Hold on to your Hats

Lord Taylor of Warwick

Harriet Harman MP caused controversy again, with her comments about women in leadership. She said she does “not agree with all-male leaderships” because men “cannot be left to run things on their own.” 

 The problem with these statements and the sentiment behind them, is that Harman is both right and wrong.  Traditionally, women earn less than men, even when they do the same jobs.  Sometimes this happens in the guise of modified job titles.

 We hope this will continue to change.  Women and minorities should not be discriminated against simply because they are not white males. 

 Harman is suggesting that we actively encourage women and minorities in leadership, almost to the point of preferential bias.  Hiring a woman exclusively because she is a woman is still discrimination. 

 In fact, it is demeaning to give a woman a promotion without the demonstrated merit, purely on the basis of her gender.  Tokenism does not add prestige, it patronises.  It is saying we should have pity on the female and promote her because she is unable to earn it for herself.

 Women in leadership can add valuable input and skills.  They can change the way this country runs.  The banking crisis may have been avoided if we had more women running the banks.  History records powerful women who have made a difference: Margaret Thatcher, Queen Elizabeth I, Emmeline Pankhurst, Mother Theresa, and Golda Meir, just to name a few.

 The point is for women to get the same opportunities to develop and use their skills.  The proverbial playing field is certainly not level, yet.

 If men consistently earn more across the country, this earnings disparity means that women are less economically independent than men. The fact that women give birth to the children, this also effects their career path and working future.  Until men start giving birth, this problem is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

There are 192 countries in the United Nations, but only 24 have female leaders.  It is interesting that the most powerful nation in the world, the United States, has elected a black President before a female one. 

 This week on her visit to the Congo, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked by a student her husband’s views of the Chinese loan offer to the Congo.  Clinton “bristled” and responded saying, “If you want my opinion, I will tell you my opinion. I am not going to be channelling my husband.”  Clinton was probably a little harsh but she was reacting to the notion that, as a woman, she would not have her own opinion.

 There’s a saying: women can do anything men can do, but backwards and in heels. Never underestimate the impact of a woman with a cause.  Hats off to Harriet.

12 comments for “Hold on to your Hats

  1. franksummers3ba
    18/08/2009 at 2:40 pm

    The United States had a period called Reconstruction during which many African Americans (almost all of whom were visbly black but a few of whom would confuse foreign scholars perhaps) were serving as Senators, Congressmen, Governors and Customs Officials. During that time none of these posts were held by women who could not vote in almost any election.

    The United States had Abigail Adams seeking feminist implications from the revolution but in fact rejecting royalism greatly diminished the status of women in this land because the family, marriage, holdings close to the manor houses and other parts of royalist culture greatly strengthened the status of all women relative to the absence of these influences. The Civil War destroyed a society where free women of color set up lasting professional class households and lines by long lasting relationships as mistresses with elite white men. Npothing replaced this way to upward mobility for a long time things just got worse for women and blacks except for the merest legal freedom in many places. That same war also destroyed thenormous privat power created by chattle slavery which made the ladies on plantaions quite a powerful socio-econmic force. Prior to and after the Civil War over the course of nation-building many states lost civil law protections for women’s rights in property and had lost the social protections in English society thus creating a status inferior to that of women anywhere in Western Europe where before the legal status of women in the same places outside of the USA had been much better.

    The feminist movement since the suffragettes cannot be denied as having accomplished a great deal (although the costs are overlooked) but Britain may want to note that in general the change to republican democratic values in history has been misogynistic rather than feminist.

    The Brits themselves gave up many institutions of feminine power and influence when they left behind abbesses, female mystics and the “Roman” Catholic middle ages. The idea that things have gotten better for women in a linear progression towards modernity is really one of the great absurdities of our age. Men and women are different the modern world sets them at eachother’s throats and does almost nothing elseto foster the secure good status of women.

    I am person who is generaly pretty pessimistic about the future of our species. But surely nobody actually believes all this silliness about how lovely everything is by the time they are Peers?

    I know little about your Lordship. However, it is clear that you are comfortable using this blog to deal with issues you feel are connected to your heritage or at least your appearance. It seems that this is not unreasonable and so it is also possible that a country can have acknowledgement of racial, ethnic and religious as well as those differences Americans call gender now (sexual distinctions) in a way which is consistent with human dignity and autonomy. There is a risk of abusing such distinctions but little is gained by running a society based on a total lie of long-term linear improvement which simply does not exist.
    The truth is that Africa is is in trouble as a whole, women are doing many great things but are in crisis as a whole class. They have the consolation that in my opinion white men and North Asian men are really doing quite badly. We may be headed for that lovely equality which one shares with his companions as one sits on an airliner that is about to plow into a cliff. Nobody really puts on many airs I would guess and hate crimes practicaly disappear from the milieu.

  2. 18/08/2009 at 8:19 pm

    Hats off to Harriet? I think not. And the idea that women in power behave any differently to men in power is a dangerous delusion.

    Labour’s women only shortlists and its so-called ‘positive’ discrimination (was Hitler’s pro-Arian approach positive?) should be seen as what it was – a means for Labour’s status quo to ensure a large number of inexperienced back benchers following the 1997 election and to lord it over them.

    It can’t be feasible in the long-term: it risks alienating an entire gender, and leads all male would-be parliamentarians of the future to choose other parties. Still, I expect they’ll continue with it until it does them enough damage.

    • 01/09/2009 at 10:33 am

      (was Hitler’s pro-Arian approach positive?)

      What an incredibly silly thing to say. How can we be expected to take someone seriously who cannot make a distinction between a preferential hiring bias towards an under-represented class of people and one of history’s most vicious atrocities?

  3. Kyle Mulholland
    19/08/2009 at 9:37 am

    Speaking as a sometime Labour supporter, this Harman is a bad apple. I think she forgets that the Labour Party is supposed to be the champion and voice of the working class. Harriet Harman is of aristocratic blood, which I have no problem with. However, she does not seem to hold the conventional Labour values.

    She seems to be part of a small dining club liberal elite whose interests lie firmly at their own doors. Speak to a grass-roots Labour supporter and you won’t find people wanting preferential treatment, just a fair go.

    What New Labour has done, and what the likes of ‘Ms’ Harman have done, is, instead of making our schools better, for example, they’ve simply forced the universities to take non-academic circumstances into account at selection. Instead of fighting for higher pay and better conditions for workes, they’ve just increased the benefits. This is unsustainable.

    Harman is quite clearly a hard-core feminist. It would seem that her final goal would be to make men subordinate to women. This is not a common goal shared by members of the Labour Party.

    • 19/08/2009 at 1:12 pm

      Kyle Mulholland – I’m unconvinced Harman and New Labour have not improverd pay and conditions – they did introduce the minimum working wage and the social contract on day one, which transformed the lives of many people (+ also saved the taxpayer a fortune in benefits then used to make up wages).

      One fears what will happen to such people in the hands of John Redwood & Co.

      • Kyle Mulholland
        20/08/2009 at 12:39 pm

        You’re right about the minimum wage. I also don’t hold much hope for them under Redwood, whom I have been suspicious of since he stood against Major in 1995.

  4. 19/08/2009 at 2:41 pm

    I can relate to your mixed reaction to Harriet Harman’s suggestion. Unfortunately there is still plenty of basic discrimination against women and minorities, as unambiguously evidenced by the pay gap for like-for-like work which you mentioned and by experiments whereby some employers, when sent identical job applications/CVs, one from a woman or ethic minority and one from a man or white person, rejected the female/minority applicant but not the male/white applicant. This is blatant evidence of an ‘uneven playing field’ and I support positive discrimination that is proportional to the impact of such discrimination.

    However, as you touched upon, women also end up with less power in society because of child-birth, child-rearing, doing most of the domestic labour and different career ambitions. What this amounts to is that women in general aspire to less high-powered jobs than men and when women do get into high-powered jobs they are disadvantaged by their greater domestic burden. It’s not discriminary employers that do this, but the individual personalities and private circumstances of women shaped by a society which places very different expectations on women and men.

    The degree to which these differences in circumstance and aspiration are rooted in biology or society is an argument that won’t be ending any time soon. Personally I believe that the causes are mostly social. But even if we assume the causes are 100% social, it seems highly problematic to say that, because there are few women aspiring to a particular male-dominated job that women in those jobs should be systematically promoted and advantaged over their male colleagues. Such measures certainly benefit the individual women in these jobs, but it would not actually do anything to change the wider social forces which lead to women’s relative political/economic weakness. This wouldn’t matter if it were not for the fact that such measures are flagrantly unfair to male workers.

    For some people (presumably including Harriet Harman) the unfairness inherent in positive discrimination (that is, positive discrimination which does more than counter employer discrimination) is justified because the result is a society whereby men in general and women in general have less unequal levels of power. That makes sense if you think of “women” as a single entity and “men” as another single entity but not if you think of women and men as individuals.

    I believe that the focus should be on challenging the subtle pressures and assumptions which means that man-as-breadwinner and woman-as-housekeeper/mother still seems like the natural order to so many people. This is the only way that meaningful change will be achieved.

    At the very least, positive discrimination policies should be implemented consistently. If women in male-dominated careers are to be unfairly advantaged why not men in female-dominated professions (e.g. teaching, nursing, social care, childcare)? And why not advantage single fathers and househusbands? In a society where women are given preferential job treatment, regardless of whether they have any children or do most of the domestic labour, those few men who do most of the domestic labour of child-rearing would be massively disadvantaged, since they would be penalised by both private circumstance and discrimination policies. The results would be that even fewer men would want to take on these burdens and inequality in domestic labour burdens would actually be exacerbated!

    Having said all that, I think there is a case for arguing that some professions need a balance of gender and ethnicities in order to perform their jobs effectively. So it could be argued that, in order to effectively and legitimately govern the UK, politicians need to be representative of the British people. If this argument is accepted gender can be a legitimate part of being qualified for the job of being a politician. I think that’s a persuasive argument, so I actually sympathise with Harman’s suggestion but not, I suspect, with all of her thinking behind the suggestion.

  5. 19/08/2009 at 2:59 pm

    Ms Harman would snort in derision if men doffed their hats to her. Often quoted (presumably because people identify with it), Gwyneth Dunwoody said of Harman that she was one of the “…certain, particular women who were of the opinion that they had a God-given right to be among the chosen”.

    Harman’s hypocrisy is legendary. Most recently, as reported by Iain Dale, and elsewhere, “Labour has a system whereby if an MP retires, the constituency party is supposed to instigate an all women shortlist process to replace them. So what’s this I hear that Leyton & Wanstead is being targeted by Mr Jack Harman (nee Dromey) who is desperate to join his wife in the Commons. And who oversees the whole process? Why, the chairwoman of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman herself. How convenient.” ( iaindale.blogspot.com 17 August)

    I must challenge you, Lord Taylor, on a couple of points. First, you link childbirth with discrimination. This is true but, unsurprisingly, I don’t agree with your assertion that men should be enabled to give birth to change the situation. Of course, you were being flippant, but also stereotypical.

    You also listed the usual famous names of women, reminiscent of the odd game of listing famous Belgians ie it looks as if you struggled to come up with someone alive today.

    Your post looks as if it has been written by a Tory peer who thought this is what women want to see. Please don’t “hope” things will change, do something, and do it sincerely.

    • Croft
      20/08/2009 at 4:41 pm

      Life’s too short to wade into some political debates but as a maxim all politicians could follow: “Please don’t “hope” things will change, do something, and do it sincerely” sounds pretty much perfect.

  6. 20/08/2009 at 8:45 pm

    Do readers think that in a few years’ time, Harriet, Fiona Mactaggart, Vera Baird and certain others may end up like one of the officials in the following (or are they like them already?)
    http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/Features/2009/08/14/87/0801000000AEN20090814339900326F.HTML
    (You don’t need to instal a Korean language pack).

  7. 01/09/2009 at 10:39 am

    If all other things are equal, then discriminating in favour of one class can be seen as unfair.

    All other things are not equal.

    If the playing field is not level, artificial methods to level it up are perfectly acceptable, in my view.

    Harman deserves criticism for many, many things (her support of the Iraq war and all the intolerable New Labour authoritarian nonsense, for a start), but I get the feeling that much of the criticism of her feminism comes from the same place that most critiques by men of feminist women come from – discomfort at the erosion of their own privilege.

  8. Lord Taylor of Warwick
    08/09/2009 at 3:46 pm

    Thank you all for your input in this debate. It seems as though it has struck a particular chord and I have enjoyed reading all your comments.

    franksummers3ba – I agree that much more needs to be done to foster the status of women in our society. As you have rightly suggested, women have come a long way in recent history, but there is still more to be done. I would have to disagree with you and say I am optimistic about the “future of our species”. But, only when we have faith, courage and support will we begin to see change in our society.

    stephenpaterson – What must be clear here is that whenever someone is in a position of power, they must be accountable. This is what has been lacking in our entire system, not just in parliament, and something that must change. Whether man or woman, we must all be responsible.

    Kyle Mulholland – Whether or not the Labour party’s policies have been effective is another debate altogether. When I spoke about Ms Harman, I was only admiring her passion for women’s rights.

    N Holzapfel – I agree with your notion of consistency. Not only would this be a fair method, it would also go some way in changing our preconceptions about the roles of men and women. I also agree that in order to have an effective government and argument about gender, we must have a representative government.

    Ladytizzy – My remark about men giving birth was meant to be humorous, but not flippant. If men could give birth then I am sure maternity leave and related issues would be taken more seriously. But thankfully, men and women are not the same. They do, however, need and deserve equal rights and opportunities. Tackling this issue, including the discussion of maternity, is a matter deserving of serious debate. The discussion could fill a dissertation, never mind a single blog post. I also agree with you and Croft that in order to change things, it is about action not just words.

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