A Pox on the Patriarchy
Women getting fired from their jobs because they sprouted their first crow’s foot. Men – and only men – talking about women’s bodies. Men holding nearly twice as many senior roles as women and getting paid on average £17000 – yes, you read that right – more than their female counterparts who have managed to somehow scrabble to the “top”.
What is this backward-looking, Victorian-sounding enterprise? Surely it couldn’t be our well-loved, globally-respected public broadcaster, affectionately known as ‘Aunty’? Oh yes it could. And yesterday, although you wouldn’t know it from the media blackout, institutional sexism struck again. It is almost inconceivable that a public-owned corporation would choose in one day to replace two women editors from flagship programmes – Newsnight and the Today programme – with white men. And yet, dear reader, that is precisely what they have done.
From nothing else but a PR perspective, you would think that the BBC might have stepped back and thought “Hmmm, this isn’t going to look good – two women leaders wiped out in one day and replaced with the usual pale male suspects? Let’s give this a rethink.” But perhaps they know better than I – after all, they have hardly taken a battering over this decision. Indeed, you probably hadn’t even heard about it, so concerned has the media been with presenting this as an internal media-interest story, straying only slightly from this narrative to pen hagiographies of the men chosen. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they’re fine men, who will do a fine job. But the lack of interest over the fact that the women they have just replaced have also been doing a fine job – indeed, considering the slight rise in women experts during their tenure, I would argue a more than fine job – has been overwhelming.
Why does this matter, I hear many of you ask? Surely the best man won – and isn’t it striking that that’s the received phrase? But did he reader, did he?
Research into hiring practices repeatedly finds that the qualitative factors, such as ‘personality’ and ‘fitting in’, brought to bear when deciding on an employee overwhelmingly favour men. Why? Because you will ‘fit in’ better if you are like the people who are hiring you, the people you will work with. And if the people who work with and who are hiring you are also overwhelmingly white men? Bingo, welcome to positive discrimination in favour of the status quo.
It’s impossible to know exactly how this decision was reached. And in isolation, I might even let it slide – after all, it gets a bit tiring fighting day after day against a sexism that you know is there, but is almost impossible to quantitatively prove. But look at the context. This is not an isolated decision. This is one in a string of decisions that sees male experts chosen over female experts; male Director Generals chosen over female Director Generals; and women kicked over the hill as they start to approach the summit, while men get tied to the flag they stick at the top. This could only be happening by chance if there were comparatively fewer women for these posts. But there aren’t. There have been plenty of women to choose from each time. They just keep not getting chosen.
And you know what that’s called? Sexism. Plain, simple, and ugly sexism, of the institutional variety.