How Tracey Spicer lost her filter: Having a kid changed everything

This is part of a Walkley Magazine series introducing you to the many wonderful journalists coming to Storyology, the Walkley Foundation’s Aug. 24–31 festival of media and storytelling in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.

Coming back from maternity leave, journalist and newsreader Tracey Spicer was demoted and then sacked by email. It wasn’t unusual — for decades, female newsreaders of a certain age have been resigning to “spend more time with their families”. But Spicer, a self-described “bogan from Brisbane”, wasn’t following that script.

She hired a lawyer.

The news that a woman was suing Network Ten for pregnancy discrimination made headlines around the country. Eventually, she settled the case, thinking she’d never work again. She was wrong; the communications graduate now has a career spanning television, radio, newspapers and online.

Learn more from Tracey Spicer and other veteran journalists and agenda-setters at our Storyology conference. Grab your tickets here.

Spicer also has her own business, Spicer Communications, and is the convener of Women in Media, a national mentoring and networking group backed by the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Recently, she wrote a no-holds-barred “femoir”, The Good Girl Stripped Bare. In it, Spicer deconstructs the structural barriers facing women in the workplace and encourages us all to “shake off the shackles of the good girl”.

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A photo taken from Tracey Spicer’s book, The Good Girl Stripped Bare, bearing the following caption: “When I win the award for ‘Best Reporting on the Victorian Floods while dressed as Harriet High Pants’. I can neither confirm nor deny that I have camel toe. Frankly I am much more concerned about the people who lost their homes. And the snakes Swimming around our feet…”

Born in the Brisbane suburb of Albion, the Sydney resident went to high school in Redcliffe and graduated from the Queensland Institute of Technology (now Queensland University of Technology).

On Aug. 24 Spicer will be telling a story at Storyology After Dark, a two-hour extravaganza at the Brisbane Powerhouse in which a magazine comes to life in front of a live audience.

She will also be appearing on an August 25 panel in Brisbane about how to achieve equality in newsrooms.

Last year, Women in Media commissioned a survey of around 1,000 journalists that found “even though we see women all over the media, they are congregated in the lower-paid, lower-profile, lower-power roles,” she said. Women made up 9 per cent of the journalists covering sport and 17 per cent in business. Two CEOs out of 30 in media organisations were female (Nova Entertainment Group’s Cathy O’Connor and the ABC’s Michelle Guthrie).

According to the survey, female journalists quoted female experts 32 per cent of the time, while male journalists referred to women experts only about half as often — or about 17.4 per cent of the time. Female experts were least prominent in coverage of sport (8 per cent), emergencies (12 per cent), and energy and resources (8 per cent), and most often quoted in coverage of social issues (50 per cent) and health and lifestyle (41 per cent).

The report also found that almost half of the women surveyed had experienced intimidation, abuse or sexual harassment in the workplace.

Earlier this year, Spicer talked about how working in commercial television can be brutal for women.

“Your self-esteem and confidence in your own abilities are chipped away by comments like, ‘You are too fat, you’re too old, stick your boobs out more, lose inches off your bum,’ ” she said.

“This has happened to all my friends in this industry, and I am not going to stand by and let it happen to me and see it happen to other women in society without taking a stand.”

Spicer said she was told “to stick my chest out more to show the audience my best ‘assets’.

“Bear in mind this is when we are reading the news, we are talking about the horrific things that are happening in Syria, we are told we must look more beautiful to tell the audience that.”

Being “let go” from her job at the age of 39, with a baby and a toddler, was the last straw.

In the book, she says:

I vow to fight. Not just for myself: for all women. If you, or anyone you love, has been harassed, marginalised, or discriminated against, this one’s for you.

I mean, you try to be a good girl. Do all the right things. “Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full, sir.” And this is your reward.

Well, f — — that. It’s time for this good girl to turn bad.