As GofaDM nears its six-thousandth page view, I thought I would tackle a subject on which I am even less qualified to pontificate than usual.
Feminism has been much in the news over the last couple of months and so I decided it was time, as a middle-aged man, to add my contribution. To be honest, I have only one issue with feminism and that is the fact that it is so obviously still needed in the UK in 2013. Nevertheless, I have no desire to retrain as a woman at this stage in my life – I haven’t made a particularly great fist of being a man and frankly feel the learning curve for a new gender is probably beyond me (added to which I’m not sure my current wardrobe would be suitable).
There has clearly been some progress since I was a lad, but I fear much of it has been what I might term “negative equality” – things are more equal, but this is not necessarily to anyone’s advantage. Actuaries can now find the same stupidity bump in the mortality curve for young women that was long the preserve of only young men and traditionally male causes of ill-health caused by dissipation now afflict the distaff as well. The England Women’s Football team in a recent international competition put in a performance so dire they are clearly now the equal of their male counterparts – though no doubt did so with a lot less falling over and for far less money. I would have to admit that I don’t watch women’s sport (and not just because it is so hard to find on television) but then I don’t watch any men’s sport either – so I think that just shows a lack of interest in sport rather than any bias. From the other direction, men are now being subjected to some of the same degree of objectification with the resultant obsession about their appearance that was once only visited upon the stronger sex.
I suppose it is positive that casual sexism is now often commented on with opprobrium, though I fear its eradication is a still rather a long way off. Even the much (and probably rightly) maligned Culture Secretary has taken to upbraiding offenders – though seems much more willing to tackle the easy (but more distant) targets of BBC sport commentators and rather less keen to tackle her own cabinet colleagues (the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary to name but two in the news for their casual sexism in recent months).
We do seem to be seeing and hearing a few more women in the media and some of them are even over 30. However, there does still seem to be the idea that women are like plutonium in that if you have too great a mass in one place disaster will ensue – the safe sub-critical mass for women would seem to be one woman. I find this mystifying – the episode of Heresy with an all female panel (and chair) struck me as a great success and the News Quiz often survives with two women sharing a stage (though not so far as I can recall has it ever risked three). The Nature podcast now has two female presenters and often a third being interviewed – and all female panels on In Our Time are no longer unheard of. The top guests on the latest serious of The Life Scientific were almost all women (though an honourable mention must go to David Spiegelhalter) and they make up a good proportion of the essayists on A Point of View. However, the best thing I have heard on Radio 4 for a long time (perhaps ever) was Gillian Tett speaking on Pop-Up Ideas – and she had tough competition from two other quite excellent talks. This 15 minute slot was worth this year’s License Fee on its own (and that of several more years to come) and was so good I bought a copy of the weekend FT which I believe contains more of the same for the substantial investment of £3 (for a newspaper!). I suspect the FT is no more of a fan of the BBC than is Maria Miller, but as a result of its good offices they now have some of my money. Whether they see any more of it will depend on the quality of their own work…
I have been lucky enough to spend more than half of what I like to call my “career” working for women. This may be about to come to an end and I may find myself working for a chap – I find this a somewhat disquieting prospect which may explain the direction of my thoughts and this post. I fear as a society we are never going to win the Global Race (an event with somewhat uncertain rules or objectives, but which the PM seems very keen we all compete in) if we neglect the talents of a rather significant portion of our population and denigrate (or far worse) those whose talents do gain even a small measure of public recognition. If one were to believe the media, or some proponents of the world’s major religions, it would seem that women are minority to be feared. It seems that if they are seen wearing anything more flattering or revealing than a marquee, we poor men will be driven quite mad with desire and unable to stand against them – though I notice that this weakness doesn’t seem to extend much beyond indulgence in the more basic gland games. It certainly doesn’t seem to have been all that effective in achieving true equality or a senior position in the hierarchy of most of those organisations claiming to represent the world’s more famous invisible friends.
This post should probably conclude with some exhortation to action – but I don’t think the readership is really large enough to effect a great deal of change. It would seem that the phrase “do unto others…” has been around for a good 2500 years – and appears in both secular and religious literature from a very wide range of cultures. I can only assume that despite our Linnean name (Homo sapiens – go on, tell me you haven’t missed it!) which translates as “wise man” we can be extraordinarily dense when it comes to putting such a simple idea into action.