Of course women can have it all – they just don’t want it

A highly provocative view from a leading female academic

By Rachel Porter

There would be a gasp of horror from the small but vocal minority of women who are still fighting tooth and nail for their ­version of gender equality.

But if it were possible to switch off the pressure that women feel to smash the glass ceiling and become high-flying, have-it-all executive superwomen, I suspect the majority in Britain would heave a collective sigh of relief.

Somehow, over the decades, unhelpful, unrealistic and inaccurate myths about ­gender equality have been hung around our necks like lead weights by the feminists and politicians who have dominated the debate.

Feminists and politicians who have headed the debate for decades have created an unrealistic expectations of gender equality

Myths: Feminists and politicians who have headed the debate for decades have created an unrealistic expectations of gender equality

They have encouraged us to strive for a world in which women and men occupy exactly the same positions in the home and the workplace. And they would have us believe that until there are as many househusbands as housewives, and as many female CEOs as male, we will not have attained gender equality of any kind.

But this notion is false and hopelessly out of touch with the ­aspirations of the majority of women.

Try telling these ‘experts’ that real ­equality is not about shoe-horning more women into the boardroom or more men into ­primary school teaching, but about opportunity and choice instead. Try telling them that a stay-at-home mother is exercising the same right to choose her own path as any dedicated career woman, and that those personal choices and preferences are the real reason why men and women tend to order their lives differently.

They will tell you that you that you’re a product of an inherently sexist world and that heavy-handed social engineering — like the kind of ‘positive discrimination’ introduced in Norway to boost the ­numbers of women in high level professional ­positions — is the only cure for it.

I am a sociologist and a feminist of sorts, and I have watched with growing horror as the political classes have cultivated around a dozen key myths about gender equality to prop up their leaky arguments about the need for drastic action.

And with these arguments gaining ground in some parts of the world, it feels high time someone tackled the myths behind them.

The first of these is the idea that our equal opportunities policies have failed. That ­simply isn’t true.

The big success of British equal ­opportunities legislation has been to narrow the pay gap between men and women, from around 29 per cent in 1975 to as little as ­- 10 per cent today. And in fact, more detailed studies of pay today show that the gap doesn’t exist at all for the generation who are just entering the workforce.

Most of this change took place quickly in the Seventies, when the Equal Pay Act came into force after high-profile protests for equal pay of the ­previous ­decade — the Dagenham Ford strike, on which the recent film Made In Dagenham was based, is the most famous.

Choice: Equality isn't about shoe-horning women into the boardroom but giving them the opportunity to decide themselves (posed by models)

Choice: Equality isn’t about shoe-horning women into the boardroom but giving them the opportunity to decide themselves (posed by models)

Since the mid-Nineties, the pay gap has remained more or less stable in the UK and across Europe. In that time, household income and disposable income has almost doubled, women have been having fewer children, and the number of them in higher education has risen from a third to over half.

In every meaningful way, our opportunities are equal to men’s, but still we hear cries of disappointment that women are not taking an equal number of top jobs.

In reality, although opportunities are now equal, women’s attitudes and aspirations regarding work haven’t changed much at all.

In 1975, six out of ten women of working age had a job. Today that number has risen to just seven out of 10. In the workplace, men are more likely to ask for pay rises, while women are more likely to ask for a reduction in their hours, to achieve a better work/life balance.

Does that mean that sexism is still rife? Or does it simply mean that women and men have ­different attitudes to work, despite ­having equal opportunities? And if so, why should they be made to feel bad about that?

Women are the subject of several other myths favoured by those intent on pushing more of them up the career ladder: There’s one about their distinctively ‘soft’ managerial style, which it is often argued is an asset to any male-dominated business.

It seems that those feminists who would baulk at sweeping generalisations in any other context are more than happy to suggest that all women (and presumably, no men) bring this quality to the workplace.

Then there’s the idea that women prefer to earn their own money, instead of being financially dependent upon a man. Yet, women’s aspirations to marry up to a man who is better-educated and higher-earning persists in most European countries.

It may make the radical feminists wince, but it’s true. For it is only a small number of women who really hanker after ‘having it all’.

In the UK, roughly half of women in senior professional roles don’t have children by the time they’re 40, and probably never will. Of those who do, the majority have a ‘nominal’ family — an only child, cared for by someone else.

It ticks a box, satisfying their ambition to be a parent, while minimising the cost and ­inconvenience of childcare, inevitable once she returns to work.

Are these the women who have it all? If so, is it any wonder so many prefer to make a choice between career and family?

But still, we’re fed more myths about how we can, and should, eradicate the differences between the sexes to benefit women, ­business, and society as a whole.

So-called experts may suggest that more men should become primary school teachers (posed by models)

Out of touch: So-called experts may suggest that more men should become primary school teachers (posed by models)

We’ve been told untruths about the ­success of policies implemented in Scandinavia, from ­Norway’s ­quotas for the percentage of women on every company board, to ­Sweden’s famous family-friendly legislation entitling every working parent to 16 months paid leave per child (two of which are compulsory). They never ­mention that in ­Norway, companies ­have to fulfil their government-decreed boardroom quotas with female executives from Britain and America (where more women make it to the top without the help of any such social engineering).

And while we hear so much about the possibility of equal parental leave in Sweden, the fact that only five to 10 per cent of men chose to take any parental leave until they were forced to by law remains a quiet little secret.

In those same countries, the pay gap is no smaller than ­average, and job segregation — where men and women are ­unevenly spread across all jobs and ­paygrades — is actually worse than in Egypt, and substantially higher than in Asian countries such as China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia and India.

Only in the predominantly Islamic Middle East and North Africa, and in certain developing countries, were there similar ­levels of job segregation.

But undeterred, Harriet Harman and her colleagues continue ­fighting to force similar policies into the British statute books.

They claim to speak for all women, but denigrate the efforts of those who choose not to pursue their career to the top, and consistently portray women as the pathetic victims of society; unable to look after our own ­interests in a genuine meritocracy.

They insist the only way to ‘level the playing field’ is to skew the game in women’s favour with the introduction of more legislation.

They wilfully ignore evidence that those women who want high-flying careers can get there under their own steam, under current laws.

Instead they believe in a ridiculous fantasy in which women are body-blocked in the corridors of power by men intent on protecting their boardroom majority.

The fact is that we have everything in place to give women every choice they could want, and that’s the only kind of equality that ­matters. ‘Having it all’ is just one option.

But isn’t it time we accepted that, for most women, it’s not the most desirable one?

n Dr Catherine Hakim is a sociologist at the London School of Economics and author of Feminist Myths And Magic Medicine, which will be published by the Centre for Policy Studies on Tuesday.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1340956/Of-course-women–just-dont-want-says-leading-female-academic.html#ixzz1900GbqSn

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