She is an advocate of the 5/2 anger diet: five days spent being angry and two days keeping a lid on things. Frostrup admits that the two off days are a struggle, but she’s far from apologetic. In her view, women apologise far too much.
Mariella Frostrup has written for national newspapers, fronted Panorama and made a cameo appearance on Absolutely Fabulous, but she is perhaps best known for her gravel-voiced presenting on BBC radio.
Fittingly, as guest speaker at October’s Women’s Executive Finance Forum annual lunch on 10 October, she urged more women in the mortgage industry to find their own voices and speak up. Being shouted down, she said, is far more familiar to women than speaking up, and that needs to change.
Frostrup observed that women are too quick to understate their achievements or apologise for their opinions and the way they are expressed, playfully illustrating the point with her own introduction: “I’m not even entirely convinced that 30 years of low-level broadcasting gigs qualifies me as a high-profile woman of the media”.
Addressing the room of WEFF members, female and male, Frostrup’s passionate speech beseeched women to develop the confidence to speak up and tell the world that you deserve your success.
Finding her voice
Frostrup found her own voice through reading. She had a challenging upbringing, moving from Sweden to Ireland as a child, where she was isolated as the only non-Catholic girl in the class. Her parents’ relationship was acrimonious and ended in divorce. Her journalist father drank himself to death by the age of 44. Her mother’s subsequent boyfriend mainly engaged with a teenage Mariella by teaching her to shoot guns in the Wicklow hills.
Reading novels was Frostrup’s escape – she says the characters she found in books helped her to grow emotionally and taught her how to connect with other people.
Just before her 16th birthday she ran off to London and began her life in the capital, living in a squat off the King’s Road. She got a job in PR, before moving into TV presenting and working as a film critic and journalist. Her love of books remained undiminished.
In 2000, Frostrup was asked to be a judge of the Man Booker prize for fiction. Among her accomplishments, she has curated two books: Desire, a collection of erotic fiction and Wild Women, a celebration of female explorers.
She was inspired to write Wild Women, by the “conspiracy of silence around women explorers”.
“Their stories are incredible testaments to women’s courage, curiosity and pioneering spirits,” she said. Frostrup questioned why it should be that we have all heard of Ernest Shackleton, who failed to get the South Pole, and Christopher Columbus, who had no idea where he was and swore his crew to silence over his ignorance.
And yet Isabella Bird and Dervla Murphy, among the most famous female explorers, are not household names. “Look them up,” she added.
Her career has involved taking paths in many directions, but her commitment to women’s rights has not waivered.
She first came across feminism in the seventies, at a time when many feminist women aped the characteristics and sexuality of men in order to be heard in a masculine world. Seventies bra-burning was followed by eighties power dressing in shoulder pads.
“But that’s not what equality means,” said Frostrup. It is not the world she wants her own daughter to grow up in.
“We want a brand new world. One that has the yin and yang of male and female influence,” she said.
In 2011, she set up the GREAT initiative (Gender Rights Equality Action Trust) with her husband Jason McCue and friend, human rights lawyer Karen Ruimy. The initiative aims to be a voice for change and a catalyst for real equality, something Frostrup says this country has yet to achieve, despite our laws.
Until the UK has real equality Frostrup will continue to publicly campaign for women’s rights, and tackle men in parliament and men in the media with her “volcanic rage”.
‘If she can see it she can be it’
Megan Rapinoe is the co-captain of the US football team. She helped to lead the squad to its fourth World Cup title this summer.
Despite her success, Rapinoe has earned herself another title. Unapologetic. A label rarely applied to men.
“She is unapologetically gay, unapologetically political, unapologetically angry,” said Frostrup, and she was criticised for daring to think she was worthy of her success when she yelled, “I deserve this” holding up her World Cup trophy.
Frostrup applauded young activist Greta Thunberg’s anger and the rage she showed when she shouted at her elders for not acting on climate change. Thunberg, said Frostrup, is unafraid to show her anger, unlike many girls or women who are scared to speak up for fear of being called hysterical or emotional. More labels reserved for females only.
These are the role models women need, said Frostrup.
A quote from The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, “if she can see it she can be it”, sums up the responsibility that men and women have to be a positive influence on young women, said Frostrup.
Women need more role models, she said, and they also need to be role models.
But the responsibility does not just lie with women. Men must be role models to their daughters, and young men, just starting out in their careers, can be powerful allies in the fight against gender inequality in the workplace.
Frostrup applauded WEFF members, men and women, for being change makers, against whom she did not have to rail, admitting that being angry is rather tiring.
She left the room with some parting advice. “On a bad day remember there is someone worse off than you. On a good day, speak out loud and proud – I deserve this.”