Tuesday, January 25, 2011

If gender equality isn't an issue for the left, what is?

It goes without saying that the Tory MP Dominic Raab was a thoroughbred idiot for making his 'Kevin Baker-esque' remark that feminists are "onbnoxious bigots", and deserves everything that's coming to him as a result. Which is a pity, in one sense, because there's a fairly obvious grain of truth in the broader point he was making, if only he could have expressed himself in a slightly less abusive manner. Specifically, he suggested that Harriet Harman's claim that men were to blame for the financial crisis was sexist. Well, the simplest way to judge if double-standards are at play is usually to take the polar opposite of a statement and try it on for size. If a bank with an overwhelmingly female management team had made a catastrophic blunder, would it be deemed reasonable to blame that on the shortcomings of women in general? Plainly not, and rightly so.

'Reverse sexism' is absolutely endemic in our society, and its manifestations are so familiar we don't even register them most of the time. I used to watch Australian soap operas when I was a teenager (I'm glad to say I've long since kicked the habit) and it suddenly dawned on me one day that the characters who did something stupid or selfish were almost always male - and of course it was invariably the women who showed them the error of their ways and got them to apologise. Generally, the only female characters who were ever permitted to go slightly astray were teenagers - the message seemed to be that grown-up women are 'mature' in every sense and are thus blameless, whereas many men never attain that state and are thus blameworthy. That's a recurring theme in advertising as well.

Does any of this really matter? Well, it certainly does when the underlying assumptions start influencing government decisions and legislation. I've discussed in the past the pernicious effect of Scottish Labour's insistence (and sadly other parties are not immune to this) that domestic violence is almost exclusively something that men do to women, in spite of the plentiful evidence that it's also something that women do to men, men do to men, and women do to women. Thousands of victims effectively become 'the enemy', because if their stories are heard and taken seriously in sufficient numbers (ie. if they no longer seem like aberrations or 'outliers'), it jeapordises the precious official fiction. And when you're already in a vulnerable position, being the enemy of policy-makers as well is not a comfortable place to be.

Perhaps the most extreme example of the very concrete gender discrimination this distorted thinking can ultimately lead to is the Swedish law on prostitution, which criminalises men who pay for sex, but regards women who sell sex - even when they are acting completely independently - as the victims of 'male violence'. I've no idea how that law nominally treats the inconvenient examples of women who pay men or other women for sex, or indeed men who pay men, but the guiding thinking is clear enough - the former "can't happen", while the latter is "marginal". Once again, allowing the full range of experiences to be heard on an equal basis would imperil the ludicrously simplistic narrative of blame.

Whether prostitution should in principle be legal or not is a matter for debate. But if it is to be a criminal act, and two adults consensually agree to commit it, it's surely self-evident that it's grossly discriminatory to regard just one of those adults as wholly responsible for the decision, and the other as the equivalent of a helpless child - purely on the basis of the gender of each. The ideology that underpins the law is actually rooted in Marxism - the notion that women can't be responsible for a seemingly free choice (because their thinking is distorted by male oppression) is a classic example of 'false consciousness'. Which makes it doubly ironic that the politicians who are most keen on applying the Swedish logic in Scotland are to be found, again, in the Labour ranks. In pretty much every other respect The People's Party abandoned socialism (not to mention social democracy) years ago, but it remains quaintly wedded to full-blooded Marxism when it comes to gender politics.

What's truly depressing is that vigorous opposition to this irrational and unjust ideology is generally only associated with certain sections of the right, particularly the radical libertarian right. If equality - true equality - between the genders isn't to be considered a natural concern for the left, I really don't know what is.


  1. I don't actually agree with you there. There are certain types of employment that attract different genders. The majority of care workers are women, the vast majority of NHS staff are women, the vast majority of nursery staff and primary teachers are women. The vast majority of bankers are men.

    So there is a gender aspect to the situation we are in because the UK Government's cuts will hit women working delivering health or social care services much harder than they will affect the bankers - although bankers have far more responsibility for creating the financial situation which has led to the cuts in the first place.

    To add insult to injury we are repeatedly told that the cuts are necessary because we have all been "living beyond our means" - as though the country is teetering on bankruptcy because we have too many nurses or care assistants or nursery teachers. I think we all know that is the most arrant nonsense.

    At the end of the day the UK Government has made its choices because it values the work of bankers more than it values the work of nurses or care workers or teachers. Are you so sure that this is not because the bankers are overwhelmingly men and the nurses, care workers and teachers are overwhelmingly women?

  2. Indy. Respectfully....l there are far more staff in the caring professions than there are bankers, so if 10% of bankers and 10% of NHS/local authority staff are paid off, the number of "female" jobs to go will be far higher.

    Not that I hold a brief for bankers, but that's the way of it.

    Of course as well as the bankers causing the problems that they did, and the incompetent government and regulatory bodies letting them, the truth is that people (not "we all") but as a nation we have been living well beyond our means. The UK is per capita, one of the most (if not THE most) highly indebted (on a personal basis: mortgages, credit cards, store cards, bank loans, etc) nations on earth.

    We can't go on taking out another credit card to pay off the existing ones, or remortgaging the house for the fourth time to pay for a holiday or buy a new car, and that is what a substantial number of us have been doing.

    I’m not for a second suggesting that you have. I haven’t a penny debt and it irks me that I have to tighten my belt because government was and is pathetic, the regulators lazy, the bankers greedy and stupid beyond belief and the public (or a substantial number of them) gullible enough to think that house prices could reasonably go on rising until Charlie Windsor, Tony Blair, Elton John, Pétula Clark, Wayne Rooney and George Osborne were the only people left who could afford to buy one.

    It is the public who value bankers, pop singers, footballers, and non entities like Jordan more than they value nurses and teachers. Not the government. We are prepared to put up with the bankers getting this kind of money; we don’t have a strike about it. Most of us haven’t even bothered to send their MP an email about it.

    We don’t mind that Wayne and David get millions a year for kicking a ball about; we buy the tickets. We must be OK with Jordan getting millions a year for being a self publicist with no talent whatsoever; we buy the Daily Star and Hello. We don’t mind Elton and Petula and Madonna and Jonathon Ross being paid lottery money; we buy the product.

    ...And a surgeon who might save our lives gets what some of these people earn in a night.

  3. The most pernicious driver for this 'reverse sexism' is morning t.v.
    The role of men on programmes like The Jeremy Kyle Show (blech) is merely that of pantomime villain. This demonisation of men has no doubt something to do with the demographics for these progs but it's astonishing how quickly these vulgar caricatures have become so widely accepted.

  4. Tris, equally respectfully, the fact that there are far more NHS staff than bankers rather proves my point.

    How many NHS staff do you think could be retained simply by refusing to pay out banker's bonuses and using that money to support public services instead? Who decides that it is better to spend £1 billion on bonuses for a small group of men who are already incredibly wealthy while cutting back on home helps and nursery teachers? You suggest that this reflects what the public wants. I disagree.

    Why are bankers are seen as being both intrinsically more worthy and intrinsically more important than other people?

    What is that judgement based on? Harriet Harman thinks that gender plays a role. I suspect she is right. It's not the only factor of course, class also plays a part. It's definitely a bit of a gentleman's club though isn't it? How many of them went to the same schools as the current Cabinet?

  5. Indy, I've responded to your first comment in a fresh post here