Recently I was quoted in the British Financial Times regarding my decision to move back to the UK. I was labelled as a ‘mother of three whose Spanish husband works in finance’. Now, can you spot the mistake?
If you’re still struggling, allow me to enlighten you. In the amended version I became the woman ‘who runs a blog for expats (theexpater.com), and whose husband works in finance’.
I speak four languages. I’m Director of Communications for a mobile app for expats. I’m a freelance writer. And of course, I edit this blog. However, somehow I was reduced to the woman ‘whose Spanish husband works in finance’. My husband was not mentioned anywhere else in the story and had no bearing on it. In the original version there was no mention of my career.
The bigger picture
When the article was first published I felt embarrassed, ashamed and disappointed. It wasn’t the lack of a mention of my blog, or a hyperlink. I’ve worked in public relations and journalism; I know the deal. Adding in links is all down to the editor’s discretion.
What was troubling me was not the absence of my blog name, it was the stripping of my identity in place of my husband. To me it felt as if a man who works in finance was worth more than anything I could achieve. If my husband had been quoted, would he be referred to as ‘a father of three, whose wife runs an expat blog’?
I wasn’t just angry for me. I was angry for all the women who will never be recognised in their own right, but as the ‘wives / partners of…’
But hang on, I hear you say. Am I just getting a bit too woke? Does a few words really make such a difference? Shouldn’t I be proud of being a mother and a happily married wife? Well, yes I am proud. But like all wives and mothers, I am so much more.
I asked around Expater friends for their opinions. They were just as angry as me, and encouraged me to do something about it. As a friend pointed out, if I let this slide, I’d not just be letting myself down, I’d be letting my tribe down too.
Now, while it is true that we moved to Ecuador with my husband’s company, this was not made explicit in the article. And hey, even if we did move for my husband’s job, let’s be very clear: I DO NOT FOLLOW MY HUSBAND. We move together. We are a team and we make these decisions together. It is only because I reinvented my career that we are able to move as often as we do. And like many other expats, my husband has also moved to support my career.
There is no such thing as a trailing spouse. As any expat spouse will know, while we may be listed on a visa as a dependent, by the very nature of our lifestyle we are fiercely independent. We have to learn new languages, adapt to new cultures and reinvent our careers. After years of meeting smart, brave and strong women abroad, I detest it when we’re thrown into the ‘wives/ girlfriends of Mr. …’ box.
Owning up to mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes. I’ve done it many times before and I’ve apologised. I am learning. On one occasion I wrote something which unintentionally had a racist undertone. Needless to say, when I read my blog post back and realised my error I was horrified. I amended the article and emailed the person who had given me the feedback to say sorry.
As for being on the receiving end, the writer apologised to me repeatedly. Yet I’m not sure I was getting my point across. I wasn’t touting for a link to my blog (the amended version includes the wording, but no direct website link). The editor did not apologise, but rectified the mistake within hours. An acknowledgement was also added, ‘This article has been amended since publication to clarify Nina Hobson’s career’. I’m still not comfortable about the random reference to my husband without any context.
I still don’t understand why my career was left out and my husband’s was included in the first place. However, this is not about bashing a newspaper, an editor or a writer. This is about moving forwards. This is about me learning to be careful how I write, and how I read. And I’d urge you to do the same.
If you spot something that seems racist, sexist or offensive, call it out. Be polite, but firm. That includes this blog. Be careful what you read, and mindful of what you don’t read, too.
I just shared your post to an expat facebook group that I love to read. If you’re not already there, you might like it. https://www.facebook.com/groups/twofatexpats
Thank you Alison, that’s very kind of you. I’ll check the group out for sure too.