Monday, May 11, 2009

On Feminism - and a response to the Teflonman

My wife “lived” through the feminist years of the late 60s and the 70’s. She was directly involved (at a personal level) in gaining pay equality, and work equality.

To explain.

When she became pregnant with our first child she held the position of City Treasurer’s Secretary; a very senior position, one which these days might carry the title of “Executive Personal Assistant” or somesuch, with commensurate salary. In that position she was one of the top four Secretaries in the organisation. But the rules were that if you got pregnant you had to resign. “Why?!!?” was the immediate reaction. That policy of “not employing” pregnant women was almost universal at the time and was one of the primary targets of the feminists.

Prior to that the City – as employer – had made some moves toward the totally radical idea of equal pay for equal work. If you were comparing the salary for a male clerk with that of a female clerk, the solution was quite simple; and in some cases the simple solution led to male clerks having their pay held at the same rate for some years while the women “caught up”. At the level of trying to set the salary of an Executive Secretary it became somewhat more difficult. So difficult, that SWMBO was told she would have to wait three years for the full value of her personal increase – like about 8% per annum for three years gives a clue. In the meantime she had corporate authority that (in some detailed instances) exceeded that of an accountant.

The point here is that “feminism” at that level was a very admirable thing. As an executive responsible for the selection and appointment of staff in my department it gave me almost double the population from which to select and I had an excellent team of eight women and one man under me. Oh, and if I recollect the man was third ranked in the pay scale. Even better, I could pick the best person for the job to be done and pay them accordingly.

The experiences my wife had at that time were frustrating in the extreme (“Why should I give up my job just because I am three months pregnant??”). She was not a member of the “militant” feminism movement but certainly she was well supported by people who were.

The difficulty then, and now too it seems from your (the Teflonman's) article, was the impact of opposing propaganda. So we get the idiocies of the “woman God”, the “Chairperson”, the “person-hole”, “post-person” and all of the other stupidities. At least in our Parliament, “Mr Speaker” became (quite correctly) “Madam Speaker” despite the efforts of some (male) members to attach other connotations to the title. I suspect that the similar rebuff of “Male members” would have been sufficient to quiet that line of thought. The idea of androgynous descriptives and nouns seemed to disappear out of the window overnight; driven out of the room, not least by the strident voices of extremism on both sides of the fence.

That feminism was one of the major and better social changes of the twentieth century – at least in the western world – should now go without saying. When you consider that it came less than 100 years after universal voting rights (at least in this country) shows that the rate of change was not exactly fast. That it came within ten years of the acceptance of the contraceptive pill is of no surprise and shows the speed with which society can change when even relatively small changes are made.

That feminism should still be the butt of jokes and politicised propaganda from a small (predominantly male) section of society is hardly surprising. Those that fall into the category would also, I suspect, feel hard done by immigrants “who work for low wages and take the jobs of more deserving people”.

It just seems to run through the territory.

Actually this whole change of social attitudes is, in my opinion, a very good thing.

I was interviewed for a position (some years ago, and I was not successful) when I was asked whether I would have difficulty with the fact that I would be working with a boss who was homosexual. My response was “Not unless the fact I am hetero becomes a problem with her. Otherwise why should it matter?”. Did that affect my chances? I was thanked for my honesty at least. Was I upset not getting the job? No, not one bit.

Back to the start -

How many "advanced" nations are now giving as of right maternity leave? How many are providing paid maternity leave? That change, as much as any other single instance signals just how far the Feminist movement has taken societal attitudes. To those who crow the old "feminist mantras" (and remember that very few hens crow) I say, "Grow up just a bit. Perhaps then you might earn the respect of a lady."

1 comment:

Eugene Tan said...

I think we largely agree. My pregnant post in my blog.