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Happy International Women's Day.

Did you know it was IWD? Do you care? And should you?

In Britain, it's easy to think not. However, IWD is not a newfangled feminist thing; today marks the centenary of what began as a demand for improved working rights and female suffrage in early 20th-century America and Europe. So 100 years ago today, Western women had already begun to think about what they wanted, and what they needed to live and work. But what do contemporary working women want? Is it part-time hours, flexible working, better childcare provision, increased paternity leave? Not to have to work at all? A holiday from having to think about it?

Depends who you listen to — or on what day you ask her. It's clear though that while the previous Labour government afforded women as many family-friendly allowances as the economy could bear, "work-life balance" and "satisfaction" are yet to have happily set up home together. According to a 2009 study by Cristina Odone for the Centre for Policy Studies, only 12 per cent of the 4690 women surveyed wanted to work full time; and in a recent YouGov/Sunday Times poll, 53 per cent of participants believed that women are under undue pressure to skip back to work, post-pregnancy. Have-it-all feminism, it seems, has left them with a frying-pan to ironing-pile dilemma — Sisyphea knackerdom for those that work and breed, or scrub-wifely shame for the Vesta non-virgin rest. At the same time, and I say this as a flag-flying feminist, gender equality has been commandeered by feminist self-interest. Of course women still need their rights fighting for. But despite their commitment to ending gender-based discrimination, you won't hear a similar clarion call for shorter prison sentences for male criminals (women get less time for equivalent crimes), for more men in fashion, HR and professional administration work; for better male mental health provision (men are three times more likely than women to commit suicide), or for more fathers to be given joint custody of children following divorce or separation. 

Gender pay gap figures are thrown out faster than a stray male from a ladies' changing room. But the gap is a false friend to feminist statistics. Economists such as the LSE's Catherine Hakim distinguish between horizontal occupational segregation (whereby the sexes choose "different but equivalent" careers — eg women housekeepers vs. male carpenters) and vertical occupational segregation (where women choose jobs of a lower pay and status than those of men within the same industries — eg female secretaries vs. male managers). But feminist campaign groups and right-on governments rarely do. Which explains why so many men and women fail to get their heads round the boggling statistics proclaiming that women earn less than men. Women do earn less, overall. But 14 per cent of the gap (according to the Fawcett Society) can be attributed to the break in employment women take to care for family. Not necessarily because they are paid less for doing an equivalent, or even the same job, as men. And it's this kind of unqualified clamour that only serves to undermine the real cases of discriminatory pay, which do exist, while causing everyone else to wonder whether female colleagues are automatically paid less than male.

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September 29th, 2011
10:09 AM
This is a great article and I really agree with all that is in it, I was trained from an early age to Dust,Dyson and clean bathrooms by a mother who was one of those ladies that looking back was frustrated at living under male "suppression" of both her father originally and then her husband my father A Father who seriously once suggested that i could, if staying over with work ask " one of the girls" to do some of my ironing. However I now work for a woman and have women work for me and I am proud that I see no pay differences that are gender driven within our sphere of influence. I know this is far from universal so is the root cause of this happy position a gender balance in the workplace, positive awareness etc etc or in some small way is it the training I received 40 odd years ago with a tin of pledge and a duster ?? My Mum may well be looking on happy .

July 12th, 2011
8:07 AM
im a 23 y/o American male and im noticing that many of my peers with parents under 50(best differentiation ive found so far)have no idea how to cook or clean regardless of gender. I've also grown up noticing that Girl Power and the belief that men are inherently bad at certain things like cleaning/being a decent human is really screwing with a generation of males and producing females who believe they are princesses but act like Lilly allen. of course they are beyond reproach by any man because they grew up learning he is emotionally inferior and he is only trying to control her. so maybe a girl with morals steps in, but they seem to be about as rare as a guy with morals. we are 2 sides of an identical coin. its time for a new movement that encourages peace and equality not one side at the expense of the other. if we put as much effort into teaching kids to take the other persons shoes mentally and figure out the cause of their feelings rather than being creatures ready to fly off the handle at any moment we might create a better world for all.

April 27th, 2011
12:04 PM
Excellent. More nagging. I'm sure that'll solve everything.

March 18th, 2011
4:03 PM
A well written article with the exception of one vital point: TRAINING. Ladies, breed and work as much as you wish. Please stop complaining and start introducing your man to the art of domestic science. He is more than able to wash a dish, iron a shirt and, God forbid, clean the bathroom! You only have yourselves to blame for poor training. Don't fall for the age old trick of him doing a poor job, so as not to be asked again. Drag them from their sheds, dens and working men's clubs and put them to use while you put your feet up. Now that's equality!

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