Will we ever achieve true gender equality when discussions on the subject are themselves usually so discriminatory?
I was born in the 1970s. Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. Her Majesty The Queen was our monarch. She still is. My Mum was the boss of our house with my elder sisters coming in second and third. My first, second, third, fourth…. teachers were all female. In fact I was on my sixth school before I had a male teacher.
Fast forward to England 2017. The Prime Minister is female (at the time of writing at least). The head of the police is female. The home secretary is female. The Chancellor of Germany is female. The owner of our local Premier League (I think) football club is female. She’s also a pretty good cook.
I have spent the majority of my life working for female bosses. Yet all I ever hear in the media is about “gender equality”. How there are not enough women in senior management posts. The abundance of career limiting gender discrimination against females in the workplace. Although I am not ignorant enough to say it doesn’t happen, I believe it is certainly not rife and is something I have never come across.
In my experience, gender is not a factor in assessing potential success. Yet still I regularly see articles encouraging more women to join a particular profession to redress an imbalance. These imbalances will sort themselves out naturally with modern living styles and the increase in the number of stay-at-home dads, but it won’t happen overnight. If you plant a tree today, don’t expect apples tomorrow.
Any suggestion that women get a leg up or may pass through a promotion process easier to give a better balance in higher positions is seriously disrespectful and demeaning to the hard work they will have put in to get there. One of my previous bosses would have taken extreme exception to the suggestion. Although she did say that from day one in the job she felt she had something to prove because she was female. What she doesn’t realise is that all ambitious people in a new job feel they have something to prove, regardless of gender. That they can do the job, do it well and progress up the pay grade. She was an awesome boss and I do not think her gender had anything to do with that.
There has been a trend in the media about empowering girls to believe that they can achieve anything in life. As if they would ever think anything different. “Girl Power!” I find it quite insulting. Just let kids be kids and practice equality with actions. It’s already second nature to the kids.
A monologue about equality leveled at one gender is not equality, it is dangerous.
Continuing to flog this horse risks furthering the gender divide but the victim is most likely to be boys. Why are girls getting all the attention? Depression is already endemic in males to such a degree that suicide is now the biggest killer in males under 45. Stop telling boys they’re no good or that they have it easy because they are a boy or using the expression “boys will be boys” to excuse certain traits in negative behaviour. Stop telling girls they can do as well as boys if they really try. Just stop it all. All children should be encouraged to believe that they can achieve whatever they put their mind to and the fact that they are a boy or a girl is wholly irrelevant.
Gender inequality simply does not exist in the minds of children. Children are aware that boys and girls are different, more so than adults I sometimes think. Children do not think that boys or girls are better than each other. They may think that a boy or a girl is better at a certain thing and they probably are. I went to school with a girl who was better at hockey than me. But I also went to school with a boy who was better at hockey than me. This is not news. I wasn’t very good at hockey. I was good at cricket though and I have to admit to being more than a bit miffed when that same girl took my place in the cricket team. Was I miffed on the basis that she was a girl though? No, It was because I wanted to be in the cricket team. She’d have been welcome to my place in the rugby team.
You start telling girls that they can be as good as boys or that they have to work extra hard to prove themselves compared to boys, or that they should not feel held back by their gender and they are going to think that you’ve gone mad. Of course they can do whatever they want! Why would anyone possibly think anything different? And what does being a girl have to do with anything?
This may not have always been the case and it is still in some people’s living memory. But continue to bang on about it long after the battle has been well and truly won and you run the risk of affirming the message you are campaigning against.
I learned about the suffragettes in history at school and that is what I thought it was, history. The very notion that females were not allowed to vote was absurd to me. I was grateful that it had changed and was aware that the changes occurred way before I was born. I am not aware of any other gender specific limitations or restrictions. Not against women at least. When I was a kid, I always felt it unfair that men could not bear children but I was also aware that campaigning about it was unlikely to be fruitful.
I am aware that there are certain professions where the balance of gender is not equal. There may be many reasons for this but I do not accept the gender alone is one of them. Not by restriction at least. As I said, males and females are different so certain professions may be more attractive to one gender than another. Again, with modern lifestyle choices this trend is changing. The MTV Awards have this year started to neutralise gender in their categories. This is welcome progress indeed and congratulations to Emma Watson for winning the first one.
Career delays and limitations caused by women taking maternity leave is unfortunate. Much can be done to address this. In some European countries maternity leave is 3 years. This is optional with the second and third years being unfunded, but the job she left will be secure for those three years. This is usually an option only available to women. Shared parental leave is working to address this but still has a long way to go. Media attention on this subject depicts women as the victims and whilst I can see why, it is also equally an issue for men. Should a man want a career break to look after his young children while his wife/partner goes to work he would face the same restrictions and limitations, when returning to work, as a woman. I myself have chosen to sacrifice certain prosperous career paths to focus on family life. This is my choice and I am happy with it but it has definitely limited my career progression. I spend more time with my family as a result and wouldn’t trade that for the world. This means that the “glass ceiling” is not just relevant for mums, but all parents.
I know that gender discrimination does occur in the work place and both my wife and I have been victim to this in the past, it is wrong and thankfully legislated against, but it is not mutually exclusive to women, just better publicised. One prospective employer asked my wife, in interview, “How old are you? You’re probably going to want to start having kids soon?” As if this was forming part of their decision on whether to employ her or not. She obviously turned that job down. I once applied for a job that was advertising for a “manageress” They said to me “Didn’t you read the advert?”
I take as much inspiration from Karen Brady’s story as I did from Richard Branson’s. I do not think either should be used to highlight achievable goals to a particular gender. The common feature in both stories was relentless hard work, determination and resilience. These are traits that anyone can have. I think successful people are successful regardless of gender. I must add that I also do not see financial gain as the sole measure of success. A happy family is just as worthy a goal. In my case, even more so.
I grew up thinking that men were terrible. As a kid, most of the women I overheard talking about men did so from a negative perspective. My mum always tried to paint a positive picture about my own absent father, but she didn’t have much paint on her palette and no brush. When my eldest sister was giving birth to her first child I was 9 years old. During labour she told me that if I ever did this to a woman she would cut my balls off. I had no idea what she was talking about. Or why she was so angry. I thought she was supposed to be happy about having a baby. Turned out she was (I’m a little wiser to all that business these days). But why was it a man who did this to her? Surely they mutually did it between themselves?
Other men that I knew or was exposed to in my childhood didn’t do much to improve my opinion. Many of them were addicts or gamblers. I didn’t know any good fathers. Most of my friends didn’t have one at all. I grew up not wanting to grow up. I didn’t want anyone talking about me like that. I had been born a boy so if I had to become an adult, I wanted to be a good man and a good father, despite having nothing to go on, no role models.
The first time I ever heard women talking about men in a favourable light was in Salt ‘n’ Pepper’s – Whatta Man – song. I decided to listen to this song very intently indeed and vowed that if I was ever lucky enough to get married, this is the opinion I would like my wife to have about me. Despite not knowing what a “Dapper Don” was.
I guess what I’m getting at is, educate about the differences. There are many. Celebrate these differences. Teach mutual respect between the genders and when each can identify their own strengths and weaknesses they can identify in others the qualities that would compliment and support these differences. This makes partners a better team and hopefully better parents of better kids.