March 8 is a contradictory day in the calendar of events. International Women’s Day comes with its usual, painstakingly rehearsed formulae: cheery, optimistic advocates keen to show advances made in women’s welfare; solemn reminders that there is much more to be done, and the occasional complement of horror stories that need to be addressed. Of course, there are the medals (no revolution can ever lack metal) – first lady Michelle Obama will be handing out International Women of Courage Awards in Washington. The Women’s Information Network (WIN) trumpets an unprecedented gathering and celebration across 10 cities in the United States.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was at the forefront this year, launching the 100th anniversary of the day. On this occasion, Clinton was launching the ‘100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through international Exchanges’ (Voice of America, Mar 7). The program will run for three weeks, featuring attendees from 92 countries in a US sponsored program. The usual vague, flattering pronouncements follow on any such occasion. Clinton: ‘In Sudan, Aisha Humad, where’s Aisha? Aisha is empowering women by teaching them to stand up for themselves and to stand up for their own rights.’
With the most serious of events and dilemmas come the most banal responses in solving them. There are surely few less meaningful terms than the word ‘empower’, whatever the social work jargon on the subject might dictate.
The real interest came after the sugary, salutary speeches were concluded. Questions asked of Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale, Assistant Secretary of Education Ann Stock and Clinton’s own chief of staff Cheryl Mills caught them off guard. A Latin American woman (Voice of America News remains, as ever, generic) questioned whether the United States was even ready for a female president. Mills answered that the country was ‘more than willing to support women in a leadership role and more than willing to actually see a woman as their leader’ though she had to admit that ‘that final hurdle’ had to be crossed.
The hurdles are many, and the obstacles formidable. Women are still, on average, paid less than their male counterparts across the board. Then there is enduring matter of the ‘multitasking’ femme extraordinaire of the work place and home, able to manage home and workplace with formidable ease. But is all that merely a myth, a creature of false social engineering?
Catherine Hakim of the department of sociology at the London School of Economics found last year that the career woman will only ever end up running a ‘nominal family’, a sort of scarecrow arrangement that is unfulfilling to all parties concerned. Hakim, when interviewed by the Daily Mail, provided a rather gloomy assessment. ‘In Britain half of the women in senior positions are child-free, and a lot more of them have nominal families with a single child and they subcontract out of the work of caring for them to other women’.
The confusion, according to Hakim, lies in conflating equal outcomes with equal opportunities. Ditch then, the manic social engineering feminists and legislators insist on inflicting on society. She is particularly strong against that obsession with eliminating occupational segregation. By insisting on equality of numbers in all occupations, ‘no allowance’ is made ‘for variations in tastes, talents, interests, personal choices and cultural diversity’. Hakim says as much in her January 2011 report, Feminist Myths and Magic Medicine: The flawed thinking behind calls for further equality legislation. As Hakim puts it in her summary, ‘Sex differences are treated as self-evident proof of widespread sex discrimination and sex-role stereotyping rather than the result of personal choice and preferences.’
The figures still prove, whatever the social scientists or any other group might say, that gender difference is queen of the throne, and those differences, mediated by choices between the sexes, are ineradicable. Women, even European ones, want to ‘marry up’, with many wanting to be ‘house wives’. Hakim’s claim is that the numbers now are higher than the 1940s.
An article in the Russian newspaper KP.Ru on March 5 found Hakim’s thesis convincing. Ladies, it extolled, look good and find a well-heeled husband. Surveys done in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ekaterinburg, Kazan, Samara and Yaroslavl found that well over half of those surveyed ‘wanted to get married and become good mothers’.
The job outcome will naturally vary with the goal, and in this, Hakim is saying nothing novel. What is frightening is that she has uttered what many have been detecting in the data for some time: that ‘family-friendly’ policies, far from reducing discrimination, increase it. We can let her inflict the final blow below the belt this International Women’s Day. ‘Presenting shared parental leave as the cure-all magic medicine for gender equality displays dogmatism and myth-making at its worse.’