Is it a Good Time to be a Girl? Where Class and Gender Intersect.
6 months ago Chad 5
Is it a great time to be a girl? I’ve heard this answered in the affirmative by various experts on the matter? Gender inequality is dead. Look at all the women in starring roles, they claim, wide-eyed and incredulous that anyone would claim otherwise. Women are now Presidents and Prime Ministers; engineers and company directors. In the European Union, women are more likely to attend university and live longer than men. Laws protect maternity leave. Even where women earn less on average than men, many people believe that the facts point towards a difference in attitudes and career choices, rather than class or sexist employers. As Thomas Sowell – senior fellow at Stanford University – writing in the National Review, points out:
“As far back as 1971, single women in their thirties who had worked continuously since high school earned slightly more than men of the same description. As far back as 1969, academic women who had never married earned more than academic men who had never married.”
In the United States girls have had an educational advantage over boys since the 1980s, coming out of school with higher grades, despite boys performing better in standardized tests and the more prestigious STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and maths). More women than men graduate from universities in most developed countries as well. ‘How then can women claim discrimination today then,’ some query? Are they just overly sensitive?
This would seem to be the case if we took a gentle peek into history. According to Roman family law, the husband was the absolute lord and master. The wife was the property of her husband and completely subjected to his disposition. He could punish her in any way he liked. As far as family property was concerned the wife herself did not own anything. Everything she or her children inherited belonged to her husband, including also the dowry which she brought with her to her marriage.
Plato and Aristotle, two of the foremost scholars of Ancient Greece labeled women ‘inferior by nature.’ Thomas Aquinas followed Aristotle in attributing the conception of a woman to a defect of a particular seed. The male semen intends to produce a complete human being, a man, but at times it does not succeed and produces a woman. A woman is, therefore, a mas occasionatus, a failed male, not fully created in the image of God.
Even a hundred years ago women in many Western democracies were unable to vote or take full and equal part in daily life. Heck even 50 years ago women stamped with the Scarlet Letter of Hester Prynne were often housebound, trapped in loveless, violent marriages and tacitly excluded from a range of high earning careers. Things, it seem, has measurably gotten much better for women.
Right Answer, Wrong Question
Notwithstanding obvious areas of progress, in answering the question, is it a great time to be a girl, the
invisible aliens believe it’s a fantastic time to be an “educated” girl. Not so much to be a girl generally.
There seems to be this myopic focus on how many female MPs there are or how many women are on boards of these fantastically rich companies or the number of female High Court judges, which seems to show staggering progress. But if you look at society as a whole you will find a growing gap between successful, highly educated women (who are more and more like men in many ways) and the other women who are overwhelmingly working in low paid service jobs. The new servant class is overwhelmingly female.
This invisible alien was not surprised but a little depressed that the feminism that lives in the press and on television is focused on Oxbridge educated metropolitan women and whether they earn £200,000 a year on a board versus the £250,000 a year that a man makes. Is this important? Of course it is. But with the agenda being led by these ‘feminists,’ the core, critical mass of women and their needs are being shaded out of the debate. Those who have done well seem more concerned about how to do even better as opposed to seeking to lift and inspire those at the bottom.
I paid a visit to the International Women’s Day 2017 official website and there were campaigns for women to code; campaigns rallying corporate employees; campaigns challenging art world inequality; alongside campaigns for sports and progressive employers.
Where were the campaigns for women on zero hour’s contracts?
Where were the campaigns for the drug addicted, single mothers?
Where were the campaigns for women of color particularly discriminated in the workplace and wider society?
Where were the campaigns for the 31 million girls of primary school age (according to UNESCO) who have no access to education around the world, a huge untapped resource of girl power?
All over the news is the clamor for more women on boards by women either on boards or those with realistic aspirations to join one.
Is it Cuz I’m Poor?
As we argued here, we are always more aware of our immediate surroundings. Sweet little Victoria in the independent school with a coterie of private tutors struggling with algebra will always make more of an impression on these organizations than the fact that Latasha living in a council flat with her siblings and single mother, attends an inner city school whose funding has been slashed with a revolving door of substitute teachers, who really couldn’t care less.
Where is the feminism for these girls? Where is the feminism for women on shift work, part time work, who can’t afford nannies (more likely to be nannies) or holidays to the south of Spain? It remains seated, it seems, in Westminster, Manhattan, Mayfair, Neuilly-sur-Seine; forming think tanks and lobbying newspapers to print stories about how they are hard up because they are stuck being vice president of Merrill Lynch or whatever.
This is because the feminist agenda has gently morphed into an issue of class. Gender inequality thrives Wealthy women have replaced wealthy men in boardrooms, parliament and the Arts. A female metropolitan elite has replaced, or rather, snuggled comfortably beside a white male metropolitan elite. The invisible aliens Googled ‘women on boards’ and watched the proliferation of results, prominent organizations and quangos by the hundreds pop up.
We then typed in ‘women on benefits.’ The results included the following sensationalist highlights:
- Woman on benefits says she can’t get a job because she’s too beautiful (The Metro)
- Women with 19 children between them ‘claim’ they are trapped on benefits (Daily Mail)
- Woman who claims £25,000 of benefits slammed for saying she wants a FIFTH CHILD and moaning about having to leave her four-bed house (The Sun)
- Is this Britain’s most shameless mum? Cheryl Prudham has 12 children and gets £40k in benefits (The Mirror)
- On Benefits: Britain’s Most Hated Woman (The Huffington Post)
These stories were all written by women of a certain class, probably trying to get on said newspaper board, about women of another class. Whatever you may feel about these specific issues, it highlights the fracture at the heart of the women’s movement (and the black struggle too, of course). Upwardly mobile women are primarily concerned with issues affecting upwardly mobile women. Just like in Edwardian or Victorian times, they hang their snotty noses above their social inferiors and watch the slime of the mucus stain them.
In Gone With The Wind, Scarlett O’Hara, like many white characters in Jodi Picoult’s brutally honest “Small Great Things,” display a class and racial snobbery towards Mammy that she is not even aware of. Just like the post-civil war in which the novel is set, it is a great time for successful white women, not so much for their poor black, white and asian counterparts.
This issue has universal resonance in all struggles against injustice and the unfairness our contemporary lives encounter. The easy option is always to turn inwards and focus on ourselves. But if we don’t gaze beyond, this thing called society, already so uneven and injured, will collapse under the weight of prejudice and indifference. The best thing that could happen for feminism and the women’s movement is if advantaged prosperous women become more aware and engaged in what is happening to women in other parts of society.