Let’s talk about equity. The conversation we still apparently have to have once a year on International Women’s Day.
It was a few days ago that I began to hear the rumblings. And the rumblings turned into murmurings, and the murmurings turned into whinings, and suddenly I find myself here and now, deafened by the outraged brigades of people shouting their mantra as loudly as possible –
“We should be working towards equality, not feminism”
And listen. I get it. You think you’re on the right side of history. So once again, let me just explain why equality doesn’t work how you want it to, and feminism isn’t a dirty word. The criticism is often that feminism is too woman-centric (hah) and that to have a truly fair society, we should be blind to the differences created by gender.
But here’s the thing y’all. Those differences exist whether you like it or not, and so just treating everyone equally doesn’t fix the problems. And feminism is very woman-centric. Because it’s about women. This is important, so I’ll say it again for the self-defining men in the back. It’s not about you.
Today at work, to mark International Women’s Day, we ran a campaign where self-defining women could get a cup of tea or coffee with a 22.5% reduction, to highlight the gender pay gap at the University of Leeds (our parent institution). And immediately, the rumblings began. It’s discrimination, it’s not fair, you’re doing more harm than good. Why don’t you just treat people equally?
Well. Can we just unpick this a second. Referring back to my earlier point, let’s start with the fact that it’s not about you. Self-defining men are in no way disadvantaged by this campaign. It’s the same hot drink you bought yesterday with no quibble, and the same hot drink is available to you tomorrow. Your conditions have not been altered in the slightest, and in fact, it’s a very reasonably priced product to begin with.
All that has happened is that (in a relatively tokenistic way), we have highlighted the fact that a woman on the University of Leeds campus is likely (according to the statistics) to have on average 22.5% less money to spend on a given product.
The equitable response, therefore, is to make products 22.5% cheaper for women, right?
Now, of course on a large scale, that’s wrong (I’ve seen this referred to as deficit thinking – masking the root cause of the inequitable situation by providing equity through a solution rather than resolving the underlying problem). Products cost what they cost, and they don’t discriminate by gender, or by any other protected characteristic for that matter. Coffee beans are not inherently sexist.
The important thing about this campaign is that it is just influencing on the level we are able to influence, by providing a level of equity between men and women on Leeds campus, and highlighting an existing disparity in their financial positions. If it is successful, it will help highlight to key people the importance of working on reducing the gender pay gap, and creating greater equity for women*. The logic behind the gender pay gap still isn’t widely understood and a lot of people still cite equal pay legislation as a reason that the GPG just “doesn’t exist”, so to back up my points I thought I’d share a handy video on the subject.
So, what does all of this actually mean? It means if you want to claim that other people getting discounted coffee is discrimination against you, despite the fact that absolutely nothing about your situation has changed in any way, you need to spend some more time considering why you’re so angry about an organisation trying to support people who are not being treated equitably by the system.
Because that is about you, and I’m not sure it’s a good thing.