Tag Archives: equal pay

Back to School: maths, gender and clothes

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My daughter started her A-levels this week. She’s doing Maths, Further Maths, Physics, and a design/engineering course about the built environment. Or, as my son puts it, maths, super maths, science maths and engineering maths. I’ve had lots of reactions to that, and I’m interested in yours. So I’ll leave a little gap here while you react without reading ahead to what others have said…

 

There’s the usual “oh I did Maths and Physics A-level” or its opposite, a sense of awe that anyone could do Maths or Physics. But the most interesting one is something like “Good for her!” which roughly translates as “it’s really great that a girl is taking those subjects”. I can’t knock this reaction because it’s true. It is great. The maths class is reasonable evenly split between boys and girls, but there’s hardly any girls in physics and even fewer in further maths. It’s also partly why she chose physics – because fewer girls do it and she wanted to break the mould. But it’s still remarkable that in 2017 it is worthy of comment that girls are opting for maths and science courses at A-level. There really is still a lot for feminism to do.

When she was born, I cast disdain on pink clothes. I must have expressed this rather more fiercely than anticipated (there is precedent for this), because my mother-in-law stuck to it doggedly. So we ended up with a wonderful sunny array of bright yellows and oranges, with just the odd bit of beige thrown in. Sixteen years later, this issue has not gone away. There has been recent mounting pressure on retailers who separate toys by gender, with a girls’ aisle festooned in pink and sparkles while boys get primary colours and trucks. Even Lego for girls is pink. This extends to clothes, and even more worryingly, to sexualised slogans and styles for little girls. But this week (hurrah!) John Lewis has announced that it will no longer divide its store into ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ sections. Rather, it will have one section for children’s clothes, as body shapes between girls and boys are no different until puberty. It is also launching a new ‘gender-neutral’ range of children’s clothes.

The reaction to this news has been astonishing! While lots of people are supportive, others are threatening to boycott John Lewis for (wait for it!) political correctness gone mad. This article from the Christian Institute is the one that drove me to my keyboard for this blog. No-one is making boys wear dresses, though they can if they want. But it is about making sure girls have the freedom of choice to wear clothes featuring dinosaurs, cars, space aliens and football without having to shop in the boys’ section.

Does this all really matter? Here’s what Let Clothes be Clothes had to say. ‘When we looked at tops sold in Mothercare, there were over 20 STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Maths) themes sold as “boys t-shirts” and not one for girls. The idea that boys and not girls will be more inclined towards Science themes is harmful to girls AND boys, and is insulting to all the Women who have forged a path in STEM fields.’

And here’s a cautionary tale about why we need women in engineering. When airbags were first designed and fitted to cars, they had only been tested on man-sized crash test dummies. Consequently, when they were deployed, women and children were at risk of injury from the airbag. This didn’t change until 2011, so watch out if your car is older than that!

The gender gap is still wide open (along with many other gaps). I’m sure you haven’t forgotten the massive pay gap between the highest paid men and women at the BBC. For the rest of us, the gap in earnings between men and women means that once we get to Friday 10th November (equal pay day) women will effectively be working for free. This is the same as last year, so we’ve made no progress in a year. I’m proud of my daughter for her ambition to break gender constraints and stereotypes. We need her ambition, because we’ve still got a long way to go.

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I’ve just watched ‘To Walk Invisible’, Sally Wainwright’s dramatization about the Bronte sisters that was on the telly over Christmas. The title refers to the way the sisters feel that they need to conceal their identity as women in order to be taken seriously as writers and get published. It set me off on a chain of thought about how far we’ve come. Or haven’t come.

On the same day, the radio news had a story about the gender pay gap. A good news story, that for women in their 20s, the gap had narrowed to 5%. Hang on, this is a good news story? That today, still, women who are just starting out in the work place are already being paid 5% less than men. It gets worse. The pay gap for older women remains stubbornly wide.

What’s going on here? The later pay gap is usually attributed to women taking time out to look after babies and small children and not being able to recover their career progression afterwards. But women at the start of their working lives? Despite equal pay for equal work, we are still being paid less. Is this about the type of work that women choose to do, the hours they choose to work? Or is this more to do with the value we place on the jobs that women do? Workplaces dominated by women tend to be in care, hospitality and retail. Jobs we need but don’t value, if pay is a measure of value. The same could be said for the things that keep a lid on women’s earnings later in life. Raising the next generation is a vital job, but mostly it’s done for free, not valued. And never mind all the other stuff like housework and caring for elderly relatives, also mainly done by women.

The way in which pay reveals the topsy-turvy values of our world was further brought home because that day was also Fat Cat Wednesday. Never heard of it? It is the day when top UK bosses (median annual salary (£4m) have earned as much in the year so far as the average worker (salary £28,000) will earn in the whole year. Lunch time on Wednesday 4th January! You will be slaving away for the rest of the year to earn what some executive put away after two and a half days on the job. We cannot seriously believe that pay like this is a true reflection of what is valuable to society, or that executives deserve to be paid in two days the same as their members of staff take all year to earn.

Perhaps it is timely that Scotland is planning on trialling a citizen’s income. A small payment to every member of society, uncoupling it from paid work. Perhaps this recognizes the intrinsic value that Christian faith sees in everyone, being made in the image of God. Will it free people up to make more fulfilling choices about work, volunteering, family life and service to society? Will it mean people will always have something coming in that they can rely on, a better solution to meeting basic need than foodbanks? Or will giving people cash in hand make them lazy and feckless, meaning they will not bother looking for work and fritter the money away on fags and booze?

Actually, even though a citizen’s income would be paid to rich and poor alike, this last idea is clearly aimed at poor people. For some reason, there appears to be a marked distaste for giving money to poor people. If you haven’t seen it, the Daily Mail issued a stark warning about the dangers of giving money to poor people in Pakistan. Apparently it’s a gross misuse of our aid budget. For a comprehensive rebuttal of the Mail and clear evidence as to why it works, please have a read of this article by my colleague Joe Ware. But anyway, giving money to poor people is a far better idea than giving money to rich people. What do poor people do with money? They spend it, of course, on gas, electricity, food, clothes, entertainment. It all goes straight back into the economy, supporting local businesses, paying wages etc. What do rich people do with money? Well, it’s only rich people who make it disappear into offshore accounts and avoid paying taxes.

Things don’t have value simply because there is a monetary value attached. The things we value in life are not usually the things we buy, but rather family, friendship, faith, love. But what we do with our money is often driven by our values, and money can take hold of our heart. ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’, Jesus warns (Matthew 6:21). I think what I’ve seen in the news this week has a lot to say about what we value in this country, much of it rather uncomfortable to hear.