Monday, 1 February 2010

The factors preventing full equality

In my opinion people will never be treated equally unless we change social attitudes. Not easy to do. At present the media are still trying to present the tired old stereotypes as the norm. Mothers should stay at home with their children - why shouldn't the fathers stay at home? If the mother earns more than the father - or more than would be paid out for childcare - then it makes economic sense for the father to play the domestic role.

Many magazine and newspaper articles are still criticising women for not staying at home with their children. I have yet to see one criticising men for working long hours and not seeing much of their children. It seems we cannot get away from the idea that men must always be the breadwinner and if they're doing that then they shouldn't be criticised for failing to spend time with their children. We're told it's down to men's inherent desire for status - the fast car, the house, the high powered job. But are all men really like this? Wouldn't many of them like an opportunity to stop trying harder, to settle for what they've got and work shorter hours to spend more time with the kids?

But working or not working is far from being the only area of inequality. The pressure on young women today to conform to a particular image in how they dress, what they weigh and how they behave must be crippling. I would hate to be young today. The pressure just wasn't there when I was in my 20s and 30s. Cosmopolitan magazine - when it first came out - was not all about fashion and slimming and plastic surgery. You wore what clothes you wanted and no one tried to get you to lose weight or have a boob job. Now you can't pick up a magazine or newspaper without seeing an article about something you're doing wrong. Women must conform if they want to get on or get a man.

Is there the same pressure on men? Not as far as I can see. Men can still do what they want and be what they want. They're in the majority in Parliament and in big business as well as at the top of the Civil Service. Is it that women just automatically focus on getting a job, having a career, which they can combine with family responsibilities? I've read several times recently that only about 20% of women are career orientated and about 20% are family orientated - which leaves 60% who would prefer to combine the two. So really we're back to mothers working.

In which case the only solution is to change how work is organised and have more flexible jobs which can be done wherever is convenient. Is this why more women are becoming self employed and starting small businesses? It means they can work when they want and where they want. I've read somewhere that female business start-ups are more likely to succeed long term than male start-ups which is interesting.

All this boils down to:- change general attitudes to gender and change working practices.

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