Now, here I am aware that there is a great deal of discrimination in many many areas, and that the struggle against, for instance, racial discrimination is very very far from over. And I am also aware of the forces of intersectionality and of how they can impact dreadfully on certain people. So any comparisons I make here are made respectfully, and not in any way intended to belittle or negate people’s genuine struggles against other forms of discrimination.
Having said all of that, I am not convinced that we have truly signed up to the principle of gender equality in quite the same way that we have signed up to the principle of racial equality. Take, for instance, the modern phenomenon of trolling, that form of often anonymous abuse which befalls those, usually women who have the temerity to poke their heads above the parapet and suggest that some form of behaviour is discriminatory and should be stopped.
Take the example I have already cited of Caroline Criado Perez, a journalist and activist*. When the decision was taken by the Bank of England to remove the image of Elizabeth Fry from the £5 note and replace her with Winston Churchill, Criado Perez pointed out that as Fry was the only woman (apart from the Queen) represented on this country’s bank notes, it would be nice to replace her with another woman. Thus, the gender making up over 50% of the country’s population would at least be represented on 25% of its bank notes. And then she started a petition to that effect.
Not very controversial, you would think. 50.7% of the population, but she was only asking for 25% of the bank notes, not even parity with men, and not replacing a man with a woman but just maintaining the status quo. Surely something to be welcomed and supported by the vast majority. Surely the Bank of England would come straight back saying “Yes, of course, excellent point, super idea, would you like to help us choose?” Surely everyone hearing about it would say “Well done, Ms Criado Perez and Mr Governor, good job, take a team point” and go back to what they were doing with a nice warm feeling that at least some small thing somewhere was going right. Shall we see what actually happened?
*An “activist” apparently because she started the website ‘The Women’s Room’ which collects examples of female experts and passes them to the media so that they can get a higher proportion of women into the media as experts. She commenced this incredibly radical initiative after hearing two successive debates on the Today programme in 2012 about, respectively, teenage pregnancies and breast cancer, in which male interviewers discussed the topics with solely male experts, in one case actually asking the question “If you were a woman, would you get screened?” One of the “experts” was the headmaster of Wellington College,an authority on contemporary British history, as Criado Perez pointed out, but not on teenage pregnancy. Clearly the actions of a dangerous radical…..