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A more equal society

11 October 2012
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So, it seems that I have mostly lived out my career in a working world far removed from that experienced by most people. Getting on for the last 15 years, all of my bosses have been women, they have made up a significant majority of the workforces I have been part of, most of my clients are also women. At home, my partner is a woman, both our children are girls, even the dog is female. To all practical purposes I’ve been happily ensconced in a matriarchy at home and work for much of my adult life. And yet.

And yet, I’m part of a society that remains hopelessly, embarrassingly patriarchal. As a white middle aged man, in theory it should make my heart soar that everything is stacked in my favour, but the reality is that it is immensely frustrating, tedious and, well, boring. God knows how women manage to put up with it.

It is the insidious, passive aggressive nature of everyday instances of sexism that really get me down: I don’t drink but if I order sparkling water and a beer for my partner in a restaurant, the beer will almost always be placed in front of me; if I go into a meeting with a female colleague, often all the questions are directed to me; only the dads are ever asked to help out with sessions for my daughters’ football team; emails I used to get from the school PTA refer to the parents involved as “ladies”. My partner and I have recently been on a training programme to become foster carers where we were split into male and female groups so “the lads would feel more comfortable talking about issues”; I have an enduring love of romcoms and musical theatre, which never fails to raise a titter with friends of both sexes.  Have a look at the every day sexism project and you’ll find thousands of other people’s examples.

These things are insignificant, petty annoyances, but they are important. They are the mundane, minor manifestation of a culture where only 3 FTSE 100 companies are led by women, where frontline politics is dominated by men, a culture of complacency around numerous issues from wage disparity to sexual and domestic violence.

David Cameron urged us to sink or swim yesterday, but it is difficult to do the front crawl with one hand tied behind your back. Today is the International Day of the Girl, a chance to reflect on the type of world girls currently live in, and the one we would like them to experience in the future. As a society, if we want to emerge from this recession and thrive culturally, socially and economically then the most effective first step we can take is to free ourselves of a culture that consciously and unconsciously restricts and belittles half our population. Certainly, girls and young women are impatient for change. Our client, Girlguiding UK, commissions an annual survey of girls’ attitudes which caused a media stir this week by, shock horror, highlighting that many girls don’t see marriage as a key life goal.

A more equal society would be a more prosperous, happier, more enjoyable place to live. I’m a proud dad and I want my girls to grow up in a society where your sex is irrelevant. I’d celebrate any small steps we take in that direction – probably by watching Mamma Mia Sing along version on DVD.