According to a growing consensus on the Left, there is an oppressive patriarchy in Western democracies which restricts the freedoms and opportunities of women. Most people should be aware of the ‘glass ceiling’ preventing women from reaching top positions in a male-dominated economy. Of course, there are other apparent systems of female oppression which supposedly exist in states like Britain and America. But when the limited evidence is assessed any reasonable person is able to recognise that it is often unconvincing at best, though at times a complete fabrication.
For example, in April 2016 then US President Obama regurgitated a commonly cited false statistic: that in America, a typical working woman earns seventy-nine cents for every dollar earned by a typical man. This statistic has been discredited numerous times, most notably in Warren Farrell’s book, ‘Why Men Earn More’. Statistics can be misleading, particularly if the method used to gather them is flawed. It may very well be the case that there is a wage gap of such proportion when all women and all men are compared as single blocs. However, if samples are controlled for variables such as lifestyle choice and maternity leave then the gap shrinks. When wages of men and women doing the same work in the same roles are compared then the gap, by some measures, all but disappears. So one of the most popular arguments used to highlight gender discrimination is a total fantasy of false statistics.
But more to the point, Western democracies have legislation against gender discrimination. Of course individual men can be sexist towards women, but it is of their own independent malice and not something dictated by law. Yet there are countries where gender discrimination against women is enforced by the state. One of the most prolific offenders in this case is Saudi Arabia.
According to the ‘Global Gender Gap Index 2016’ by the World Economic Forum, Saudi Arabia ranks as 141 out of 144 on gender equality. It achieved this abysmal rank by requiring women to wear head coverings, prohibiting them from having a drivers licence and forcing them to gain permission from an appropriate male, either their father or husband, in order to travel or get married. So it wouldn’t just be laughable to seek Saudi Arabia’s input on women’s rights, it would be outright criminal.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what just happened.
In April 2017 the United Nations elected Saudi Arabia to the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) for a term of four years beginning in 2018. According to the Commission’s mission statement, it is ‘dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women’. Their priority theme for 2017 is to address ‘Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work’. What could a state so backwards on gender equality possibly contribute towards a UN body set up to advance women’s rights?
Hillel Nuer, executive director of UN Watch, compared this decision to ‘making an arsonist into the town fire chief’, adding ‘it’s absurd’. Absurd indeed, but it may help focus the attention of certain ‘feminists’ on real misogyny rather than the sort they imagine in Western countries. Canadian Conservative MP Michelle Rempel seemed to recognise that potential when she used Facebook to challenge Justin Trudeau, Canadian Prime Minister, urging him to speak out against the UN’s decision and referring to his self-professed stance as a feminist.
It’s unlikely that any outrage over Saudi Arabia’s election to the CSW will provoke a re-assessment of arguments about Western patriarchy. But by drawing attention towards the hypocrisy of such an appointment, exaggerations about our own supposed problems with gender inequality are shown to be just that: exaggerations. Individuals are obviously capable of discrimination, but those instances pale in comparison to the sort of assault being waged against women’s rights in other countries like Saudi Arabia. Perhaps, if only for a moment, we can identify real problems rather than chase after ideological fantasies.