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- 12:00AM JULY 6, 2022
- 521 COMMENTS
Abraham Lincoln is credited with one of the best pieces of advice for everyone from old-style academic feminists to corporate board members: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”
Sadly, many women routinely indulge themselves in such juvenile stereotyping of men that they succeed only in making fools of themselves. They line up to make sexist attacks that if made by a man would be derided, rightly, as prehistoric chauvinism. Sometimes they pretend humour, but these fig leaves of comedy that are manifestly just camouflage for spleen-venting disappear as quickly as they appeared.
A prime example of this genre is Jenna Price’s screed in The Sydney Morning Herald last week headed “Men: Talk less, smile more to help fix equality deficit”. Her thesis is that by talking too much, men snaffle more money and promotions. If only men would talk less, the gender pay gap would disappear.
What followed was a collection of all the gender stereotypes some women utter about men in their private moments but would usually be wise enough to keep hidden in mixed company.
“Men aren’t active listeners,” said one woman described by Price as “extremely, extremely senior”. Diane Smith-Gander was quoted bragging that “I am a serial interrupter. I can give a masterclass in it and actually do when I speak to young women. I tell them to learn the art of the elegant interruption, or they will spend their life listening to men.”
At this point some would have expected a few jokes about nagging women or garrulous wives or bossy mothers-in-law that male comedians used to make but that went out of style, and acceptability, with Benny Hill.
Undeterred, Price ploughed on. Even those old favourites “mansplaining, manterrupting, bropropriating” got a run, though mainly to complain that these words trivialised “damaging behaviour” by men. It’s a shame Henry Higgins’s famous lament in My Fair Lady – “why can’t a woman be more like a man?” – wasn’t updated as a role reversal.
At least Professor Higgins was joking. Price was not. Anyone who has spent time in board meetings, or in business generally, or among people for that matter, will know there is no natural connection between a big talker and a big brain. Often those people who talk the most, in meetings and in life, have the least to say. And, for the record, many women talk a lot, including in board meetings and, like big-talking men, they frequently have little to say of relevance or importance. Less is often more.
One would think Price, an old-school feminist, would notice the hypocrisy of women making this kind of crass generalisation about men. This stuff also is potentially an own goal for women. Once you start acting on these sorts of characterisations about men, you admit the legitimacy of generalisations about women. When generalisation is permitted as a basis for action, women will suffer as much as men. As we all know there are plenty of unhelpful generalisations about women that, if accepted, would set women’s cause back decades.
Not all the culprits are women. Australia’s Male Champions of Change accepted so many feeble generalisations so willingly, the group’s name became a byword for gullibility – so much so that it had to change its name. Alas, a name change hasn’t altered its adoration for generalisations.
Boris Johnson would get an invitation to join the Male Champions of Change if he were an Australian business leader. Johnson recently told German broadcaster ZDF, “If Putin was a woman … I really don’t think he would’ve embarked on a crazy, macho war of invasion and violence in the way that he has.” Now, while there may be some truth in saying Vladimir Putin’s personality and upbringing contribute to his bad-boy approach to geopolitics, it’s too simplistic and unhelpful to reduce the war in Ukraine to pop psychology. Putting the war down to whether Putin has “mummy issues” does no service to analysis. It ignores the deep questions of history, security and economics that are undoubtedly relevant. Has Boris heard of Catherine the Great, another expansionist Russian ruler?
All this over-reliance on cardboard cut-outs in lieu of analysis obscures the question overlooked in Price’s column. Anthony Albanese has come to power claiming the ALP will bring gender equity. The teals are similarly evangelical in their desire to rectify what they see as gender injustice. At the heart of this is the so-called gender pay gap. However, when this bunch and others talk about gender pay gaps or gender equity, they almost invariably ignore all the difficult components of the issue in favour of a simplistic focus on aggregate pay.
According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, “The gender pay gap measures the difference between the average earnings of women and men in the workforce.” The comparison is unadjusted for anything that happens in the real world to explain the difference. It is a bogus measurement used to drive a bogus agenda. If the WGEA used a more sophisticated measurement that factored in different choices women make, its agenda and relevance would be in ruins.
Since when do we prefer equality of outcome to equality of opportunity? Since when is individual choice irrelevant? We can get to equality of outcome only by eliminating all differences between men and women that contribute to different pay outcomes.
That means effectively mandating that men and women must be 50-50 in all jobs (not just the nice cushy jobs but garbos and grave diggers too), that men and women must be 50-50 in all university or training courses, that men and women must split 50-50 all domestic and childminding work and must share all holidays or absences from work 50-50. Only through this social engineering can we make men and women statistically the same in an aggregate sense.
Finally, we would need to eliminate differences in choices and attitudes to life, work and family between men and women. Only then could we have equality of pay outcomes.
Oops, now I see Price’s point. To borrow from Professor Higgins again, we just want women to be more like men. And vice-versa. Problem solved.
Janet Albrechtsen is an opinion columnist with The Australian. She has worked as a solicitor in commercial law, and attained a Doctorate of Juridical Studies from the University of Sydney. She has written for n… Read more