Image via Instagram.
Tracey Spicer is one of Australia’s most esteemed broadcast journalists. She took a former employer to court for discriminating against her after giving birth, her TEDx talk “The Lady Stripped Bare” – about her problem with society valuing women for their looks – went viral. And she’s also not afraid to talk about her sex life, revealing on ABC’s Confession Booth that as a teenager she accidentally made a guy’s penis bleed.
The Glow caught up with the brilliant Tracey when she was a special guest at Trilogy’s Age-Proof launch to talk sex advice, feminism and the comments from a boss that made the dye her hair.
Have you ever experimented with another hair colour other than blonde?
“Yes, I had this boss in regional television and I said to him after working there for a year, ‘Do you think I will make it in the big city as a journo?’ And he said, ‘Trace I’ll tell it to you straight ‘cos you’re a good bird, you’ll never make it’. I asked why and he said, ‘Because you’re a blonde and people think blondes are stupid’.
It’s even gobsmacking to tell you that story now, it still makes me take a sharp intake of breath you know? So I dyed my hair red to be taken more seriously, which is ridiculous. How does dying my hair make me appear more intelligent? But these are the kind of things women are forced to do to make it in whatever particular workplace they’re in, which is sad. (Post continues after gallery.)
It’s so sad. When you got there and were taken seriously (which I’m sure wasn’t because you had red hair) was dying it back to blonde kind of liberating?
“Yes, yes and yes. It’s nice to be a blonde again and also the fact that I’m so grey now you know I’m about 50 per cent grey and when I’m 100 per cent grey I’m going to stop dying it so it’s that wonderful trajectory of aging.”
You talk about sex and your own sexual experiences quite publicly, what advice are you going to give to your kids about sex?
“This is an extremely controversial thing to say, but as a feminist I think we should be giving the same messages about sex to our daughters as we give to our sons. I’m extremely frustrated by the continuing conversation around, ‘oh fathers with daughters needing to have a shotgun on the porch, because my daughter needs to be a virgin and I need to protect her purity’. It’s bullshit.
“We’ve given them the same sex talk on how it works but when they’re older I’m going to say to my daughter and son that they need to enjoy their sexual experiences. But you be empowered within that, whether you’re a man or a woman. You do it in a respectful way with someone who you are sexually attracted to, you know you enjoy that experience and you have proper protection if you don’t want to create life out of this. But it’s going to be the same message to boys and to girls and then it’s an equal power relationship.”
Is there anything you went through growing up that you don’t want your daughter Grace to have to go through?
“Oh, there’s so many things. Like I suppose the stuff that all of us go through as young women. I remember being groped an awful lot and these days we know it’s sexual harassment. There was an awful lot of victim blaming that went on and I hope that Grace and young women these days don’t have to put up with being sexually harassed as much as I did.”
Was that in general life or in the workplace?
“In general and in the workplace. I mean I remember the CEO of a major television network grabbing me on the bum at a Christmas party. And I turned around to slap him across the face and then I realised it was the CEO and I thought, ‘I can’t slap him across the face’, and I just walked away. Again, I wish I wasn’t constrained by being the ‘good girl’ and I hope that my daughter isn’t constrained by being the good girl either”.
What do you think you would say to that CEO now?
“There are very diplomatic ways of approaching things in the workplace but it’s not acceptable for a CEO to grope and molest a younger woman with less power in the workplace. It’s simply not acceptable, so I would definitely tell him where to go.”
You mentioned sometimes we’re constrained by being the “good girl”, can you tell me a bit about how “good girl syndrome”, as you put it, has affected you?
“Yeah I think a lot of women suffer from good girl syndrome, because of the way we’ve been brought up. I mean you look at the way that boys are spoken to these days, they’re always praised for being physical at school and robust whereas girls are praised for being quiet and sitting there nicely and being polite. It’s not as bad now as it was previously, I grew up in a wonderful family but I’m the eldest daughter and especially eldest daughters want to be the good girl for their parents and it’s very hard to break out of that in the workplace, because you’ve got other authority figures who replace your parents, and they’re your bosses and you want to please them and it’s OK to please them but only within what is required of your job.”
So you are such a feminist are you also raising your son to be a feminist?
“I’ve been really open about talking about feminism and women's rights around both my children but I have focused it on my daughter a lot. (Post continues after video.)
“Well interestingly about three years ago I was driving along with my son listening to talkback radio and he said, ‘Mum, what that man is saying is sexist,’ and I just went, ‘what?’ Because he was six and a half at this stage or seven, and it’s interesting that I’ve been giving them both the same messages, probably focussing more on my daughter, but he is the one that has been taking the messages to heart even more than Grace has. He’s the living form of the hashtag ‘everyday sexism’; if he hears it or sees it, he calls it out.
So when you came out with your now viral Ted Talk, The Lady Stripped Bare, there was a positive response from so many women, was there any backlash at all?
“It was about 90 to 95 per cent positive. There were some people who said, ‘look, I love makeup, I love getting my hair done, it makes me feel better about myself and I don’t want to give that up’. I respect that. I’m not saying, ‘do everything that I say’, what I’m saying is to question the reason why you do it, and if it makes you happy, that’s fine but question the cost and the time it takes.
The other small negative response and it’s really given me pause for thought came from a young woman in India, she said, ‘I really respect what you’re doing, but in India we feel so disempowered the only empowerment I get is to do my hair up in the beautiful plaits. To wear the bindi, to make my makeup beautiful - it is the only way I have control over something small in my life’. It gave me pause for thought.”
So you really cut back on beauty products in recent years, but is there anything you absolutely can’t live without?
“Let me think, I have cut back so much, what is it that I can’t live without? Do you know what, even though I cut back on my beauty products, I still like a really good serum or oil, only because as we do get older, our skin does get drier and it does make me feel much more moist and comfortable on my face having the serum or oil.”
How do your kids react to you on TV?
“My kids never saw me on TV until about three years ago because we don’t have pay television right, and since they’ve been alive, I’ve predominantly been on Sky News. So they were at friend’s place being babysat three years ago and they saw that I was reading a bulletin and I think and they said, ‘Mum we saw you on television for the first time today’. They said: ‘Mum you look really weird on television, you look really weird.’ They are used to seeing mum in the tracksuit, doing the stuff around the house, they weren’t used to seeing me dolled up like some kind of weird character on the television.”
You lost your beautiful mother to pancreatic cancer, how has it changed the way you live?
“Ever since Mum was diagnosed and passed away, which was 16 years ago, I have always been pretty fit, pretty healthy, but I became very particular about looking after my health because there’s a genetic element to pancreatic cancer but there’s also a lifestyle element, like with a lot of cancers. I’m very particular about eating as much whole food as possible. I never do diets, I don’t believe in dieting, but I will eat food that is as close to the source as is humanly possible. I don’t sort of beat myself up about it if I have a day where I eat something not so healthy, I just try to seek out as much organic and wholefood as possible. I try to reduce my drinking, I don’t smoke, I avoid getting sunburnt.”