Following the dishonourable dismissals of Sky Sports presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys, it was inevitable that discussion of sexism and inequality would follow in the national media. And, equally predictably, the old myth was let loose that women are turning the tables on men, and subjecting them to sexism which goes unnoticed or ridiculed in daily life. Cue a flood of dubious statistics and tenuous conclusions which serve only to hinder the progress to equality in the workplace.
In fact, I have a perfect example. Those of you who picked up the Independent’s daily digest, ‘i’, on 28th January may have encountered Luke Blackwell’s article. ‘Women still often get the raw end of the deal – but is it more acceptable for them to be sexist nowadays?’ he asks in an article which not only fails to answer that very question, but opens with some schoolboy logic. Let’s hear him out first, though:
A 2006 study carried out by the Institute for the Study of Labour think tank discovered that while women suffered sex discrimination when applying for engineering jobs, men were victims of sex discrimination when it came to applying for fields such as accountancy, computer programming and secretarial work.
It seems women are not the only victims in the sexually unequal workplace; this is an important point. He continues:
And 18 months ago, US employment law firm Peninsula carried out a survey which suggested that four out of five men had encountered female ‘sex pests’ at work and that employers tended to take sexual harassment cases from men less seriously than from women.
Damning evidence, I’m sure you’ll agree. Women should be ashamed of themselves!
Except, of course, we shouldn’t, because Mr Blackwell has failed to draw the real conclusion from his statistics. If men are being discriminated against when they apply for certain jobs, who is doing the discriminating? The interviewer. A person of, we can assume, fairly high rank. If men are making complaints of sexual harassment, who are they complaining to? Their bosses. Who, again, are obviously high up the office pecking order.
In the very opening of this article, Mr Blackwell reminds us: ‘Women still…face glass ceilings in the workplace and are woefully under-represented in Parliament and in boardrooms across the country.’
So, in these accounting firms where men are failing to be hired over their female peers, and in these workplaces where men are failing to have their complaints of sexual harassment heard, who are the people more likely to be the architects of this? The ones in the boardrooms. The ones interviewing applicants for their businesses. The ones, therefore, more likely to be men than women.
To suggest that men are being discriminated against, therefore it must be women doing the discriminating, is illogical. Sexism does indeed go both ways, and both genders participate in it, as can be demonstrated by switching on programmes like Loose Women which is mind-dribble of the lowest order, and receives regular complaints accordingly. This does not indicate, as Mr Blackwell would have it, that the world has turned upside down and women can now spew inane, sexist drivel on TV with no rebuttal. Instead, it reminds us that we still hold expectations about gender, whether conscious or unconscious; women just aren’t engineers, and men just don’t do secretarial work. And women enjoy watching other women screech and cackle about meaningless crap on daytime TV.
No one advocates gender inequality. No one wants to be subject to sexual discrimination. Most men don’t think women are inferior; most women don’t think men are Neanderthals. The struggle for equality is not confined to one gender; don’t insult the intelligence of either with tales of ‘reverse sexism.’It isn’t OK, and it will change. Just don’t get sucked in by misinformed arguments to the contrary.