Want to be a Woman?

Treewoman once got married

Here’s something I might get into trouble for. My views (or some of them) on gender equality in the workplace.

To pick up the rather banal story where I left off, school was a bit of a waste of time (my time and that of everyone trying to ‘educate’ me) and the working world held very limited allure for my identity-free, early-twenty-something self in the 80s.

So I got married. In a state of having absolutely no idea at all how many other things I might have done instead.

Obviously, stridently announcing this decision as the inevitable result of patent failings in my up-bringing and my education, and demanding remedial action, is not an option. Still it’s my contention that, despite the loud remonstrances of modern feminism, there‘s still a vast number of women who have no idea how much more they could expect from a life not coloured by sexism, gender stereotyping, institutionalized paternalism and an expectation that women will do, for free, and effortlessly, all the domestic caring essential in a functioning society.

Ok, this is a huge subject. And I’m just a half-arsed blogger. There’s no way I’m going to be able to produce a balanced discussion of the issues. No. So here’s a five-minute, broad-brushstroke, impressionistic watercolour bonded to a single relevant thread.

Why is gender ‘equality’ in the workplace so difficult to bring about? Why is it that, whatever we try to do to encourage them, women remain stubbornly under represented in positions of power and influence, whether in business, or politics, or in the myriad other aspects of functioning society where a sense of ominous paternalism seeps through our culture like some all-pervasive psycho-active nerve-agent?

I’m always knocked sideways by the unspoken hierarchical efficiency of construction sites. (Bearing in mind that anybody I’ve ever worked with on a construction side would be beside themselves with laughter to read this…) my (hard) hat is well and truly off to all the guys who know instinctively who they need to defer to in terms of decision-making, or taking instruction, or organizing progress. Let me tell you, not only do they know how to do this, but they are fully, unreservedly prepared to keep their place and defer. And things work, they do – in a wonderous, mechanically reliable way. Stuff gets done. This is THE WAY things get done. It’s normal.

Collectively, all of us have evolved a strong predilection for ‘normal’. Thing is, normality has arrived in its current permutation as a result of eons of refinement under almost exclusively male-influence. In my experience, women (real women, those of us inclined to be who they really are) don’t qualify as normal. Why on earth would we? It’s not normal to demand the kind of job flexibility required to support full contribution in the workplace in tandem with effective motherhood. Special measures have to be instituted to accommodate this and, frankly, it’s all a bit of a drag.

And it’s not normal, is it, to be suffused with a hormonal blueprint responsible for regularly altered states of fabulous rationality, eccentric creativity, aggressive impatience and deep, deep existential empathy for the sanctity of life? Jeeeesus, no. Who has any idea how to utilize all that? Probably safer to isolate the source of the disruption and pretend nothing’s happening.

It’s not normal to harbour a permanent undercurrent of defiance, to resent the established order and at the same time need, unequivocally, a fiercely loyal emotional safety-net of friends – co-conspirators in a life-strategy requiring constant reiteration in coffee houses, kitchens, bars, restaurants and even in the car, on the way to somewhere up-lifting. Like a cathedral. Or Harvey Nichols.

I wonder sometimes whether the problem isn’t the notion of equality itself? Do we get stuck amid efforts to equalize using existing paternalistic structures, ‘fostering’ and ‘mentoring’ women into roles shaped by men, roles that will be a bad fit. And when none of this really works, isn’t it kind of easy to blame some inherent feminine weakness, which was always bound to limit a woman’s chances of success? I do believe there’s something in this and I don’t find it surprising that women quietly circumnavigate advancement when it looks more like a trap than an opportunity.

This is a blog, I have to stop now. There is, of course, an awful lot more to be said. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/21/sunday-review/women-ceos-glass-ceiling.html