The elegant put down

The Elegant Put Down

Reporters ask stupid questions all the time. Sometimes they have to ask stupid questions because either their boss has told them to and sometimes it’s because they feel it is the question that their readership or viewership will be asking. Stupid or offensive questions are a challenge to the interviewee: an overreaction loses public sympathy and under reaction maybe letting down others in the same group.

Racist questions have perhaps gone from journalism in most countries (but not from a conversation as we saw last week as details emerged of how 83-year-old Lady Susan Hussey repeatedly asked charity boss Ngozi Fulani where she was really from). But sexist questions are still rife: What’s it like being a woman in a man’s world? How did you cope with sexism on the way up?  What’s it like being a woman boss with a majority of male colleagues?

As a leader, you may not want to show your exasperation or frustration at such questions, but you might also want to be clear that they are not acceptable.

New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern had just such a situation last week. She was standing next to Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Norway. The image was striking: women of a similar age, both young to be prime ministers, the same long dark hair, etc. prompting a sexist question by a reporter.

‘Are you meeting because you are a similar age and have other things in common?’

While Marin’s face looked rather frozen (silently fuming perhaps) Ardern adopted a comically puzzled look and then, without being patronising or rude, pointed out no one would have asked Barrack Obama and former New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key if they were meeting because they were the same age.

I have written before about how Ardern is, in my view, one of the best media performers on the world stage. Read one blog from several years ago here and a more recent comment here. Ardern represents a new, more open, generation of leaders who are comfortable showing emotion and who connect to their electorate less formerly than previous generations.  Ardern continues to appear sure-footed as well as approachable. This incident was just another example of her skill.

Dealing with un-PC questions without being pompous or patronising is perhaps something many of us should study.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *