The term ‘sexism’ is, in itself, a cliché. Yes, it has been around for a long time. Automatically we tend to believe this means disparaging treatment and belittling of women by men! But is this always the case?
In recent years there seems to be evidence of younger men, ie, between the ages of 24 and 45, starting to feel threatened by successful women in the same age groups. Is this true? If so, what does it mean?
On the other hand is the balance finally being redressed? This is possible but “it’s complicated”. Since the 1960s women have been ‘liberated’ to do two full-time jobs. This is especially so when a couple is living together, married or not, and children come along. There are statistics which show women still do the majority of household chores, planning and childcare.
But let’s turn to the world of work. I belong to a group called ‘Changing the Chemistry of Scottish Boards’. Our research and experience so far shows how fewer women are, whether executive, or non-executive members on company boards and public bodies, including charities. Yet evidence is showing companies/organisations which have more women on their boards are regularly outperforming those which have few, or no women members.
The majority of career women still say they are against statutory quotas for women on boards. However, this particular idea is beginning to gain favour. Norway has done it and the results seem to suggest a positive impact, in line with the above paragraph. Another issue in the business world is the low level of women employed in posts which would give them career progression to executive and board roles. Hopefully over time more role models will emerge and management at all levels will be more balanced between women and men.
However, it is distressing and disturbing to learn of the increase in cyber bullying of girls by boys, as well as in our schools. This needs to be tackled and if voluntary efforts and parental action does not, or cannot, stop this evil then governments must act.
On a related and difficult subject, pressure by boys and young men to engage in sexual activity at an ever-younger age is robbing many girls of their innocence, their self-esteem and possibly their health.
I have worked in all levels of education from being responsible for babies of six weeks (when I was CEO of a childcare organisation with 200 families on our books) through to Further and Higher Education. This wide experience, as well as many years of parenting and active politics, has convinced me the key to ending sexism is in starting to put across the message when children are young and reinforcing the message throughout life.
I want to end this piece on two mildly humorous notes. Checking my emails the other day I saw one from a PR man, whom I know well asking me to help with a promotional event, as his guest. Well, fine so far then he invited me to lunch which would be ‘on him’ (it just might be if I get cross!) and he started the email by addressing me as ‘M’dear!!
In the second one I was recently shortlisted for a pro bono board appointment in the arts for which I was well-qualified. I attended the interview, gave, I thought, a good presentation answering their requirements, without notes. I was not successful. Feedback, which I requested in writing, was anodyne. I know the chairman of the organisation who, when we met last week at a different event, concerned with the arts at a pretty high level, crassly told me, ‘we thought you weren’t passionate enough but you will be pleased to know we did appoint another woman instead!” I rest my case.
Christine Richard OBE is a regular contributor to the3rdimagazine.