In the latest round of Brown-bashing I happened to witness, the usual moaning and grumbling took place, ‘If I was in his position…blah blah blah etc…’ which annoys me enough as it is, as I’m sure we’d all struggle to hold it together, but this time I was especially annoyed. Especially annoyed as someone suggested that if the Prime Minister were a woman, none of this financial mess would have happened. None of this mess, nor indeed most of the mess of the last few years, concerning wars and poverty and general plights on society.

This is when, of course, I stepped in to say what an utter load of bollocks that was. Being a Feminist, I obviously think a female Prime Minister would be brilliant. But, just because she is a woman, does not automatically make her a peace-loving and caring person. Take Margaret Thatcher, for example. She was one of the most formidable politicians, who perhaps ticked all of the ‘masculine’ boxes, and had no problems with starting wars and obliterating whole communities in her ruthless economic plans. In response to her typically masculine behaviour satirists branded her a man and most famously in Spitting Image portrayed her in a suit with a cigar. However, no matter how vile you find the woman, the criticism should rest soley on her actions, not on whether she conforms to gender norms.

This kind of gossipy self-righteous drivel, propagated by the ‘Loose Women’ culture harks back to the Victorian views of women being angels and men beasts. This regressive step is harmful to society and also the political process. The way the media scrutinise female politicians so closely causes them to censor their actions according to how society says they must be; everything they say, do, wear – even their hair styles are commented upon and criticised for not being feminine enough, or being too dowdy or frumpy. Outspoken female politicians are derided for being whingey and nagging – which is enough to put potential female politicians off the job.

None of the women I know are as morally superior as some people would have them. If women ruled the world, wars would still be fought, crimes would still be committed and the economy would still fail us at some point. No one can be a super hero, we are all human and therefore bound to make mistakes. The thing is, at the end of the day it’s not about men versus women, it is about choosing whoever is best for the job.

If ever J’s mother had watched Pinky and the Brain, our recent, brief conversation about the new Equalities Bill might have gone a little something like this:

Her: “Have you heard about the equalities bill, Pinky?”

Me: “Yes – what are we going to do about it, Brain?”

Her: “The same thing we do every time we get annoyed about gender issues, Pinky – try to take over the world!”

Unfortunately, however, I don’t believe she’s familiar with the cartoon, which means that such a scenario will never happen. The scenario that actually happened was similar, up to and including the part where we try to take over the world. I maintain that it could happen, and apparently she’s coming round to the idea, because last night she requested that I start drawing up our manifesto – apparently our tyranny will spawn from the existing democratic model!

Anyway, I mention her now, not because I’m planning on taking over the world in the imminent future, satisfying though that might be, but because, but for that conversation, this post might never have happened.

According to the BBC:

“Many employers will be made to reveal how much they pay men compared with women, under the Equalities Bill.
Firms employing at least 250 staff would be required to publish average hourly rates for men and women by 2013.”

Many employers? Not by the ONS numbers. As of 2008, out of the 2.16 million registered businesses, only 0.4% of companies were employing 250 or more staff. Or, to put it another way, for every 1000 businesses registered, only 4 of them will be required to publish their average hourly rates.

Contrast that with those businesses employing less than 10 staff: 89%. Even if you assumed that every one of those businesses was employing just 2 people, that’s over 3 million employees. Add in the further 9.1% of businesses with 10-50 employees (and assume they all have only 10), and the 1% of businesses with 50-250 employees (and assume they all only have 50) and you have a total of over 6.8 million workers. Does the government really think that targetting that miserable 0.4% that makes up the “large company” category is actually going to help? For the numbers even to be equal, every single one of those (8,640) large companies would have to employ 797 staff. Realistic? I think not.

And, to be honest with you, it’s easy to manipulate numbers, if you know how. Does the government propose to lay out in detail the manner in which the records must be kept? Which “average” are they going to use? Arithmetic mean – add them all up, and divide by the number of employees? Median – put all of the hourly rates in order, then find the one in the middle? Mode – find the rate that’s paid most often?

That these don’t give the same answer is obvious when you consider even five wages. Say you had a kitchen. You might have one Head Chef (£20), three chefs working for him (£10) and one pot-washer (£5). Well, if you take the mean of those wages, you get £11. If you take the median, you get £10, and if you take the mode, you get £10. So, if you wanted to make it look as though you were paying your staff more, you might use the mean. If not, you’d probably use the median.

But what if you had two kitchens? The first would be as above. But in the second, you might have a different Head Chef, and only pay her £17, but pay the three chefs underneath her £11 each. You’d still get a mean of £11. But you’re not paying the male Head Chef and the female Head Chef the same wage. And you’ve just successfully disguised that fact.

The story continues, and on the subject of gender inequality, it doesn’t get much better.

Harriet Harman has said that businesses will have until 2013 to voluntarily publish the data.

With quotes like this:

This is a further example of unnecessary regulation at a time when companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, are struggling to survive” from Miles Templeman, director general of the Institute of Directors (and, by the sounds of it, part of the Department of Administrative Affairs), I think I’m permitted to feel a little skeptical.

It’s heartening to know that such an august gentleman might, like myself, have trouble with his eyesight. Probably quite severe trouble, actually, since he seems to have confused the word “large” with the words “small and medium-sized”. I suppose I should recommend my optician to him.

On the other hand, never let it be said that I pick on only the negatives. The bill, in broad terms, is heartening in its consideration of other discriminated groups – in particular, the working class and the elderly – and the BBC has had no trouble in placing sentences for maximum irony:

“Ministers want older people to pay for services, such as insurance, based on the actual risk they face, rather than an arbitrary age-based cost. This has the backing of charity Age Concern and Help the Aged. However, the Association of British Insurers has denied its members’ policies are unfair, saying they simply take account of risk.”

Indeed. arbitrary age-based costs are not arbitrary, but simply take account of risk. In other news, war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.*

So: do I like the bill? Well, roughly speaking, yes. I’m pleased with efforts to address inequalities, even as I feel that some policies could have been better thought-through, or better explained, or both. It may well be that those who are writing the bill have taken into account the kinds of concerns that I have mentioned. They might even have thought of things that I haven’t. But until I can find more than a rough outline of the bill, I’m stuck with critiquing what is here.

Do I think it will help? Perhaps. It depends on how co-operative companies are with the legislation.

Do I think it’s necessary? You know, I could write a whole other post and more about the necessity of legislating what privileged groups won’t do by themselves. But the short answer is this: when you have a white male director general of five male executive directors being quoted in a serious publication on the subject of inequality, of course it’s fucking necessary.

*gratuitous 1984 quote. If you haven’t read it, go and do so, please!

Can everybody just stop please?

For anyone who doesn’t possess a TV, the internet or happen to glance at the covers of tabloids, Susan Boyle is a 48 year old Scottish woman who appeared on Britain’s Got Talent and became an overnight internet sensation, with her performance being viewed over 2 million times in one  night.

Why, exactly, has this video been so popular? Apparently, it is the ‘discrepancy’ between her voice, and her FACE. Oh yes. What? Were you not aware that (subjective) attractiveness is VITAL to the pleasing functioning of one’s vocal chords?

Here is some news: some people can sing. Susan Boyle is a person. She can sing. Thrilling news.

‘With her ghastly frock, wedge of frizzy hair and cowboy-like gait, Susan Boyle surprised us all’. DID she now? Is it really newsworthy that an ‘unconventional looking’ woman can sing? Do you have to be stunningly attractive (by superficial standards, I might add) in order for your vocal chords to work?

I cannot stand it.

The only ‘news’ part of this story is that it is still ‘news’. It is frankly upsetting that not only does the media and society judge people as unattractive solely on their looks, but judges these people as incompetent and untalented if these looks are not what are desired, BEFORE THEY HAVE EVEN OPENED THEIR MOUTHS. People sniggered as she walked on stage – just because of how she looked. When she declared a desire to be a famous singer, the laughing got louder. And when she began to sing – a fair performance – people gasped, Simon Cowell’s eyes bugged out of his head, Amanda Holden opened her mouth with joy, Ant and/or Dec exclaimed “weren’t expected that were ya?”

It’s pathetic.

Edit: Might I add, there was not nearly so much fuss when a fat middle aged BLOKE won the goddamn competition. Women’s worth is more than the sum of their looks.

I just realised that I completely ignored a very relevant news-based example: the proposal to abolish male primogeniture. This law means that a woman can only ascend the throne if all other male possibilities are exhausted. Far, far too many of the responses to this proposal centre on the fact that this is a long-standing tradition of English monarchy, which should be proudly preserved as an example of our heritage. A heritage that allowed a king to execute his wives on the grounds they didn’t provide a male heir: a heritage that has allowed stark raving bonkers kings to rule rather than see a vulva instead of a penis perched on the throne. Marvellous.

There are all sorts of complications involving the Commonwealth as to why this flagrantly sexist law cannot be easily changed, as highlighted on the BBC Website, which can explain it all far better than I. But, in the name of equality and common sense,  changed it should be.

Firstly… Hello! I am entirely new to this sort of thing, so any feedback would be really welcome (as long as it’s all totally positive and fawning and all…)

Now. To the point.

There was an incident in the past few weeks that caused me to reflect upon tradition as an argument against change. During a seminar, a young woman claimed that it is instinct for a woman to nurture, and that it follows that women belong in the home. A minor kerfuffle ensued, leaving me fuming, and desperate to respond in some way other than being very, very red. This it it, I guess.

It is generally accepted that, as human beings, we are able to transcend our base instincts. This is how we are distinguished from animals. It must always be kept in mind that ‘tradition’ does not equal ‘natural’. It is tradition in some countries to mutilate the clitoris. This is not natural. Obviously this is a horrific example, but because it is so extreme it illustrates that enforced gender roles are just that – enforced, not natural. The young woman of my seminar claimed that nurturing on the part of the woman is natural, and breadwinning by the man is the same. Leaving aside the fact that she and I are currently studying the Renaissance (widely acknowledged by our tutors to be the period in which early modern gender roles were formed) we can look at nature itself. Female mammals give birth, and feed their offspring. Both sexes are involved in protecting the young from predators. Once the offspring are weaned, they’re on their own. Exactly how does this compare to our elaborate nurturing rituals? Answer: it doesn’t. These are as constructed as gender roles: roles that exist by tradition, not nature.

Further, even if it is instinct for a woman to nurture, there is no evidence that this is right. Again, we are humans and have a sense of morality. Animals instinctively have sex for procreation – there isn’t a whole lot of choice involved. Humans have choice – we have sex for recreation as well as procreation. If someone ‘instinctively’ tried to have sex with me, this would be rape. They couldn’t justify their actions by saying they were doing what was natural, and therefore right. It would be immoral, because we have a choice to not follow our instincts.

Lastly, and more childishly, because I’m still angry: if you feel so strongly that women belong in the home, my tradition-loving friend, why on earth are you at university? Get back in that damn kitchen where you NATURALLY belong.

Recently, I’ve been ploughing through various books of a feminist nature. Sometimes that urge takes me, even though I am a number-cruncher by trade.

One of those books was Sexing The Body, which I believe I mentioned as something Not To Read Whilst Ill. There were various things that interested me within the book, some of which I may turn into publishable thoughts, and which might therefore require me taking it out again (even though short-term loans, which last a whole two days, do not please me).

Among these half-formed thoughts, I was intrigued by the idea that young children (up to around the age of 6 years old) find it very difficult to identify the gender of a child without relying on external markers like clothes and hair length. This, at least, was the impression I gained. I can’t remember what studies Anne Fausto-Sterling relied on, but I have found mentions of studies that seem relevant, although somewhat old.*

Anyway, two things come to mind when I think about this: it makes me wonder how this might apply to discerning the gender of adults, given the number of individuals that in some way deviate from the gendered norms of  long-hair-and-pink-skirts / short-hair-and-blue-trousers, and it reminds me of this post that I found today.

It would seem that, sometimes, it’s not only children that have difficulties in recognising gender without appropriate markers.

*a long-winded Google search turned up a link to an study, McConaghy, MJ: The Gender Understanding of Swedish Children, 1980, (among with some potentially annoying links *shifty eyes*), which references various others, to do with American children:

  • Thompson SK: Gender labels and early sex role development, 1975.
  • Slaby RG, Frey KS: Development of gender constancy and selective attention to same-sex models, 1975.
  • Thompson SK, Bentler PM: The priority of cues in sex discrimination by children and adults, 1971.