Socialist Worker

When half is not an equal share

by Judith Orr
Issue No. 1883

RICHARD BRANSON (Virgin), Richard Baker (Boots), Richard Wagoner (General Motors), Richard Cheney... OK, you don't have to be a Dick to be a captain of industry, but it certainly looks like you have to have one.

A new survey, Sex and Power, by the Equal Opportunities Commission shows that women hold less than 10 percent of top jobs.

When the Sex Discrimination Act was passed nearly 30 years ago less than half of women with children worked. Now nearly two thirds of mothers have a job outside the home and women make up nearly half the workforce.

So in reality women should now make up almost half the bosses, head teachers, judges, MPs and any other job you care to name. But this study shows that discrimination still affects women throughout society.

In the past scientists argued that women's brains simply weren't up to the task of high-powered jobs. Psychologist Gustave Le Bon wrote in 1879 that women were "the most inferior forms of evolution... They excel in fickleness, inconstancy, absence of thought and logic and incapacity to reason."

There are still a few die-hard bigots around who still believe that sort of rubbish. Gustave would probably get a hearing among some of the dealers in the City of London.

But even where crude sexism isn't rife the reality of women's oppression is still rooted in the structures of society. Women's lives are shaped by their role in the family where they are seen as the ones responsible for caring for children.

When the majority of those on the minimum wage are women, it seems hard to care about the fact that women top bosses are paid only 47 percent of men's salaries in similar jobs.

After all that's still ten times more than most of us earn.

It's not that I want more women bosses because I think having a woman boss is nicer than having a man in charge. There is no "sisterhood under the skin", as the old feminist slogan used to go.

Women bosses have shown themselves to be as ruthless as any man. Don't expect any special favours if you need to stay home to look after your sick child.

A recent article on equal rights in the Financial Times entitled "Stop Whinging, Just Do It" showed this. Elaine Showalter wrote that women who have childcare problems should show "entrepreneurial" spirit and perhaps start a nannying business to solve the problem and make some money!

Individual solutions are not an option for most women. Melissa Benn wrote in Monday's Guardian, "You can't talk about gender inequality without talking about class." She's right.

Class shapes everything in society. Studies show that the social class you are born into affects fundamental things like what height you grow to and how long you live. Most women who get to the top, like the men of their class, come from a privileged background. They have an education only available to a tiny elite. Their names and money open doors.

So, some are more equal than others. The minority of women who do break through the glass ceiling manage only because they rely of an army of other women who don't.

Every woman boss depends on au pairs, nannies, cleaners, cooks and women who do the ironing. Working class women have little in common with the few women at the top. But that shouldn't stop us asking the question, what sort of society denies someone a job, any job, just because she is a woman? Answer-a deeply sexist one.


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Sat 10 Jan 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1883
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