The above image with the message “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber (she just doesn’t know it yet). Rethink. Reskill. Reboot,” is an actual ad that ran as the latest part of a long-running UK government-back campaign promoting cybersecurity training.
But you could be forgiven for thinking for a split second that it had run in Australia, which I’ll get to in a moment.
The ad is offensive on so many levels: the idea that the woman pictured couldn’t possibly know what she ‘really wants’; the complete dismissal of the arts sector and devaluing of those who perform; the word ‘reboot’ which is what computers do; the suggestion to ‘rethink’ your life course for something a government deems better for the economy; the push to simply stop doing everything you’ve dreamed about and worked so hard for.
Meanwhile, the woman called ‘Fatima’ is actually taken from an original image of two professional dancers, Desire’e Kelley (who becomes ‘Fatmia’), and Tasha Williams from the Vibez in Motion Dance Studio — which is nowhere near the UK. It’s in Atlanta, Georgia.
The ad has now gotten enough angry attention across social media that it’s been taken down/removed and a Downing Street spokesperson has agreed its “not appropriate”. It was a message from the National Cyber Security Centre’s program CyberFirst, which is not about encouraging women or those working in the arts specifically to “reboot” for “cyber”, but rather for people in general from all different industries to reconsider cyber careers.
But this latest version, aptly described as “dystopian”, draws many parallels to usually more subtle pushes for people to do things others deem to be more ‘productive’ with their lives and careers.
Back to Australia, where the messaging about retraining, reskilling and rebooting doesn’t come with pictures of ballet dancers, but rather in the form of university fee reforms and a number of limited budget items aimed at women’s economic security.
Last week Treasurer Josh Frydenberg spoke passionately about how COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted women, before offering his women’s economic security solution and statement: a $240 million package aiming to achieve everything from women’s safety to women’s workforce participation, women’s jobs creation, entrepreneurialism programs and more.
Within the Morrison Government’s 2020 ‘Women’s Economic Security Statement’ you won’t find ballet shoes or even, mercifully, the word ‘reboot’, but you will see lots of talk about creating greater ‘choice’ for families.
You’ll then see a number of programs aimed at providing that greater ‘choice’, offering women the opportunity to reskill and retrain in STEM, in cyber security, and to get mentors to aid in careers in construction, where less than 10 per cent of the workforce is female. Some may say many of these measures fit into the ‘fix the women’ category, suggesting women lack the skills needed to participate in the workforce, including the 2019 to 2020 $75 million ‘Mid Career Checkpoint’ program which Prime Minister Scott Morrison talked up during this year’s International Women’s Day address. Not to mention the ‘Skills Checkpoint for Older Women’ to help them ‘assess their current skills’, among other more specific programs.
Lots of creative thinking going on and big plans for a tiny pool of money. But unfortunately just like Fatima, who already has a job, many women have caring responsibilities they’re trying to manage within a still broken childcare system, along with other caring responsibilities they’re struggling to keep up with among other broken systems that limit their opportunities to work in the paid workforce.
And many women are now up against an age-dependent ‘job making’ scheme that will make them less desirable in the eyes of employers, especially those aged 36 to 49, sandwiched between different age-based hiring incentives. There’s also the issue of safety, of sexual harassment, of pregnancy discrimination, and other forms of discrimination that lock them out.
As for higher education, the Morrison Government has passed new laws that hike up the price of some university fees, particularly impacting the arts and humanities — changes Senator Jacqui Lambie passionately described as destroying opportunities, particularly for poorer kids. The reforms will dramatically increase the cost of courses that are largely more popular with women, as well in areas like social sciences which are popular among Indigenous students.
So time to take off the ballet shoes? Let’s remember most dancers have already had to, due to COVID-19 restrictions. Those in the performing arts have been some of the worst impacted by shutdowns and will likely be some of the last workers to return to any kind of normal level of opportunity or work. They need out support more than ever.