08 March, 2011

Some Questions on International Women's Day

I have some questions regarding International Women’s Day – questions which might be controversial.  Or they might not, but just in case they are, let me first explain where I’m coming from.  I have no intention of trying to be controversial for controversy’s sake.  I’m not going to ask why there isn’t a men’s day or anything like that.  I get it.  I get that living as a woman is generally more complicated than living as a man, both in day-to-day terms and over a lifetime.  I get that women generally have a harder time of it even in post-feminist societies.  I am all for equal pay.  That ought to go without saying.  It’s to our collective shame that it’s even an issue in 2011.  I have no time for gender roles.  I’m all for stay-at-home dads and women soldiers if that’s what they want to do.  So I’m not here to be deliberately obtuse or make some smartarse cheap shots.  I have some honest questions and I would appreciate honest answers if anybody has them.

It seems the whole issue of gender equality has been wankified beyond recognition.  According to this week’s Q and A, it would appear that the most important issues facing Australian women are the lack of women on corporate boards and a 27% pay discrepancy between men and women in the finance sector.  Now I’m no woman so it’s not for me to say, but if I had to take a guess, I would guess that most women have more important concerns.  I’ve already mentioned that equal pay is a no-brainer, but in the finance sector, I would expect that 27% would mean the difference between exorbitant and obscene.  I also don’t see how overpaid, out-of-touch women on corporate boards would be any better for society at large than overpaid, out-of-touch men.  These are both issues that, on Twitter, would usually be tagged #firstworldproblems as a tacit recognition that these are pretty good problems to have.

The question of quotas was also raised.  If you ask me (and forgive me for assuming you did), I think quotas are disrespectful to women because they will never truly know if they were the best person for the job or if they are simply there to fill a quota.  That’s not equality, that’s patronising.  There can never be true equality until gender, race, sexuality, etc. are not an issue at all.  Once quotas were brought up, it led to talking of quotas for parliament.  The problem there is a little thing called democracy.  Each party could ensure that 50% of their candidates are women, but that wouldn’t mean 50% of MPs would be female.  In a perfect world, parliament would have a proportional representation of women, men, aborigines, migrants, gays, Muslims, Christians, agnostics, disabled, diabetics and vegetarians, but  eventually you’re going to have to take it up with the voters.  But I will explain later my theory about the lack of women in parliament.

So here are my questions:
Why aren’t we as worried by the under-representation of women working on construction sites as we are about women on corporate boards?
Why are we talking about quotas for women in parliament but not in the military?
Is no-one worried about the lack of men taking up nursing as a career?

Again, I’m not saying this to be obtuse.  I am all for gender equality across all career paths, which is why it bothers me that the discussion seems to be all about gender equality in the “nice” jobs but not across the workforce in general.  Could it be that there are certain pursuits that particular genders find themselves suited to?  I’ll say again that I hate gender roles, but it’s a genuine question.

Regarding women in parliament, I get the impression that it’s just a lower priority for women in general than it is for men.  I’m not saying that’s a good or a bad thing, it’s just an observation and I would be happy for people to argue with me over that.  I know it’s not a popular point of view to suggest that politicians are underpaid, but the fact is that they are paid a lot less than any comparable position in industry.  There are several knock-on effects from this.  It means that those who are able but, shall we say, slightly less altruistic in their motives, are more likely to want to run a bank than treasury.  After all, the pay is so much better.  Therefore, those who are of a persuasion offer themselves as ministers, despite the relatively modest salary, are probably driven more by ego than by profit motive.  Since women tend to be less ego driven than men, those who have a flair for managing departments are more likely to have the sense to go somewhere where they are well paid and less hated for it.  Also, I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that women by and large are less greedy than men, which will make them less inclined to take a position that pays eight figures and contributes bugger all to society.  I think women are simply more likely to just get on with it.

These are simply some observations and I would be very happy to have some of them shot down.  I just think that if we’re going to talk equality, let’s talk equality across the board, not just the corporate board.

Personally, I observed International Women's Day as I do every other day: by not treating women as a minority.

It's not just the Q and A panel.  The prime minister has spoken out about the need for more women on company boards.  Gender parity in coal mines secretarial work still not an issue.

Update 2018:
I am older, I know more, and I entirely recant this post. I'm not going to delete it because that would be cowardly. I wrote it, I posted it, and I was stupid. Life is not a thought experiment.


  1. Bill, thanks, I appreciate the correction on my blog. I was taking a risk guessing, since I don't know much about planes. It looked so big, close up but an A380 is going to look absolutely massive then.

  2. Not at all. I don't like to nitpick.
    Would be happy if you wanted to delete the comment now that it's been changed. :)

  3. "Why aren’t we as worried by the under-representation of women working on construction sites as we are about women on corporate boards?"

    "Is no-one worried about the lack of men taking up nursing as a career?"

    Fighting for the right to earn higher wages is more important than fighting to stay poor. Doctors and CEOs make more money than nurses and construction workers. They also have a stronger voice in society and are generally more respected.

    "Why are we talking about quotas for women in parliament but not in the military?"

    Quotas are necessary when there's great disparity. But once that's gone you've got to get rid of the quotas. Quotas in political representation don't work because they're not democratic. But it's reasonable to see more women representing the people since half of the people are women. Quotas in the military don't work because no military is a democracy. Their job is to protect the state's status quo no matter how discriminatory it is.

    And I think there is an International Men's Day.

  4. I couldn't agree more with what you've said Bill. It's always bothered me that a lot of people seem to confuse "equality" with "being the same". Women and men ARE different, physiologically and psychologically. I believe that an individual's strengths, skills and abilities should be utilised in the way that most benefits both that particular individual and society, regardless of gender.

  5. Kelly,
    I think the disparity can be explained by demography as much as sexism. I would never say that either sex is naturally more suited to any particular pursuit but if there is an gender imbalance in certain careers, it should be considered that on average, one gender prefers it more than the other.

    Thanks for your perspectives. It really does seem we're only worried about the "good" jobs. In reality, men and women are probably equally represented in low-skill menial jobs, it's just that they're difference menial jobs.

    I take your point about the military not being a democracy. However, they do take their orders from the civilian government, which is a democracy. Furthermore, a corporate board is only a democracy within itself and doesn't take direction from the government other than following the law of the land. So it could be argued that government has more business regulating gender balance in the military than in private enterprise. I'm uncomfortable with either.

    I know that Israel is far more progressive than most when it comes to gender equality in the military. Liked your post on the topic too.

  6. I appreciate your honesty. Just a few comments:
    - if our most educated and empowered women cannot achieve pay parity then what does this say about gender equality or the chances of pay equity in general. Would we be comfortable if we found a particular ethnic/race group was being consistently paid at a much lower rate, regardless of the profession.
    - men less likely to go into nursing/teaching etc as it is viewed as feminised and thus less prestigious profession. And men who do enter these fields do very well. I don't have stats but pretty sure they would show that men in both these fields are over-represented in management.
    -lack of women in trades is a concern. The ball has been dropped in encouraging women into trades which often pay v well, and much better than other jobs that do not require university degree.
    -to me the argument that quotas are condescending ignores the fact that if the disparities are so blatant (boards) and clearly are the result of sexism then why should women wait for a perfect world of perfect equality. One way to get closer to a more equal world is to have more women on boards and in parliament where real power lies. You probably can't have a quota of number of women in parliament - the work needs to be done within the parties preselection processes which I think the ALP has worked on.
    Don't expect you to agree with me but appreciate the opportunity to respond.