Practical Bravery: ELEANOR MILLS



The time for the maturing woman is long overdue after centuries of dismissal by society and the labour market. And as the 21st century seems to be a curious time for reappraising what we mean by gender, by generation, by age and by social capital – it is also a time when we no longer trust or believe in grand media narratives about how we are supposed to live our lives.

Our guest’s first job after university was working on a trade magazine about chemical storage, rising through the male-dominated newspaper industry to great acclaim at The Observer, The Telegraph, The Times and The Sunday Times where she was the magazine editor and the paper’s editorial director.

As well as being prolific campaigner on the representation and recognition of women in journalism, this episode’s guest guest founded Noon in 2021 – a community for older women and Queenagers – the demographic that the media forgot.

In this episode we talk to Eleanor Mills.

Key quotes:

“Everything that I’m trying to do now is to tell a different story about the later stages of women’s lives.”

“In the 2019 census, women over forty started earning more than women under forty, for the first time ever.”

“Although the menopause conversation is important and we’ve had a lot of that, the whole point of feminism for me is that women are not defined by their biology, so I don’t want to be put in a ‘hot flush box’ now I’m fifty-two.”

“I feel this amazing freedom of being able to say what I like to my people without having to get permission from anybody else. Honestly that feels like a miracle, every time I do it.”

“You get to a point when you’re forty-five, fifty, and you’re like, I’m just not prepared to suck up to this more senior guy, to get my ideas around him, when actually I’ve been doing this for twenty-five years, I’m really good at my job, I know what I’m doing, I can’t be bothered to do the ‘geisha’ thing anymore.”

“At the top of those organisations the culture hasn’t shifted enough for it to be a particularly nice place to be a senior woman. And women are leaving in droves: for every woman who’s made a director, two leave. Sheryl Sandberg has dubbed it ‘the great breakup’.”

“Even though we’ve now got a lot of women on boards, the number of women actually pulling levers is a lot less than the 40% that is a headline figure — the reality is 16%.”

“I wrote a column for 10 years at the Sunday Times, but now rather than having to do that through a bundle, which is what a newspaper is, but now you can choose your own bundle. That’s what social media has done. You don’t need dead trees and huge lorries to get it in every newsagent, everyone can find you through Substack and Twitter.”

“None of them are interested in reflecting an older female demographic. It would be a sea of grey-haired blokes and then they’d bung in one picture of a model on the Top Shop catwalk to, as they say, brighten up the page.”

“Most of the female columnists that you’ll read will be attacking other women, because that’s what the newspapers want them to do.”

“It’s increasingly clickbait. If you know anything about you a story that you read about it one of the papers, you can see how it’s being spun. Often there’s absolutely nothing in it and it’s all about spinning the line the newspaper is trying to push. Increasingly, even if you’re a journalist, the best way to get your news is to put a news filter on Google or Twitter and then you’ll pick up all the stuff that’s interesting.”

“Real journalism is the stuff that someone, somewhere doesn’t want you to know, which takes a lot of skill to extract.”

“What I like about Netflix doing Meghan and Harry is, no newspaper would’ve ever run that story from Harry about how the newspapers had treated him, because there was a kind of absolute self-censorship about you never talked about how the media worked. If anyone wrote that into an article, you’d know to take it out, it would never make it into the paper.”

“I hope that we’ll change the story we tell about how we value older women. That there will be a whole new story and sensibility around older women, and we’ll embrace all that we are and can become, at this point.”

This episode was recorded in May 2023

Interviewer: Richard Freeman for always possible

Editor: CJ Thorpe-Tracey for Lo Fi Arts


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