Last week I wished I were in London for the UK Feminista descent on Parliament. I have never regarded myself as a particularly radical feminist but as I get older perhaps I find myself less and less tolerant of inequality.
I remember as a teenager that it was a book which first made me fully aware that all was not as it should be for my half of the population. A friendly drama teacher gave me a book disguised in a homemade brown paper cover; it was Germaine Greer’s Female Eunuch. I guess the cover picture was disturbing for those days. If I could give a book or books to a female teenage girl today they would be Living Dolls (the cover could be seen as a modern take on Greer’s) by Natasha Walter and The Equality Illusion by Kat Banyard; of course it is the latter writer who is behind UK Feminista.
It could be of course that austerity awakens women to the realities of inequality, which otherwise lie dormant in the good times. Given the coincidence of the same day’s court ruling opening the door to many women to claim for unequal pay as our supreme court judges agreed with 170 female Birmingham City Council workers who were denied bonuses paid to male colleagues in traditionally male jobs such as street cleaners and grave diggers. About time too, when one considers how many decades equal pay legislation has been in force.
Yet for me there is another compelling reason from the relentless recent headlines that makes me feel that now is the time for women to take centre stage. Politicians, bankers, journalists, TV celebrities, policemen and military men; scandal after scandal, enquiry after enquiry. What heroes are left to us, the public at large, who can be trusted? Yet the list is interesting – interesting for the lack of fallen females. Yes a couple of MPs, Blears and Moran and one newspaper woman, Rebekah Brooks, but otherwise it is an all male show. Of course, one suspects in line with the findings in Helena Kennedy’s Eve Was Framed (another suggested read for my female teenager) these few women will probably attract harsher treatment than their male counterparts; for as women theirs is of course the greater sin!
Of course, the simple answer maybe that women were not there, so they could not make these blunders visited on our society by their male counterparts, but sometimes you feel as a woman it would be nice to have had the chance to have a try….
The EU, of course, in the shape of the indomitable Justice Commissioner, Vivienne Reding, is attempting to break the glass ceiling with Europe-wide legislation to ensure quotas of women on boards. The counter attack is lead by the liberal establishment. This, they cry, is tokenism. It will achieve nothing; you need mentoring and encouragement to bring all women forward.
I cannot understand why it is that men never seem to need mentoring and encouragement. Or alternatively we are told as women to forge our own old girl networks to compete with the male ones. Trouble is such networks create a similar culture of cronyism and being in with the ‘in-crowd’. For all their problems at least quotas are transparent and open; men and women alike could benefit from this, rather than not knowing why someone has arrived where they have.
In a society of so many fallen heroes and suspicion we need for openness more than ever. We also need to encourage a generation of fearless female heroines. I am in no doubt that they could not do worse than what we are currently witnessing and I suspect they would do a whole lot better. I’d take the chance!