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By Fiona MacGregor
For the first time, women in their 20s are earning 3.6% more than men in the same age group. Despite the bizarre sense of panic resonating from some of these recent articles on the subject, there is no danger, as it were, of men falling behind. They still earn 10% more than women on average throughout their lifetime, or, in the case of male bosses, £10,000 more a year than women in equivalent jobs. So much for it being “the beginning perhaps, of a social and sexual sea change.” Predictably however, anyone seen to be welcoming this rather meagre social shift has predictably become victim to a flurry of uninspiring comments along the lines of “so sexism is fine, as long as it favours women.”
No one should see economic gender issues like the wage gap as a competition. It isn’t one. Jobs and education should be as gender neutral as possible. It is certainly true that some women journalists, seeing an opportunity to taunt men, undermine the serious nature of the issue by making it about scoring points. However, it is not “sexist” to celebrate the fact that, in one demographic, women are not in second place.
Without meaning to suggest that men have not been, and are not still, victims of sex discrimination and stereotyping (one might cite issues such as paternity leave, child custody, domestic abuse and so on), it is just a statement of fact to say that in our society, women have always been the underdogs. Any pleasure in the recent pay gap changes is interpreted as revenge, when really, it is relief that women aren’t being intentionally paid less than men for doing the same job. It’s as simple as that.
When comments about the poor treatment of women in the past are brought up in arguments concerning the issues of today, this is constantly wrongly interpreted as a bid to blame or punish the current generation for the wrongs of the past. This isn’t the case. While in many ways we do live in a society of equal opportunities for men and women, sexism is not yet dead and buried. Rather than facts and figures, what is often much more telling (and much more frustrating) is a sense of the general attitudes of the population towards the subject matter. The internet acts as as a handy social barometer. The level of sexism in the comments under gender articles on the websites of ‘reputable’ newspapers is disturbing.
I’m also dismayed by the lack of recognition about the difference between sex discrimination against women, and sex discrimination against men. Female directed sexism has a whole history of the degradation and oppression of one sex, so it is very worrying that there are residual elements of it left in our society. It suggests that we haven’t quite moved on and left it behind us. It’s as though there’s a big crack in the foundations, which has gradually been filled in, but is still not quite fixed. Male directed sexism is worrying because it is not in keeping with equal opportunities. It’s a new crack, a little one – and probably far easier to correct. A helpful thought experiment might be to consider the same scenario in terms of race.
Hopefully, the new pay gap findings show that the younger generation are getting something right in terms of equality. After all, a 3.6% gap is better than a 10% gap regardless of which way the scales are tipped. In the end, equality is a race which can only be drawn, not won.
-PHOTO/London Student Feminists