I saw an advert today for a “diamond structure” school, which seems to be a co-educational school where boys and girls are taught separately. As a bloke who went to a co-educational comp, whose friends were almost exclusively female, I can’t imagine anything much more soul-destroying than this.
On one hand, I’m aware that there’s some evidence to suggest that girls tend to flourish in single sex learning environments, but, in an era of gender fluidity and redefinition, I’m not sure there should be a place for single-sex teaching. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that single sex schools possibly exacerbate some of the issues which young people have with gender and sexuality. Girls become exotic to lads in a boys’ school and they can develop unhealthy and unrealistic interests in them if they don’t have the opportunity to view them as peers or equals. It is also surely exponentially more complicated to discover that you’re trans in a single sex environment. Or, for that matter, gay. In my experience, young gay men are often drawn to the company of women.
The news has been filled with stories about the gender pay gap in the NHS. Women, on average, earn less than men, despite there being more women working in the NHS. My first issue with this headline is that I can’t see how the two halves of the statement are linked. It may well be, for example, that there are more top level male surgeons working in the NHS, so by saying that, because more women work for the NHS, their average salaries should be the same, we’re entering a land of nonsense. These sorts of figures can only work if we compare like with like - and, even then, there are issues. Bruce Forsyth had fifty years more experience of fronting light entertainment shows than Tess Daly when they started presenting Strictly together. Should they have been paid the same wage for doing the same job? I don’t personally think so. Of course it would have been utterly outrageous if they’d replaced Brucie with a young male presenter who’d still earned more than Tess, but even then, it might just turn out that the new lad had a better agent!
In my view, experience has to count for something. In this respect, I get rather depressed when I see actors with twenty years’ experience working in the ensembles of West End shows on the same wage as drama school leavers. I get frustrated for my own career that my experience as a composer never seems to be taken into account when it comes to negotiating pay. My weekly rate as a freelancer has never exceeded what I was paid in 2006 and yet, since that point, I’ve been nominated for, or won, more than twenty major awards!
If the news report I was watching is to be believed, the real-terms pay gap issues in the NHS appear to boil down to women taking time off to raise children. One female GP actually had me shouting at the TV when she started complaining that, by taking three years out to have babies, she’d effectively earned £100,000 less than her husband who is also a GP. But here’s the question? Why should someone who takes three years out of a job, and has three years less experience than someone else (regardless of gender) be paid the same? It just doesn’t make sense to me. No one puts a gun to someone’s head and tells them they have to have children. If you decide to have children, you end up with a financial hit of some description. The angry GP on telly could have opted to go back to work herself and expected her husband to take the three year pay hit instead.
Look, I know we’re not there yet. Despite my argument, there are still dodgy things at play here. Men still get promotions over women, women can still be be under-confident when it comes to even putting themselves up for more senior roles, and I’m sure there are plenty of instances where women with the same amount of experience as men end up with lower pay. All of this is wrong. But these are the things we need to be turning our attention to instead of throwing misleading statistics and headlines about, which makes the problem seem utterly insurmountable. Good things are happening across the board in terms of equality. And yes, we need to keep chipping away at the corners, but let’s keep a simultaneous eye on the big picture.
And the big picture, in my view, is Northern Ireland and the fact that we now have a single corner of the British Isles (including the Republic of Ireland) which doesn’t allow abortion and doesn’t allow same sex marriage. Both rights are being blocked by the DUP, who are holding the rest of the UK to ransom as a result of Theresa May’s repugnant decision to get into bed with them to protect her tenuous grasp on power. It’s probably not relevant that two women are responsible for blocking full equality, but it is noteworthy, particularly as Theresa May - when it suits her - makes much of her feminist credentials. She was all over #MeToo, largely, one assumes, because it was a safe campaign which no one in their right mind would have been critical of.
I don’t suppose I’m asking for much more than a little perspective. I think the world would be a much better place if we took a deep breath and realigned ourselves.