Dominic Raab: We must end feminist bigotry
Men are getting a 'raw deal' despite tough equality legislation, Dominic Raab MP writes as he calls for an end to 'feminist bigotry'.
Last week Nick Clegg made a valiant effort to address the pervasive challenge for modern working parents, striving to find the right career-family balance - including announcing a more flexible system of maternity-paternity leave. It is one of the most relevant issues for young families in Britain. The coalition would do well to grasp it in place of Labour’s outdated and obsolete ‘equality and diversity’ agenda.
Take the gender pay gap. The fascinating thing is just how sexist its champions have become. The government’s decision to abandon mandatory gender pay audits, under Labour’s Equality Act, sparked a wave of soul-searching – almost exclusively by women. It is almost taboo for a man to question the assertion that the rapidly dwindling pay gap is the result of discrimination, rather than genuine choice. The debate has been consumed by the prejudice it seeks to purge.
Yet, research shows the pay gap has halved since the 1970s. Office of National Statistics data in December showed that, since 1997, the difference between full-time median earnings has fallen from 17% to 10% - and the shrinkage is accelerating. So much for the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s claim last October that progress is ‘grinding to a halt’.
Look further at the data available. According to research for the Institute for Economic Affairs, women in their twenties earn 1% less than men, single women a shade more. Gay men earn more than straight men, lesbian women more than heterosexual women. Does that sound like a society riddled with discrimination? In fact, the gender pay gap also reflects the higher numbers of women in work in Britain compared to other European countries. Keeping women out of work is one of the easiest ways to bridge the gap: Swaziland and Sir Lanka have the lowest pay gaps. Meanwhile, pay is just one of the terms of employment. Men work longer hours, enjoy their jobs less, commute further and are more likely to get the sack.
While we have some of the toughest anti-discrimination laws in the world, we are blind to some of the most flagrant discrimination – against men. From the cradle to the grave, men are getting a raw deal. Men work longer hours, die earlier, but retire later than women. That won’t be fixed for another seven years. One reason women are left ‘holding the baby’ is anti-male discrimination in rights of maternity/paternity leave – which Clegg wants to tackle. Then there are ‘pre-nups’, recording the wishes of partners before they get married. Those wishes were serially ignored in this country, until last year – when one was enforced in favour of a woman, loaded German heiress Katrin Radmacher. Meanwhile, young boys are educationally disadvantaged compared to girls, and divorced or separated fathers are systematically ignored by the courts. A father turned up to one of my constituency surgeries, complaining that dozens of court orders requiring access rights had been flouted by his ex-wife. He asked me to write to Ministers, not because he harboured any hope of changing the situation, but so he could show his children he had tried everything when they reach adulthood.
Then there is the more subtle sexism. Men caused the banking crisis. Men earn more because they are more assertive in pay negotiations. One FT commentator recently complained that: ‘High-flying women are programmed to go for high-flying men. Most men aren’t attracted to women who are more successful than they are.’ Can you imagine the outrage if such trite generalisations were made about women, or other minorities? Feminists are now amongst the most obnoxious bigots.
You can’t have it both ways. Either you believe in equality or you don’t. If you buy into the whole Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus theory of gender difference – with all its pseudo science - you can’t then complain about inequalities of outcome that flow both ways from those essentially sexist distinctions.
Britain’s not perfect, and we will never eradicate all human prejudice. But, we have reached a stage where the differences between men and women in our society are less reflective of overt discrimination, and more their common challenge of trying to find the right way to earn a decent quality of life for their family, whilst sparing some time to enjoy it. That means taking a consistent approach to equality, ditching outdated gender warfare and finding practical solutions to the challenges couples go through together.
In some cases, it will beg more questions than it answers: the surge in career-minded women landing top jobs has reduced social mobility, because so many are middle-class. In other areas, we might be pleasantly surprised. Making maternity leave transferable (without increasing it, to avoid extra burdens on business) would give men greater equality, and free up women to share their career-family compromises with their other halves – if they choose. The phenomenon of young couples on middle incomes both doing a four day week, to save on childcare, looks set to rise. It makes economic, as well as egalitarian, sense.
Likewise, family-friendly policies could help exhausted families struggling to strike a sensible work-life balance. Critics mocked the idea of transferable tax allowances for couples as socially regressive and financially insignificant. Yet, transferable tax allowances for parents with children under five would support women who choose to stay home, when their children are young, while helping them save for childcare, if and when they choose return to work. A little tax relief would go a long way.
Young British couples are tired of the equality bandwagon, dreamt up in the 1960s, pitting men and women against each other. We need consistent equality for men and women, an end to ‘soft’ feminist bigotry and support for hard-working families trying to juggle competing priorities in their hectic daily lives. Maybe it’s time men started burning their briefs, to put an end once and for all to what Emmeline Pankhurst used to call ‘the double standard of sex morals.’
Dominic Raab is Conservative MP for Esher and Walton