Sunday, 30 November 2014

Sisters have done it for themselves: As the wage gap closes has feminism done its job?

As I approach the end of another year blogging, I am wondering if it's time to shut up shop. It really does feel like we've come a long way in two years.  We've almost closed the wage gap and we look likely to meet the government's target to have women occupying 25% of seats in British boardrooms. Messrs Clegg and Milliband have become feminists. Albeit frankly neither of them rocks a t-shirt.  

New figures from the ONS show that women in their twenties and thirties are outearning men.  It's not completely fixed - men overtake women in pay  in their forties and stays that way until retirement.  But it's tremendous progress and very  encouraging seeing women in those critical career building years really being recogized and rewarded.

At the same time,  The Cranfield School of Management's recent report revealed that FTSE 100 Boards now boast 22.8% women - which puts us on course to hit Lord Davies' target of 25% by the end of 2015. Thanks in part to the debate raised by the Davies targets, barely a week has gone by when we  haven't seen a new story of women breaking through barriers hit the headlines and as a subject it has emerged from the niche and slightly worthy to the mainstream.

It's all over.  Job done.  Argument won. Has the sisterhood run out of things to fight for?

Of course not.  For starters, we need  to crack the problem of  how to have a  wife.  This is perhaps the biggest remaining barrier to more wholesale access for women to senior jobs.   But hope may be on the horizon.  This 'last taboo' issue is being aired openly in a new book called "The Wife Drought" that attempts to define the role of wife as a job - one that high flying people need and one that is not uniquely female. The author Annabel Crabb, an Australian political journalist, tells it at it is complete with the negative judgements that society gives stay at home husbands and dads.   I've never met Annabel but I feel great affinity with her -  reading it felt like reading about my life.  I felt rather like people must feel when they join a self help group "finally I have met someone who feels as I do".   She talks about 'wife envy'.  Men get wives and women don't. But she puts forward the argument that wives can be male or female.  The main thing to recongize she says, is that that wives are a  cracking professional asset.  If, as is so often claimed, a strong wife is the secret of a man's success, why shouldn't a strong wife be the secret of a woman's success?
Young male feminist
As more men become wives, are they also becoming feminists?  Hot on the heels of Nick 'n' Ed's great t-shirt debacle, I went to a debate last week entitled "We should all be feminists" put on by the organisers of the Brick Lane Debates - one of whom is my son (left). It struck me that the feminists of the 70s would have felt right at home here - a packed low ceilinged room, women addressing each other as 'sister' although thankfully not 'comrade', a baby in the arms of one of the speakers, angry declamation against men who look at porn.  So much, so traditional.  And then again - completely modern.   Lots of men were there - many young and equally as passionate as the women.  They have no problem describing themselves as feminists.  Rather they see feminism as a movement that anyone can - and should - join.  There's lots to fight for and they're using thoroughly modern techniques to make their point - live webstreaming, wall to wall smartphones, lots of social content, the debate as lively on Twitter as it was in the room.

If this is what a feminist looks like today - I can't wait to see the new wives.