The Issue of Gender Inequality From The Perspective of a Male Feminist 

Right then. Let’s get one thing clear – the issue of gender inequality is as hot a potato as one that’s just been removed from Satan’s tin foil having been cooked in the flames of hell itself. The recent BBC scandal has blown the salary gap straight back into public consciousness, as has the yearly argument about three or five sets for women’s tennis at Wimbledon as well as Kevin Myers’ horrendously sexist article for the Times and subsequent sacking. All of these stories are merely examples of a far more systematic failure in the UK to recognise and encourage gender equality, a tension that is bubbling under the surface across both business and society. There are many people out there, male and female, who might think it inappropriate for a man to write about gender inequality. Indeed, I’m also incredibly wary of mansplaining feminism because that’s about as stupid and patronising as grabbing a scalpel and going to town on yourself because your heart surgeon isn’t a 40+ year-old white guy. This absolutely isn’t my intention and I’ll try to keep the article as an opinion piece based on both facts and my (admittedly, probably not-as-comprehensively-educated-as-it-should-be) perspective and not try to speak for women, having never been one on account of my trousernozzle and adjoining clackerbag. I also openly welcome comments, discussion or particularly criticism – anything that educates me further will be warmly accepted.

 

So, to business. I will start with three statements that I believe are inalienable and form the basis of this article:

 

  • Men and women are biologically and physically different, but have equal cognitive, emotional and mental capability.
  • As such, both sexes should be considered equal in terms of rights, professional recognition and social standing.
  • In the words of Salman Rushdie, having been asked if he’s a feminist, “Yes. What else is there to be? Everything else is being an asshole.”

 

While my foray into the big wide world of professional life wasn’t smooth sailing, both my recruitment company and media agency were excellent at promoting women. All of my direct line managers throughout my short-lived professional career were women and at the media agency both the CEO and MD were women, the previous being Karen Blackett, a black single-mother who was awarded an OBE in in 2014 for services to the media industry and the latter being Claudine Collins, a highly-respected force of nature at Mediacom and occasional interviewer in the “job interview” section of The Apprentice. While this sounds great in principle, the fact is that they seem to prove the exception to the rule as opposed to being the norm. In an interview with the Telegraph in 2014, Blackett stated that at boardroom-level not much had changed in the twenty years she had been in the media industry, saying that at a C-level industry event she was one of only a handful of women and that she had lost a pitch based on both her gender and ethnicity.

 

The truth is that, much like the aforementioned fictional surgeon, the perception and reality is that real power, in many industries at least, lies in the hands of middle-aged white men. While many companies proudly proclaim that they are leading the fight against sexism or have special programs in place to help their employees feel less stressed about their maternity leave, how many of them are going to have predominantly female boards? The reality is that while change is slowly starting to take place, this is predominantly a generational issue. I’ve had conversations with women from the Baby Boomer generation who, in spite of the changes that are already starting to take place, are still seemingly content to allow men to take the top jobs. When I’ve asked why, there isn’t usually a standard answer as opposed to more of a murmured explanation that “it’s just the way it’s always been.” It was excruciating to hear Philip May say that he and his wife, the Prime Minister, have “boy jobs and girl jobs” on the One Show, but that is simply a reflection of their generation, however out-of-touch it may be. While it certainly doesn’t excuse inherent sexism, there is some truth in the statement that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks – institutionalised male-favouritism is deep-rooted and will take time to change.

 

It was only after World War Two that women started becoming more commonly seen in the workplace, which for many Baby Boomers was only a few years before they were born – as such, the norm was still that men ran the show while women did the admin. It’s only really been in the last ten or fifteen years that women have really started to see progress in championing themselves as being just as effective as men – I seem to write about this in almost every article, but the advent of social media and technology has helped women to have a more powerful message to send and to a wider audience to send it to. To name but two examples of this, news stories about sexual harassment are becoming front-page news to be lambasted as opposed to covered-up scandals and blogs and articles on feminine issues are encouraging women to speak out about their experiences and issues as opposed to bottling them up, as was the norm in the previous generation. The message is spreading and I believe that technology will help to expedite the process as women become more empowered – I hope that everyone reading this article will agree that this undeniably a good thing.

 

However, the fact remains that power still lies firmly in the hands of those predominantly-male board members. It will still take, in my opinion, a generation for this to change. I left my last company for a plethora of different reasons, but one of them was that it would have taken too long to take for me to get to where I wanted to be within a corporate structure. As a man, I cannot even begin to imagine how disheartening it must be for women to look at their potential career progression and see their gender as being a stumbling block for making it to the very top. The message of the Twenty Mile Club is to carve your own path and it’s brilliant to see entrepreneurs and innovators like Tegan Phillips, Hannah McCollum and Grace Elliston amongst our interviewees – one way to take the fight to corporate gender inequality is to write your own rulebook and start your own venture. However, big business also needs grassroots feminist employees to champion women’s rights to affect change – while I hope that our increasingly liberal middle class will reflect our more enlightened approach to gender equality in the future, the message must keep on being shouted as loud as possible.

 

So, to the women reading this article, I hope that my message has come across as this: I may not share your biology, but I sure as shit share your views. It’s not my place to lead your fight, but I’ll be right behind you all the way.

 

I’m proud to be a feminist. What else is there to be? Everything else is being an asshole…

 

Matt Underhill