This article appeared in the Nov./Dec. issue of Step Magazine. It's an interview with Ruth Ansel, who was the art director of Harper’s Bazaar in the 1960s, the New York Times Magazine in the 1970s, Vanity Fair in the 1980s, and then founded her own design studio in the ’90s. She answered some questions on females in the workplace with some very strong opinions:
Q&A: Bonnie Siegler Interviews Ruth Ansel
by Bonnie Siegler
BS: How do you think the workplace has changed for women over the years?
RA: It hasn’t very much. It is more about appearances than reality. More women are in the workplace but they’re not getting comparable recognition or salaries with their male peers. Women are still working in a man’s world. It is especially difficult for an independent outsider type of woman, whether she is a graphic designer, an architect, or an interior designer, to really achieve a top position, even if she is an exceptional talent. Think of Eileen Gray, and how she spent most of her life having her work ignored, while her famous collaborator, Le Corbusier was celebrated worldwide. She did not become famous until shortly before she died in 1976. I admit I had never heard of her until then as well. There are certainly more talented women out there, more than men I believe, but I still think the glass ceiling exists and they get discouraged.
BS: With the number of women in the workforce today, it is amazing that this hasn’t changed yet.
RA: I think that women today are facing this “perfect storm” of conflicting expectations. Those expectations come mostly from society and the dangerously dumbed-down media. They have to achieve in the workplace, they have to look fabulous—which means being thin with plenty of plastic surgery—they should want to marry and become a perfect mother. And they are obliged to pull all this off simultaneously. What craziness is that? So I think many women who recognize after 10 years or more that their wonderful job is not so fulfilling, are opting out. But they are marrying later, having babies later, and divorcing earlier. If they’re lucky they’ll find their biological clock hasn’t run out on them like their man has. Many are not so lucky. Often they feel stranded with diminished opportunities.
BS: At times I feel if I was a man in the same position doing the same work, I would be paid more money, and be more famous.
RA: I started out as a graphic designer in the 1960s at Harper’s Bazaar magazine. At that time there were very few women to look up to who had preceded me in the field of magazine design. Of course, there were exceptions like Cipe Pineles and Miki Denhof. But things don’t seem to have progressed much since then. What I mean is here we are in 2005 and I don’t think you can name an equal amount of really talented and deserving women with an equal amount of men who are recognized graphic designers, heads of their own firms, or successful CEOs in advertising. If so I’d love to know who those women are.