Posts Tagged ‘equality’

still circling around the Swedish law against buying sex, together with its self-congratulatory evaluation published by Swedish government this post might allow to take a somewhat different view on the issue of prostitution and its regulation. the entry was prompted by two remarkable images posted on the blog An Anthology of English Pros in an article Swedish Justice Minister to the pillory! by Helena von Schantz (link to her blog in Swedish).

(Photos of sex worker executions in Ghanzi Province, Afghanistan, by Rahmatullah Naikzad, AP Photos)

apart from the pictures and author’s insights that go with them the post begins with yet another shocking (at least for me) piece of information which is worth reporting. according to von Schantz, on the 18th of March during the seminar on prostitution, Swedish Minister of Justice Beatrice Ask said:

“I want to send garish envelopes to the sex buyers, because I think the worst thing that can happen to a sex buyer is that somebody in their surroundings finds out what they have done, the wife or the neighbour… We should have purple envelopes, it should be clear that you’re suspected of having bought sex.”

however shocking this may seem, von Schantz proceeds:

“When confronted with the question, what if a child finds the envelope, she answered thus: “The daughter might just as well find out what kind of father she has. You have to remember not to protect the wrong factor (just as abstruse in Swedish). If the daughter has been abused by her father the letter may give her the courage to come forward.””

and i though that duo bindel and harman were lunatics!

“Naturally there was a lot of outrage and also demands for Beatrice Ask’s resignation. In the beginning she stuck to her guns, but six days later she made a half-hearted apology that allowed her to remain in office.”

one might wonder were do they find these people?

subsequently, we are referred to the evaluation report and in this respect von Schantz mercifully points out lack of any data that could warrant the conclusions reached by the author of the report; and while addressing these few figures that are presented in the report she mentions shambles with numbers of Danish prostitutes used by Swedish officials in their evaluation, which turned out to be false and inflated (i reported on that story in one of my earlier posts).

“If you consider the purple envelope debacle in March, things become a bit clearer. What can you expect from an Attorney General who suggests that men suspected of buying sex should be paraded in the square? Convicted murderers, bank robbers, smugglers and rapists do not need coloured envelopes and public condemnation, prison suffices for them. Men suspected of having paid for sex, however, they should be tarred and feathered. From this follows that being suspected of buying sex is worse than being a convicted rapist. What happens to rape statistics when the authorities send out that kind of signal?

The European Council has recommended that prostitutes should have their say in decisions that affect them, but that advice falls on deaf ears in Sweden. Beatrice Ask’s starting point is a zero vision. We are supposed to heap shame and disgrace on sex buyers until the market is dead, because sex is not a commodity.’”

and that’s how we arrive at the pictures of afghan prostitutes before and after execution; von Schantz writes:

“(…) There are prostitutes of both sexes in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Iran, although the penalty is death – usually a painful and disgraceful death at that. Have none of the pro sexlaw people watched the documentary ”Prostitution behind the veil” by Nahid Persson? Do they really think that the Swedish sex law will succeed where Sharia laws have failed? Are they under the illusion that buying or selling sex without getting caught is hard in Sweden? I could probably not steal a car or rob a bank without going to prison, but I could definitely buy and/or sell sexual favours morning, noon and night without anyone being the wiser.

Consequently there were all of 69 poor sods prosecuted for buying sex in Sweden in 2009. I’m thinking that they were either drunk, incredibly stupid or had really nasty enemies, because this is a “crime” any fool should be able to perpetrate without being caught. You would have to have an advanced system of informants or police with Orwellian rights for us to keep track of whether people are paid for sex or not.”

it seems disturbing but at the same time hard to deny that the purpose of the Swedish law is not to aid sex workers nor is it related in any way to the notion of equality between the sexes; it seems clear that the primary goal of the law is to impose on every individual one particular, obtrusive and highly questionable kind of morality with the full force of the state.

one might wonder what century are we living in? public executions and shaming practices for those merely accused of minor and by all means questionable offences? which were concocted by governmental officials who seem to regard some dubious moral standards as being superior to factual data? which is further entrenched by these officials complete disregard or maybe even ignorance of scientific method of enquiry? aren’t these the main characteristics of inquisition tribunals? it seems like it; maybe the next step of Minister of Justice Beatrice Ask and Swedish government will be to publish fit for XXI century’s social ills new version of once renowned and highly regarded Malleus Maleficarum.

and indeed, doesn’t the reasoning behind the Swedish report and official news-releases resemble the kind of “logic” brilliantly depicted in this unforgettable scene:

i would say it does.

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[this is the third part from series of posts on feminism:
feminism as philosophical theory (part 1); feminism as political ideology (part 2); feminism as a marketing campaign (part 3)].

finally i would move on to consider feminism as successful marketing campaign run by strictly commercial feminist organisations. short explanation of this view would have to start with consideration of mechanisms and techniques used by pressure groups and various activists to raise awareness among the public about their “causes” and by doing so apply pressure on bureaucratic apparatus of modern welfare-states. which subsequently translates to inflow of large governmental grants, facilitating further promotion of the “cause” and allowing to maintain achieved status. and all this in the name of equality and war on unjust treatment of victimised groups in society. quite clearly there is hardly anything unusual in such relationship between pressure groups and governmental agencies. however what makes feminist activism so successful is the fact that unlike other social movements it does not advocate for the rights of minority groups but on the contrary has an direct appeal to the majority of the population. which makes politicians particularly susceptible to propagated by feminist groups ideas and their agendas.

it is important to note that such activism should not be necessarily a bad thing; and history of women liberation movement shows how this can be truly aimed at eradicating gender inequalities within legal system. however, after securing its main victories during the second wave the largest feminist organisations resembled powerful and well organised multinational corporations which could not simply disband and disappear. their enormous influence enabled them to pursue other social agendas not necessarily concerned with equality which is hardly a well defined concept. in such an environment emergence of high flying activists/entrepreneurs was just a matter of time.

in favourable environment, reinforced by existing organisational structures and encouraged by politicians from all sides who were keen to jump on the bandwagon of equality , these feminist activist/entrepreneurs were highly effective in securing grants handed out by governments of most powerful states. in addition the absence of any kind of competition meant that these organisations gained monopoly in number of areas now considered as women issues.

finally, in order to maintain their superior positions these organisations flooded the media with their research reports based on questionable “evidence”, dubious “facts” and misconstrued accounts official statistical data. unsurprisingly, in such ferocious medial storm over certain social issues and faced with unscrupulous propaganda techniques, the underfunded academic research tended to pass unnoticed by general public and effectively could be ignored by governmental officials and policy makers.

in interesting comment to the guardian, Belinda Brooks-Gordon gives an account of such mechanism in relation to sex work and trafficking (Vested interests have inflated the numbers of trafficked women).

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there is abundance of various materials in relation to feminist propaganda aimed at achieving certain ideological gains in many other areas and i touched on these issues in my earlier posts (“when ignorance reigns, life is lost”, fact is a feminist issue and on julie bindel’s unhealthy and disturbing fantasies) but since this entry (and previous two) turned out to be solely based on my misguided rumblings and is so obnoxiously free from any kind of references i feel compelled to invite those interested in the subject to consider how effective these “feminist techniques” proved to be by looking at some of the issues deterring researchers concerned with intimate partner violence for the last few decades and which were brilliantly summarised by prominent academics from the University of British Columbia, Donald G. Dutton and Tonia L. Nicholl in their article “The gender paradigm in domestic violence research and theory: Part 1-The conflict of theory and data.”. [Dutton, D.G., Nicholls, T.L. (2005), The Gender Paradigm in Domestic Violence Research and Theory: Part 1 – The Conflict of Theory and Data, Aggression and Violent Behavior, 10, pp. 680-714].

also i would like to take the opportunity and strongly recommend further reading of academic articles treating on the same subject in context of domestic violence :

Dutton, D. G., Corvo, K. N., & Hamel, J. (2009). The gender paradigm in domestic violence research and practice part II: The information website of the American Bar Association. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 14, 30-38. (link)

Gelles, R. J. (2007). The politics of research: The use, abuse, and misuse of social science data – the case of intimate partner violence. Family Court Review, 45, 42-51. (link)

Kelly, L. (2003). Disabusing the definition of domestic abuse: how women batter men and the role of the feminist state. Florida State Law Review, 30, 791-855. (link)

summing up, the presented above general overview of feminist theoretical underpinnings and its political activism, as i understand them show how this once credible and powerful social movement was subsequently reduced over the past decades to lacking legitimacy cultist following built around particularly hateful dogma which subsidises large number of horrendous, money making enterprises. and having very little concern about equality and women issues. having said that I am glad to announce that I am officially through with feminism in all its shapes and forms because in my humble and misguided opinion, modern feminism (with exception of egalitarian strain) at best should be seen as some prejudicial and vicious money making scheme which has very little to offer for modern societies (western) which regard equal, fair and just treatment of all individuals as the highest priority.

which does not mean that reports on curious feminist stunts will disappear from this space.
it’s just too much fun.

[this is the second part from series of posts on feminism:
feminism as philosophical theory (part 1)feminism as political ideology (part 2)feminism as a marketing campaign (part 3)].


analysis from this viewpoint allows to tolerate certain theoretical inconsistencies and gives greater flexibility by significantly lowering the standards. moreover, such approach might seem the most appropriate since the feminist movement initially was geared towards political changes and remains closely tied with political activism.

i would begin by restating the undoubtedly most emphatic and crucial feminist claim that gender equality is the main objective of its political activities. this assertion is crucial to the feminist political movement for it grants legitimacy to its agenda. however it is fairly obvious that majority of feminists would insist on the notion that gender equality should not be confused with equal treatment in law and gender neutral legislation. i have very little interest in elaborating on what could feminist idea of gender equality entail. thus i would simply narrow down my analysis and consider only those aspects that would necessarily apply in every circumstances regardless of the feminist definition of gender equality.

at first i would point to patently obvious fact (which in this context i find quite amusing) that “equality” is a mathematical concept and as such does not exist in natural world. which means that the best we could hope for is certain “degree of equality”. having said that one might note that methods capable of measuring this “degree” at any certain point in time might present quite a challenge. furthermore, once desired levels are attained there would be similarly difficult task to fulfil in respect of means to monitor such a “heavenly equilibrium”.

however tough these problems might seem (or not) to anyone they are unfortunately just a warm up, because next we would have to account for practicalities of political processes applicable in all complex societies. in doing so we would have to make significant allowance for constantly changing circumstances and complexities of social interactions across different societies which are typical to our times.
it is not difficult to imagine what would happen to feminist (or for that matter, any other) definition of gender equality once it is put through such a grinder as presented above. but it would be a safe bet to say that once it is exposed to realities of politics the initially egalitarian agenda might turn into something quite nasty and be easily hijacked and further derailed by some radical and highly vocal political players. obviously such players would at all time insist and pledge their allegiance to the idea of equality while proclaiming their holy war on injustice in modern societies.

at this point it might seem plausible to take a closer look at initial feminist claims in relation to equality. it is patently obvious that essentially feminism is built upon the notion of social conflict. unsurprisingly the struggle for power between conflicting sides forms the main theme in feminist political activism; without conflict there would be no need for feminism. i do not see how political ideology that insist on existence of social conflict could strive for power in order to allegedly end the conflict. or maybe it doesn’t. one might only wonder what are the real motives behind feminist political activities.

on the other hand however, it could be argued that conflict is inseparable quality behind every political activity. however, what this claim encapsulates is a conflict as a difference of opinions or difference in preferred approach to certain issues held by conflicting sides. in such a conflict individuals are free to chose their sides or opt out from the argument; they are free to switch sides as many times as they see fit; they are even allowed to agree with one another ending the conflict all together! the conflict presented by feminist ideology is markedly different in that respect and it goes far beyond difference of opinion or disagreement between conflicting sides, for it insist and depends on differentiating between individuals on the basis of their sex!!!

this notion of conflict inherent in feminist ideology should make most of us feel a bit uncomfortable. however, we might still reasonably agree that many actions taken by feminist organisations are intended to eradicate inequalities in modern societies. in this case we might even decide to ignore alienating ideas and divisive character of their inconsistent theoretical framework as long as it does not have influence on their activities. this however cannot be said about radical strain of the feminist movement which due to its vociferous activism and reckless campaigning managed to gain ground, captivating public attention and contaminating public debate. their openly hostile discourse would have to be described as dangerous and hateful rhetoric based on supremacist ideology which vindicates one particular group of individuals above the other. these groups together with their alienating doctrines should not be ignored as most of us would not ignore angry, racist comment made in our presence.  and this is where i would gladly end my evaluation of feminism as political ideology and would move on to consider feminism as a marketing campaign.

this is the first instalment from a series of posts treating about, yes, feminism at which i intend to look from three different angles. the first two posts will consider feminism as philosophical theory and political ideology, respectively and then, finally, i would consider feminism as particularly lucrative business model bringing significant financial gains to certain feminist groups and organisations which turns women liberation movement into strictly commercial enterprises; in short, nothing new and nothing serious.

it must be noted at the beginning that i am fully aware of simplicity of the following analysis, but i believe that despite the high level of abstraction, my approach could provide feasible framework for more detailed examinations. what’s more, it seems to me that furnishing such a framework with necessary details could be done with reasonable ease and in fact such work has already been done to certain extent. so, let’s begin.

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looking at feminism from strictly theoretical point of view it is quite impossible not to realise that the philosophy behind the feminist movement presents something of an intellectual backwater. this lamentable state of feminist theory is largely result of its heavy reliance on psychoanalysis and ideas which for short i would describe as postmodern relativism, as tools of its philosophical analysis. i am not going to elaborate on circumstances surrounding this curious “choice” of tools but i will mention that it might have something to do with intellectual fashions but also it is not inconceivable that it stems from patently obvious nature of some of the feminist claims. for example, feminist insistence on lack of agency on the part of women in creating rules of social interactions could be seen as one of such claims and at best it is … well … unjustified if not rather naive.

in a very similar manner, i intend to brush off any detailed examination of the exciting relationship between feminist theory and psychoanalysis or relativism. and in respect of psychoanalysis i would merely point out that even though psychoanalysis might seem as useful tool in the field of literary criticism it cannot be reasonably regarded as reliable means of serious enquiry (“most stupendous intellectual confidence trick of the twentieth century”). this particular feature of psychoanalysis becomes almost self-evident once we consider that it tends to produce number of contradictory explanations of the same phenomena, which justifies the claim that this explanations give more reliable information about those who conduct the study rather than about the phenomena being studied.
moving on to curious world of relativism i must admit that i have no inclination whatsoever to drown myself in futile epistemological deliberations which comprise the only serious relativist argument. so in relation to feminist arguments invoking any notion of relativism i would simply note that these arguments by definition would validate multiple conclusions being drawn from the same premises. which would mean that feminist narratives and its reliance on women experiences of “otherness” are merely one of many equally valid narratives and being “other” is normal human condition applicable to all individuals regardless of their sex (or gender, ha!). i cannot imagine how this could be incorporated into feminist theories.

furthermore, even though feminism fails miserably to present independent and consistent philosophical argument it could incorporate theoretical framework developed by other schools of philosophical thought. however, this would make the very notion of feminism quite unnecessary and the very term “feminism” would only make artificial distinctions where they clearly don’t exist. as a good illustration of this principle one might look at egalitarianism and particular strains of modern feminism which are “feminist” only due to their insistence on using that term.

given that ideas forming the basis of feminist theory could not sustain serious (as opposed to confused) philosophical inquiry i am rather sceptical whether feminist narratives could endure serious scientific scrutiny. for this reason i am more than happy to avoid areas where serious empirical arguments are being presented to less than serious disputants and would happily move on to consider feminism as strictly political ideology.

since this post turned out to be particularly long one I’ve decided to cut it into three separate pieces: feminism as philosophical theory (part 1); feminism as political ideology (part 2); feminism as a marketing campaign (part 3).

enjoy

in my earlier post concerned with treatment of official statistics by certain groups of activists and by various officials who fully commited themselves to end gender discrimination in all forms and shapes, i briefly looked at the figures behind the so called gender pay gap. while in the previous entry i looked at these numbers only to demonstrate discrepancies between the official data and the manner in which this data was reported and utilised by aforementioned organisations and individuals, this entry is devoted entirely to the notion of gender pay gap itself.

however, being myself way too lazy to do any real (desk) research and report the findings but also taking into account my admittedly limited intellectual capabilities, i would gladly make use of the work of others and much better qualified authors and who are behind bbc show, “more or less”.

for those not familiar with the show i would say that “more or less” is a half an hour long, bbc radio 4 weekly broadcast presented by renown financial times’ undercover economist, tim harford; and as stated on show’s website it is “devoted to the powerful, sometimes beautiful, often abused but ever ubiquitous world of numbers.”
such a statement not only sound neat and encouraging but also, sadly seems quite true. in any case, among other issues featuring on the most recent episode of the show (18 June 2010), the authors happened to look at statistics behind the gender pay gap and also made an attempt to take somewhat broader look at this particular issue trying to identify some of its potential causes. on their journey they briefly interview researchers who looked at the issues behind the low numbers of women in top positions in large financial institutions and on how different age at which women decide to become mothers affects differently their careers and future incomes.

the episode can be accessed and downloaded here (itunes).

just today in the morning:

Mornings with Joanne Malin: 15/06/2010 – BBC WM – BBC iPlayer Console

strictly speaking, WHERE ARE THE FUCKING EQUALITY FIGHTERS, FEMINISTS AND OTHER FUCKWITS SCREAMING THEIR GUTS OUT ABOUT DISCRIMINATION AN OTHER SUCH SHIT!!! debating pay gap i guess.
and that was perfectly well balanced comment

the text below was copied from Sickipedia for iPhone where it was posted by Barty93. i don’t know who is the original author but i assume it’s Barty93 and i hope he doesn’t mind me re-posting it here. the text is hilarious so i decided to paste it in its entirety. it also goes nicely with my recent mood for rants on “broken society thing”, so here goes:

“THIS IS LABOUR GOVERNMENT REST OF THE WORLD VERSION:

The squirrel works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building and improving his house and laying up supplies for the winter. The grasshopper thinks he’s a fool, and laughs and dances and plays the summer away. Come winter, the squirrel is warm and well fed. The shivering grasshopper has no food or shelter, so he dies out in the cold.

THE END

————————————————————————

LABOUR GOVERNMENT THE UK VERSION:

The squirrel works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter. The grasshopper thinks he’s a fool, and laughs and dances and plays the summer away. Come winter, the squirrel is warm and well fed. A social worker finds the shivering grasshopper, calls a press conference and demands to know why the squirrel should be allowed to be warm and well fed while others less fortunate, like the grasshopper, are cold and starving. The BBC shows up to provide live coverage of the shivering grasshopper; with cuts to a video of the squirrel in his comfortable warm home with a table laden with food. The British press inform people that they should be ashamed that in a country of such wealth, this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so, while others have plenty. The Labour Party, Greenpeace, Animal Rights and The Grasshopper Council of GB demonstrate in front of the squirrel’s house. The BBC, interrupting a cultural festival special from Notting Hill with breaking news, broadcasts a multi-cultural choir singing ‘We shall overcome’. Ken Livingstone rants in an interview with Trevor McDonald that the squirrel got rich off the backs of grasshoppers, and calls for an immediate tax hike on the squirrel to make him pay his ‘fair share’ and increases the charge for squirrels to enter inner London . In response to pressure from the media, the Government drafts the Economic Equity and Grasshopper anti Discrimination Act, retroactive to the beginning of the summer. The squirrel’s taxes are reassessed. He is taken to court and fined for failing to hire grasshoppers as builders for the work he was doing on his home and an additional fine for contempt when he told the court the grasshopper did not want to work. The grasshopper is provided with a council house, financial aid to furnish it and an account with a local taxi firm to ensure he can be socially mobile. The squirrel’s food is seized and re distributed to the more needy members of society, in this case the grasshopper. Without enough money to buy more food, to pay the fine and his newly imposed retroactive taxes, the squirrel has to downsize and start building a new home. The local authority takes over his old home and utilises it as a temporary home for asylum seeking cats who had hijacked a plane to get to Britain as they had to share their country of origin with mice. On arrival they tried to blow up the airport because of Britain ‘s apparent love of dogs. The cats had been arrested for the international offence of hijacking and attempted bombing but were immediately released because the police fed them pilchards instead of salmon whilst in custody. Initial moves to return them to their own country were abandoned, because it was feared they would face death by the mice. The cats devise and start a scam to obtain money from people’s credit cards. A Panorama special shows the grasshopper finishing up the last of the squirrel’s food, though spring is still months away, while the council house he is in, crumbles around him because he hasn’t bothered to maintain the house. He is shown to be taking drugs. Inadequate government funding is blamed for the grasshoppers’ drug ‘illness’. The cats seek recompense in the British courts for their treatment since arrival in UK . The grasshopper gets arrested for stabbing an old dog during a burglary to get money for his drugs habit. He is imprisoned but released immediately because he has been in custody for a few weeks. He is placed in the care of the probation service to monitor and supervise him.. Within a few weeks he has killed a guinea pig in a botched robbery. A commission of enquiry, that will eventually cost £10,000,000 and state the obvious, is set up. Additional money is put into funding a drug rehabilitation scheme for grasshoppers and legal aid for lawyers representing asylum seekers is increased. The government praises the asylum-seeking cats for enriching Britain ‘s multicultural diversity, and dogs are criticised by the government for failing to befriend the cats. The grasshopper dies of a drug overdose. The usual sections of the press blame it on the obvious failure of government to address the root causes of despair arising from social inequity and his traumatic experience of prison. They call for the resignation of a government minister. The cats are paid a million pounds each because their rights were infringed when the government failed to inform them there were mice in the United Kingdom . The squirrel, the dogs and the victims of the hijacking, the bombing, the burglaries and robberies have to pay an additional percentage on their credit cards to cover losses. Their taxes are increased to pay for law and order, and they are told that they will have to work beyond 65 because of a shortfall in government funds.

THE END”

the story behind this post started with an article about one of Eversheds former employees who took the company to employment tribunal which subsequently found that he has been unfairly dismissed and sexually discriminated against and awarded him £123,300 in damages. nothing very unusual apart from the fact that the claimant was male.
i posted a link to this article on my webpage and one of the comments that appeared under the link stated bluntly that it is “so rare it makes headline”. this, strictly speaking set me off into something comparable to DEFCON 3 mode, with yellow lights quietly blinking in my head.
at first i had to agree with this sad truth behind the comment but at the same time it was clear to me that just because cases like this one are rarely reported, does not make them less of a discrimination. what’s more, it is not inconceivable that discriminatory practices as reported in this case are common among the employers. the important question to ask is how common are they? i concluded that considering prevalence of attitudes as reflected in the comment we might never be able to find out; for what the comment reflects is the position that sex discrimination against males is at best insignificant or even non-existent; at worst it should be regarded as well deserved punishment for years of “patriarchal oppression”. while those who do express their concerns about such a discrimination are treated at best with contempt and at worst are branded as male chauvinists, woman-haters and misogynists. effectively we find ourselves in a climate where all available resources are directed at research concerning discrimination against women, which further perpetuate true inequalities between sexes. what upsets me the most is that it makes it impossible to even discuss the issue of discrimination against men which necessarily undermines actions taken by policy makers supposedly directed at eradication of inequalities.
this answer, which i my opinion was reasonable and clearly directed at some meaningful idea of equality, was greeted with more taunts and i learned that men should “do what women do -work hard towards the changes [they] believe should occur.”
well, what can i say, the mode changed again, this time to DEFCON 2 meaning further increase in force readiness just below maximum – red lights all over the place, sirens wailing on airfields, crews in ICBM silos on full alert and so on.
first of all, one might think that if this is what women’s liberation movements was fighting for then it is not unreasonable to see its actions as an attempt to replaced one set of discriminatory mechanisms and procedures with yet another one. however, the difference between old and new scheme was that the latter gained its legitimacy and was effectively institutionalised because of its apparent appeal to “equality”. with this in mind i must say that i never doubted that I’m a hopeless case of naive ignorant who’s ignorance is beyond powers of educational establishments and even modern medicine, psychology or, for that matter healing spells from Hogwarts; but this was too much even for me.
secondly, what drew my immediate attention was the distinctive wording of the comment and i must admit that this unfortunate use of language painted mischievous smile on my face. the author of that comment talked about beliefs! (“do what women do -work hard towards the changes [they] believe should occur”). quite clearly i was not and would not be willing to “believe” but would rather insist on “knowing” what the current state of affairs is.
which leads me to my main point. how can we successfully deal with inequalities, or for that matter any social ill, without even knowing what the true state of affairs is? and how can we know this when mere indication of certain matters triggers nation-wide hysteria of certain groups within society, which subsequently finds its reflection in media and influences attitudes of leading politicians. to illustrate my point i would use as a case study recent conference organised by Fawcett Society commemorating 40 anniversary of equal pay legislation coming into force in the UK.

the conference commenced on Friday 28th May 2010 and while i was not that much interested in the subject i noticed few intriguing comments posted live on twitter which lead me to visit Fawcett website where i learned that:

“… women working full-time earn on average 17% less per hour than men working full-time. For ethnic minority women, the gap is even higher at 20%. For women working part-time compared to men working full-time the gap is 36% per hour – rising to 45% in London.
Equal pay is a fundamental right!”

and

“There are three main reasons. Firstly, there’s straight-forward discrimination by employers – paying women less than men to do the same job. Some researchers estimate that straightforward discrimination accounts for up to 40% of the pay gap.”

in the paper “Equal pay, where next? Changing Hearts and Minds” (pdf) prepared by Ceri Goddard, Chief Executive of the society and Poly Trenow, and presented at the conference i read that:

“In 2010 celebrations of the forty years of outlawing pay discrimination are marred by the reality of a persistent pay gap of 16.4% for full time work, rising to 55% in the financial services industry. Can we afford to tolerate the implication that in the 21st century women are worth 55% less than their male counterparts?”

disregarding clearly charged language of these extracts, the numbers quoted were quite astonishing – 55% pay gap in the banking sector!? if these numbers were true shouldn’t we celebrate 40 anniversary of equal pay legislation being out of force in the UK rather than being in force? what were these people celebrating?! total and complete failure?! that’s what it seemes judging by the numbers presented above.

but once i took a closer look at those figures together with issues around methods of obtaining them i immediately realised that the picture painted above is … well, at best misleading.

for those with at least two enquiring brain cells the first point of reference would be Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (2009) published by Office for National Statistics as this was the source of the data quoted in “Equal pay, where next?”. however, according to Office for National Statistics, gender pay gap narrowed between 2008 and 2009 (pdf):

“The 2009 gender pay gap for full-time employees is 12.2 per cent, down from 12.6 per cent in 2008, comparing median hourly earnings excluding overtime. For part-time employees the gap is -2.0 per cent (the figure for women is 2.0 per cent higher than the figure for men) compared with -3.7 per cent in 2008.”

and

“The figures show that the gender pay gap has fallen by around five percentage points for the full-time employees and all employees measures from 1997 to 2009. The gender pay gap for part-time employees has remained at a similar level over the years, with women earning more than men when the median is used.”

interestingly enough the main figure provided by Office for National Statistics was 12.2%, so what was the deal with 16.4%, 17%, 20%, 36%, 40%, 45% and/or 55%? where are these numbers coming from?
answers to some of these questions together with an interesting twist could be found on UK Statistics Authority’s website. in the correspondence section i stumbled upon an interesting document entitled “Government Equalities Office Press Release: 27 April 2009”, dated 11 June 2009, from chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir Michael Scholar to Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equality, Government Equalities Office (pdf)(preview and download on scribd). in this document we read:

“I am writing to you about the Government Equalities Office (GEO) Press Release on the Equality Bill, issued on 27 April, which states that women are paid on average 23 per cent less per hour than men.
GEO’s headline estimate of the difference between the earnings of women compared with men (generally referred to as the gender pay gap) is some 10 percentage points higher than the 12.8 per cent figure quoted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Yet both estimates are derived from the same source, the 2008 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE). Such a difference in headline estimates is likely to confuse the general public. The Statistics Authority is concerned that this may undermine public trust in official statistics.
(…)
… the figure of 23 per cent quoted in the GEO press release relates to the median hourly earnings of all employees (full-time and part-time combined) whereas ONS’s figure of 12.8 per cent is based on the difference in the median hourly earnings of full-time employees only. Neither measure is entirely satisfactory as an impartial and objective headline estimate. The former rolls together the quite different levels of hourly earnings for part-time and full-time employees; while the latter excludes the earnings of around one quarter of all employees.

These considerations suggest the need for a more extensive set of measures to present the differences between the earnings of men and women. Indeed, it is the Statistics Authority’s view that use of the 23% on its own, without qualification, risks giving a misleading quantification of the gender pay gap.”

the document goes on clarifying intricacies of measuring pay gap and simply speaking, explanations given by the author serve as very explicit proof that what we neatly refer to as “gender pay gap” is not a neat concept at all. nevertheless quickly scanning through the latest ONS Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings we would find that:

  • median pay gap for full-time employees (excluding overtime) has decreased from 12.6% to 12.2%; that
  • women’s hourly rate rising by 4.3% to £11.39 and the men’s by 3.8% to £12.97; and that
  • mean pay gap also narrowed, from 17.4% to 16.4%;
  • 22.0% pay gap is a result of combining full and part-time work (decrease from 22.5% in 2008); however,
  • when working part-time women were paid 2% more per hour than were men.

that would explain some of the figures quoted by Fawcett while according to society’s website figure 36% (bundled up with 45% as a corresponding figure for London) refers to pay gap between women working part-time when compared with men working full-time. this comparison might seem quite odd, and it is hard for me to imagine what kind of inferences could be drawn from such a comparison.

nevertheless referring back to UK Statistics Authority’s correspondence section we find a letter dated 7 August 2009 and entitled “Gender Pay Gap”. this time Sir Michael Scholar tells off Baroness Prosser of Battersea, Chairman for Women and Work Commission (pdf)(preview and download on scribd). Sir Michael writes:

“It would be an easy mistake for a casual reader to conclude from the Foreword that if the overall gender pay gap stands at 22.6 per cent and the full-time gender pay gap stands at 12.8 per cent, then the part-time gender pay gap must be considerably greater than 22.6 per cent. Indeed, the Foreword appears to confirm just such a conclusion when it states that ‘pay gaps are even greater for part-time workers (39.9 per cent)’. The casual reader would be surprised to learn then that median hourly earnings of women and of men (excluding overtime) are very close, with women’s median pay actually being slightly higher than men’s (by 3.4 per cent).
While the Foreword to Shaping the Future refers to 39.9 per cent as an estimate of the pay gap for part-time workers, it does not explain what this is a measure of. Looking at the numbers presented in the Authority M&A note, 39.9 per cent appears to be a measure of the difference between the median hourly earnings of part-time women compared with full-time men. The M&A note looked at a similar measure presented by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (based on mean rather than median earnings) and concluded that such a comparison needs particularly careful presentation and justification if it is not to mislead. If this comparison is indeed the basis for the 39.9 per cent estimate, I am disappointed that it should have appeared in the Foreword to Shaping the Future without any explanation.”

after these revelations i am inclined to leave remaining figure of 55%, but i have a strong feeling that the high number might be a result of compering average earnings of men working full time in financial sector in the City of London with female employees working as part-time cleaners for small branch of local bank somewhere in the poorest part of UK.

summing up, the closest figure depicting “gender pay gap” according to UK Statistics Authority would be 12.2%, a figure which interestingly is not mentioned even once in Fawcett’s “Equal pay, where next? Changing Hearts and Minds”.
regardless of this unimportant fact, the report goes on to identify issues behind the existing pay gap (whatever it might be) by citing a report “Modelling Gender Pay Gaps” by Olden and Walby and published in 2004 by Equal Opportunities Commission. according to this study, factors associated with gender pay gap as for 2002 were:
•        Women have less full-time work experience (19%)
•        Interruptions to female employment (childcare, etc.) (14%)
•        Gender segregation (concentration of women in female-dominated occupations) (10%)
•        Education (older women have less education than males) (8%)
•        Institutional factors such as firm size (women tend to be in smaller firms) and union membership (8%)
•        Years of part-time working (women have more part-time work experience: this has a negative effect) (3%)
•        ‘Being female’ (unexplained, possibly discrimination and preferences/motivation) (38%)

(after Shackleton, J. R., Should We Mind the Gap? Gender Pay Differentials and Public Policy (October 21, 2008). Insititute of Economic Affairs Monographs, Hobart Paper No. 164. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1314789)

in other words, if one would be really determined to arrive at some one-figure-estimate of wage differences among men and women, working full time (based on current data) and which could be regarded as resulting from sex discrimination (as presented by Olden and Walby) the figure would be 4.63%. however, such estimate would exclude large number of factors and would have to be seen as quite simplistic and most likely misleading representation of the real issue.

now, referring back to “believing” and “knowing” as legitimate drivers for change. one might think that institutions like Fawcett Society and Equality & Human Rights Commission would insist on “knowing” rather than “believing” when attempting to, according to their own words, “build a robust roadmap for the future of equal pay”. on the other hand if insignificant individual like the author of this blog, using his laptop seems to be perfectly capable of scrutinising the various figures popping up during debates on gender pay gap, it is not unreasonable to expect that organisations like the ones mentioned above with all their resources should be capable of doing much more. unless of course “knowing” is not on their agenda, and proposed “robust roadmap for the future of equal pay” is based on set of convoluted beliefs – i guess some form of very peculiar religious dogma proclaiming its crusade against pay differentials as means to salvation.
unfortunately, one would be wrong thinking that this is the only area of policies and legislative process affected by such frivolous attitude towards facts. and short scan of other issues raised by Sir Michael Scholar with various public bodies published by UK Statistics Authority on its website could indicate similar misinformation campaigns surrounding issues of domestic violence, rape and other areas blighted by “institutionalised discrimination against women” all of which are at the heart of policy orientated endeavours of Fawcett-like organisations and pressure groups.

finally, considering the advice that men should “do what women do -work hard towards the changes [they] believe should occur” one might ask whether men should start to “work” towards their goals in a manner similar to the one described above and employed by Fawcett Society, Harriet Harman and the likes?
i believe they should not, but then again I’m just a hopeless case of naive ignorant who’s ignorance is beyond powers of any educational institution.