Twitter exploded somewhat this afternoon with a gem of a tweet from that esteemed bastion of informed debate, Grazia magazine. Observe:
For a moment, let’s put aside the many issues I have with this (e.g. does it have to be either/or, what about a pleasant pauper husband, are all women straight and so on ad finitum).
Grazia’s Twitter bod soon realised the storm they’d set off, so countered with a swift “Just to reiterate – this is based on a new survey published yesterday – not our personal views…”
The survey, in fact, is by none other than the Centre for Policy Studies – whose reputation for producing Thathcherite anti-welfare state Murdoch-loving Daily Mail fodder precedes them.
‘Feminist Myths and Magic Medicine’
In fact, the conclusions of Feminist Myths and Magic Medicine align suspiciously neatly with the CfPS’s political agenda – that women should, nay want, to go back to the good old days of pottering about the house and raising 2.4 children in straight nuclear families, thus fulfilling their responsibilities for mending the Broken Britain ™.
I’ve not yet gone through the report fully, so please excuse the slightly-garbled ramble, but from a cursory read, there are a number of points to be made:
Firstly, in my humble opinion, feminism is broadly not about telling women how they should live, but ensuring that they have the physical, social, financial mental and emotional freedom to make their own life choices. Obviously this emerges in many different strands of varying political beliefs, but the basic shared principle is that of freedom. This is why I think Sarah Palin is abusing the word, while many other men and women of all colours and stripes who declare themselves feminists but disagree on many individual issues are.
Secondly, to presume to think that any sample of people can somehow be legitimately extrapolated to reveal ‘the truth’ ‘what [all] women want’ is ridiculous. The accusations levelled at ‘politicians and feminism’ of thinking or doing evil politically-correct equalities malarkey falls foul of the same point above. I challenge anyone to name three Cabinet ministers from the last few governments who fit this bill.
Thirdly, the pay gap is a hugely difficult issue. Everyone should be paid the same for doing the same job. Yet at the same time there are complications around career breaks. These are in part related to actual unavoidable realities (women bear children) and in part social conditioning (women should care for the children after birth, while men win the all bread). I’m not sure where I stand on ways to solve it, but I think that’s mostly because it’s a hugely complex problem with many factors that feed into it. To look for a simple answer is to miss the point.
A Holistic Approach
Further, there are parallels between this debate and many others to do with inequality and ways to address it. Ultimately no single piece of legislation will magically level the playing field. This doesn’t mean we should stop demanding and fighting for each law – it means that collectively and over a long period of time, legislation in addition to much other work can begin to right the wrongs of inequality and discrimination.
It’s indicative of a woefully (and perhaps deliberately) short-sighted mentality to think that gender/race/etc equality isn’t also about socio-economic class. It’s correct to say that more often than not, women generally work in lower-paid professions. It’s easy to point out that this is why they’re generally paid less than men. But to not examine the socio-economic reasons for which women end up as cleaners and cooks in the first place misses the point.
The report says:
“Analyses of statistical data on the workforce cannot tell us anything at all about the social processes going on within companies or among young people choosing careers. We cannot assume that a low percentage of women in higher grade jobs is due primarily to sex discrimination.”
By the same token, we cannot assume that by applying one’s own personal political prejudices to a problem, we cannot assume that a low percentage of women in higher grade jobs is due primarily to women just knowing it’s not their place to be there.
A proportionally representative electoral system, a certain level of positive discrimination, equalities monitoring, more flexible and inclusive employment contracts, better careers advice, fewer shallow fashion magazines posing idle questions surreptitiously shaping young women’s minds; all of these things and many more can probably help address the multi-faceted problem of equality.
There’s no magic medicine, just a variety of political and social actions which will help rectify discriminations that have been bred in civilisation since time immemorial.