Interesting article by Polly Toynbee in Guardian Unlimited about the report from the Women and Work Commission on the pay gap between men and women in Britain. She hasn’t said anything very original but some truths are worth pointing out – and thinking about – repeatedly. She starts off with her usual, sardonic brand of humour.
Women are so silly, that’s their problem. They really are their own worst enemy. Despite girls’ better exam results, they insist on doing soft arty stuff when they should be doing physics like the men from Mars. If only they would become engineers instead of beauticians. Oh why can’t a woman be more like a man? Professor Higgins seems to have breathed on this report from the Women and Work Commission, launched yesterday by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Low pay is their own fault; if only they would aim higher and try harder, they would be paid more. So what they really need is more guidance.
An accurate summary of how men largely view women with respect to career, work and life choices. She points out how professions largely populated by women are ignored, demeaned, or simply dismissed, thereby making it easy to pay women less. This insidiously builds an environment where women feel less about themselves and their choices, even while realising that there was no other way. This is probably the reason women start looking resigned about life by the time they reach middle age while their male counterparts look more and more joyful, and start turning to nubile nymphets for a reaffirmation of their libidos.
Women start realising their limited choices by the time they reach 30. Career, self satisfaction, self esteem, money OR a personal life, companionship, children. Most of us try to hit somewhere midway, and if we’re very, very lucky make choices we can live with. But fundamentally, this is because the choices themselves are a trap. Obviously, because they were not framed by us. If you want to be considered successful in a world that has always been defined by men, you better play by their rules.
That’s why a woman feeding, bathing and caring for hosts of frail old people in a nursing home is still paid much less than a man coasting his forklift truck round a warehouse. Women’s work has always been undervalued because it is women’s work. The tradition hardwired into pay structures is that women do what comes naturally, cooking, cleaning, caring: not worthy of bread-winning pay.
In India, it has taken us a long time to even get here. Women have fought hard to get to a position where they are being ‘allowed’ to work. In ‘good marriages’, the men help a little bit around the house. Women in the corporate world are proudly crowned ‘power’ women while a generation looks to them for inspiration. They have got to hallowed places; places that men inhabit. This is our version of ‘equality’.
In today’s competitive world, women are gratified to even be considered for entry in the race. If every interview has the mandatory questions of “are you married? are you planning to have children?”, who cares? It must be part of procedure. Nothing significant. If there are some firms that openly declare that they do not hire married women, who cares? It’s company policy.
In the US and UK, women are raising questions about why the working world has been defined by men. Why options like flexible timings, job-share and more open workplaces are so hard to implement. Why the rules that have been defined by generations of patriarchy have to be the rules that stay. Why certain professions are lower payed than others. What makes a teacher’s contribution less than a CEO’s. (After all, one is making money for a bunch of capitalists; the other is teaching a generation.)
Here, it’ll be a while before we take the time off between climbing ladders and cooking dinners to think of such things.