So, the fourth reason that men give for not taking action on gender inequality, Why Can’t A Woman Be More Like a Man, aka It’s Your Fault Anyway. This is the argument that says that men get on in the world of work because they do certain things and women don’t get on because they don’t do those things. If women did the things that men do, they’d get on. Ergo, it’s women’s own fault that they don’t get on!
There are so many things to say about this argument that I hardly know where to start. Let’s start with the fallacy that if women behaved more like men they’d end up with the same advantages that men get, shall we? This is not what happens. Remember Heidi and Howard? Remember the favour paradox? Remember the double bind that prevents women from asking for promotion or raises for themselves? And remember that unpleasant little word “bossy”, so often used pejoratively of women who behave like a boss, ie, like a man. Nope, when women behave like men they do not get what men get.
Secondly, let’s look at the many difficulties women have in behaving as men do. Women still do the lion’s share of the work at home and take on the main responsibility for caring, whether it’s caring for children or caring for other dependants. During a more than thirty year career in the corporate world I’ve seen lots and lots of people who had to stay home or take a day off or come in late to pick up a sick child from school or to take her to the doctor or to stay home with her when the playgroup won’t take her because she has a temperature. And I’ve seen lots of people working flexibly, leaving early or working fewer than five days a week, in order to look after their children.
Sometimes these people have been men, but in the vast majority of cases they’ve been women. If men have caring responsibilities they can still stay late in the office or come in early or go out to dinner with important clients, and do all the other additional things that help to forward their careers much more easily than women can, simply because it’s often women who end up with more responsibility for the caring side of things than men.
In these circumstances, it’s all very well telling women to do like men do, but it’s hard to come in for an 8am breakfast meeting if you’ve also got to drop your son off at school at 8am, or to stay late to finish that important report if the kids need picking up from the after-school club, or to go out to dinner with Joe Five Million Dollar’s Worth of Business Junior who is over from Chicago this week if your daughter is having a tough time with her GCSEs and you need to be home to encourage her to do her homework.
And since because of gender discrimination, the woman in a partnership is often earning less than the men, it makes sense for her to be the one who drops a few hours, or a day or two, so that she can take the lion’s share of the caring responsibilities. And then this stops her from advancing in her career, the corporate world being extremely poor at adapting the way it does things to make it easier for people who don’t fit the traditional corporate model of a successful boss (ie, older white male with a wife who takes care of stuff at home), and so it goes on.