Sticks, stones and Samantha Brick

Who is Samantha Brick? That’s the question I recently had to ask a journalist calling from a British Sunday newspaper to seek my opinion on said Ms Brick. At that stage I’d been in South Africa for three weeks and was thus unaware that Ms Brick had written an article (in a different newspaper) that had gone viral, pulling in some three million readers along the way.

At the time, I was not one of them. The whole Samantha Brick debate had totally passed me by. It had to be explained to me that Ms Brick had written a piece in which she stated that she had constantly been held back in her career by other women who were jealous of her beauty. Really? I said. Yes, said the journalist. Then she asked me if my own beauty had ever interfered with my career.

At this point I nearly dropped the phone, I was laughing so much. When I recovered my composure, I suggested that she Google-imaged me, at which point she would realise that my “beauty” is unlikely ever to have been a hindrance, or, sadly, even an asset. I suspect the only person who has ever thought me beautiful is me, and even then only after a glass or two of alcohol.

Having just written a book about careers for women, I am often asked to comment on controversies such as this. I did eventually read the article, and the follow-up ones, and even the interview with Ms Brick’s husband, a Frenchman with a rather fetching moustache. My response to this ostensibly superficial piece is that I remain unconvinced that any woman can blame her better looks if she feels that colleagues are failing to support her career.

But there is one part of the debate about Ms Brick’s rather redundant article on which it is worth dwelling. It is that a woman’s progress, from school to running a big business, will, of course, be helped if she secures the support of other women. This is something I try to be part of whenever I can. This week I was asked to review, pre-publication, a book by a woman I have hardly met. Like mine, it is aimed at the working woman. Because I am unlikely ever to forget those women who didn’t even bother to reply when I asked them to do the same for me, I said yes.

There is no escaping the fact that there are plenty of women who, for whatever reason, do not like to support others of their sex. I am sure most of us can name at least one “rope ladder” woman – someone who gets to a senior position and then promptly hauls up the ladder behind her.

I was surprised that the Brick piece was commissioned at all, because it is self-evident that this particular article would have some fall-out, with personal ramifications for the author. I am not sure how supportive that was.

As well as the printed ridicule that followed, the comments that bounced around the internet were vitriolic. Goodness knows I have enough nasty things said about me on the internet (mainly about my weight, my decision to work instead of raising my family full-time and my participation in field sports) and I find that hurtful enough. Not to mention how those kinds of comments affect my children. But hey, I’m a columnist, and we should expect to cause debate. However, I am not sure I would be able to withstand the assault to which Ms Brick has been subjected without taking myself off to a nunnery and throwing away all access to WiFi.

I do wonder if some of the women who have posted comments about Ms Brick thought about what they said before they did so. Most of the comments have been around her “beauty”, or perceived lack of it. Madeleine Albright once said that there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women. Hear, hear. We should all support each other; even people who write rather strange articles, such as Samantha Brick.

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