Katharine Viner

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Katharine Sophie Viner (born January 1971) is a British journalist and playwright. She was the first woman appointed as editor-in-chief at The Guardian on 1 June 2015 succeeding Alan Rusbridger. Viner previously headed The Guardian‍'‍s web operations in Australia and the United States, before being selected for the editor-in-chief's position.



Before 2000

  • [Germaine] Greer's new book is an exciting reminder of how discrimination against women stops them, physically, from being 'the whole woman'. 'Your cellulite is you,' she says. It might sound obvious; but what a thrill to talk about owning our bodies, about being who we are.
    This is where the equality-seekers get it wrong, and liberationists like Greer get it right. Because how we feel about our bodies has an impact on whether we get paid the same. Of course we'll never get equal status if we're spending all our time and energy worrying about our thighs. Of course we'll never get equal pay if we ask for it wearing a baby-doll slip.
    What has equality legislation done for women anyway? The Equal Pay Act came into force 29 years ago and yet a woman still earns 79p for every £1 a man earns doing the same job. Women may be entering the workforce in record numbers, but with little pay and no security. Saying we should concentrate only on equal pay doesn't even get you equal pay.


  • The scandal of the medicalisation of birth is not new; from the 1960s, activists such as Ina May Gaskin and Sheila Kitzinger have fought against the interventionist tide that sees birth as an illness, rather than part of a woman's "wellness cycle". But it is a scandal that has reached extraordinary proportions: in 30 years, the Caesarean rate in Britain has more than trebled; one baby in five is now delivered this way. (The US figure varies from 50% for healthy, middle-class women in their 30s and 40s in private hospitals, to between 1% and 15% for those in public hospitals.) Of course, Britain is different from America in that the market does not rule healthcare - US hospitals get a $1,000 bonus for every epidural requested. But the story is absolutely relevant here, with doctors under increasing pressure to avoid litigation, a severe shortage of midwives, the increasing popularity of elective Caesareans for women who are constantly told that vaginal childbirth is traumatic and terrible, and the threats of private interests entering the health service.
    • "Stitched up", The Guardian (1 September 2001), reprinted in Kira Cochrane (ed.) Women of the Revolution: Forty Years of Feminism, London: Guardian Books, 2010 [2012 ebook], p. 165ff
    • Article partly reflects on Misconceptions, a book by Naomi Wolf concerning Wolf's first experience of childbirth.
  • I must respect myself; after all, I wash my hair with Fructis.
    Similar justifications lie behind the rise in cosmetic surgery (up 50% in the past five years in Britain): that it makes women feel better about themselves, complete, free from their flaws. While women flock to surgeons to have gruesome operations with often calamitous consequences, while cosy Boots the chemist offers injections of poison to paralyse expression muscles in the face, the surgery spin meisters sell it as a quasi-feminist act to take control of your body.
  • Say no to the mutilation of your flesh with knives, vacuum suction and poison, and that means you are irresponsible.
  • The classic example of such a coloniser was Lord Cromer, British consul general in Egypt from 1883 to 1907, as described in Leila Ahmed's seminal Women and Gender in Islam. Cromer was convinced of the inferiority of Islamic religion and society, and had many critical things to say on the "mind of the Oriental". But his condemnation was most thunderous on the subject of how Islam treated women. It was Islam's degradation of women, its insistence on veiling and seclusion, which was the "fatal obstacle" to the Egyptian's "attainment of that elevation of thought and character which should accompany the introduction of Western civilisation," he said. The Egyptians should be "persuaded or forced" to become "civilised" by disposing of the veil.
    And what did this forward-thinking, feminist-sounding veil-burner do when he got home to Britain? He founded and presided over the Men's League for Opposing Women's Suffrage, which tried, by any means possible, to stop women getting the vote.
    Colonial patriarchs like Cromer believed that middle-class Victorian mores represented the pinnacle of civilisation, and set about implementing this model wherever they went - with women in their rightful, subservient place, of course. They wanted merely to replace eastern misogyny with western misogyny.
  • The second low point, I remember very clearly, was on February 9. I was way behind schedule, so took a day's holiday from work with the aim of reading three novels - one each in the morning, afternoon and evening. The first book was Anne Tyler's fabulous The Amateur Marriage, which was about mistakes and regret and which I found deeply affecting. I cried in my local cafe. The second book was Julie Myerson's Something Might Happen, a superb but cruel book about terrible things. I sobbed the entire time I was reading it. This was in a different cafe. That evening, at home, I read Stella Duffy's devastating novel about terminal cancer and death, and how it is worse to die than be left behind, and, well, I could hardly walk. The trouble with really good novels is that they make you engage, make you experience the emotions of the characters as if they were your own. It was a terrible day, and yet these remained three favourites for me throughout the judging process.
  • Youth crime is an obsession for today's politicians, but in a small town in the 1980s there didn't seem to be much about. I came across drugs only when I met some wild boys from the exotic metropolis that is Thirsk. The violent crime I heard about, meanwhile, was largely distant and always terrifying: at primary school I was petrified of the Yorkshire Ripper until he was caught in 1981; later I was deeply troubled by the disappearance of Suzy Lamplugh in 1986. The crimes the young people I knew were committing were the taping of the Top 20 from the radio (which was made especially glamorous because of the urban myth that someone from Leeds had gone to jail for it), underage drinking and smoking dope. No one I knew was arrested.
    However, my diary held a pleasing reminder that even a goody-two-shoes high-achiever like me got into trouble with the law. Our school, a Yorkshire state school, had made it to the London finals of a debating competition, previously the preserve of top public schools. The team was Simon, my political enemy (he was Tory, I was Labour; today he is a New Labour councillor), and me. We won, and to celebrate Simon and I and our supporters took over a flat in Fleet Street to which someone had the key, drank until the sun came up and were visited by the police at 5am, just as a fellow pupil was demonstrating how to wear an elephant-trunk thong he had bought earlier. Who could complain about the youth of today?
  • [On preparing the play My Name Is Rachel Corrie with Alan Rickman] But the quantity of the material left us with a series of questions. How much of Rachel’s life before she went to Gaza should we include? And should we quote other people? The trend in political theatre, from David Hare’s The Permanent Way to Victoria Brittain and Gillian Slovo’s Guantánamo, is journalistic: the use of testimony, of interviews and on-the-record material rather than invention. But for us there could be no re-interviewing to fill in the gaps. We had a finite amount of words to work with, as Rachel was dead. I was very keen to use some of the emails that Rachel’s parents, Cindy and Craig, sent to their daughter while she was in Gaza. They are full of the kind of worries any parent might have if their child was in a dangerous situation, but because Rachel never came home, they have a devastating poignancy. ...
    And what about the voices of Rachel’s friends? I interviewed many fellow ISM activists, most of whom have been deported from Israel since her death. We watched tapes of two of the moving memorial services: one in Gaza, which was shot at by the Israeli army, another in Olympia. We viewed documentaries on the subject, most notably Sandra Jordan’s powerful The Killing Zone, and considered using video grabs. But in the end the power of Rachel’s writing meant that, apart from a few short passages quoting her parents and an eye witness report of her death, her words were strong enough to stand alone.


  • Being open can bring you great scoops, too. My favourite example of this was during the 2009 London protests against the G20 meeting, when our reporter, Paul Lewis, was investigating what happened to a newspaper seller, Ian Tomlinson, who had collapsed and died while walking through the protests. The pathologist reported that Tomlinson had died of a heart attack. We were searching for eyewitnesses.
    We put callouts on Twitter and on the Guardian site, and within hours Paul was contacted by a Guardian reader in the US. This man was an investment fund manager who had been in London on business; he'd slipped out of his meetings to have a look at the protests, and film them on his smartphone. On reading our callout at his home in New York, he looked back at his footage, and discovered very clear images showing Ian Tomlinson being shoved to the ground by a policeman. As you can imagine, it was a big scoop.
    Although the police officer was acquitted of manslaughter in 2012, he was later dismissed for gross misconduct. The pathologist has been struck off. In August the police settled a civil action by the Tomlinson family by issuing a formal apology and agreeing to pay compensation.
    None of this would have happened if the Guardian hadn't been open to the web, with international reach.
  • I once asked if a friend, a teacher from Huddersfield, could cook for him so that she could put it on her CV – "cooked for Alan Rickman" (it made sense at the time). He not only said yes, but acted as her sous-chef and rustled up a top politician and a Hollywood actor as fellow guests. When asked recently about his proudest Royal Court moment, his answer was not about him: he said it was when he took Rachel Corrie’s parents outside the front of the theatre to show them their late daughter’s name in neon lights.
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