James Evans questions the focus of many who claim to be promoting gender equality.
On Thursday night, I happened to turn on Radio 4 in the middle of ‘Any Questions’. At that precise point, a senior Labour politician was opining that the banking crisis wouldn’t have happened if the banks had been run by women. Cue various right-wing politicians pointing out the excess of ‘Y’s on the then-government’s front bench, before segueing into a heartfelt display of Thatcher-worship.
There is an important point to be made here. Over a number of decades, ‘Equality’ has been a buzzword in socialist circles. Numerous Acts of Parliament have been passed to prevent the perceived ‘tyranny of the majority’ over protected minorities or specific groups; for example, the Equality Act 2010 in the dog-days of the last Labour government. So too has European legislation, which first brought in compulsory maternity leave: a concept on which UK laws have expanded. The feminist movement has been at the vanguard of pressure for equal rights in the UK, and historically, rightly so.
Over a number of decades, ‘Equality’ has been a buzzword in socialist circles.
In the past, the attitudes of many men (and the society that they controlled) had a significant effect on the life opportunities of women. Women had fewer educational opportunities than men, were paid less for doing the same work, were expected to take on the domestic tasks within a marriage, and were often disadvantaged if they took a ‘career break’ and sought to return to the workplace after having children. These disadvantages were often countered in a somewhat patronising way in social custom. For example, there exists a culture of ‘chivalry’ that is considered offensive by many feminists.
A recent example of media commentary on the clash between feminist egalitarianism and the possibly patronising social expectation that men should be chivalrous towards women is contained within a recent Quentin Letts article on Maria Miller MP (Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Women and Equalities). Apparently, in the face of media criticism, Mrs Miller’s special advisor asked journalists to be ‘chivalrous’ towards the minister. Letts clearly regards this as a contradiction in terms; why should a female minister, and at that the Minister for Women and Equalities, be treated with an unequal deference and respect? Surely this would be a patronising gesture, holding back the egalitarian social change for which Mrs Miller should be pressing for?
Many politicians ̶ especially deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman ̶ appear to remain intent on tackling a perceived female disadvantage within our society. Yet girls and women now outperform their male counterparts when consulting most educational statistics. Furthermore, each year there are consistently more women than men being called to the Bar: traditionally seen as a male-dominated profession. At the same time, there has been a failure to support people’s right to choose a traditional family life; a tax break for married couples has been promised, but postponed by the government. Meanwhile, men’s issues do not receive the same political recognition as women’s issues. There is no ‘Minister for Men’. Groups like Fathers4Justice, who campaign against the denial to many fathers of parental rights following family breakdown, have a right to feel short-changed!
The problem with this discriminatory treatment of genders and life choices is that it can lead to the perception that, as George Orwell so eloquently put it in Animal Farm, ‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’. Two wrongs do not make a right, and the present government must avoid allowing unfair discrimination under a cloak of equal rights.