading Elizabeth: Renaissance Prince by Lisa Hilton. I’m writing my first novel and it’s set in the Renaissance period.
How would you describe your style?
If you mean in the way I dress – simple, hopefully chic, I’m a massive Francophile.
A huge thanks to Emma, for taking part in our Future Female series, and inspiring us by being a Future Female, daring to speak up with her TEDx talk and forming Electra Media, which is dedicated to changing the narrative, giving a platform to women working within the film industry all over the world. And by focusing on their talent, their careers, and their opinions. Reporting on projects from the film industry which truly tell stories that matter, stories involving men as well as women. Take a look at Emma’s work at www. electramedia.co