Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Gender Bias - A-Z Blog Challenge

So I was reading some blogs about the perceptions and stereotypes as applied to women and made the mistake of reading some of the comments. Many were beyond offensive and really I'm so tired of all this.

All my adult life I've been aware of the gender imbalance in the way women and girls are perceived. I grew up in a time when, as a woman, I had to have a male guarantor if I wanted to borrow money. It didn't matter how low his income, as long as he was male he could act as a guarantor. When I bought my first car I was working as a secondary school teacher but that meant nothing. I wasn't able to borrow money to make the purchase without a male guarantor.

At the time I was on the permanent staff of the State Education Department and earning what by most standards was a good wage although, of course, it wasn't the same wage as my similarly qualified, single male peers. I only received 70% of what they receive because… Well, for no reason except that I was a woman. When my male peers married they kept on working as permanent employees. If I had married I would have immediately been transferred from permanent staff to temporary staff and would have had to reapply for my position every year. I would not get paid during the summer school holidays because technically my employment would cease on the last day of school and resume - if I was re-employed and that was never guaranteed - on the first day of school.

Although men and women teachers in the secondary school did the same work there was a limit to how far women could advance their careers. Men could become principals and be in charge of the school. Women could never go higher than deputy principal of whom there were two, one male and one female. In most schools apart from general administration, the men would be in charge of disciplining boys and the women would be in charge of girls with timetabling being the man's job. If the male deputy was less than competent (which was certainly the case in some schools I worked in) the woman would take up the slack only to watch as he moved up the ladder and she remained a deputy.

We have made great strides since then. Women can and do take on all sorts of roles that were once regarded solely as the prerogative of men. Young women can now be almost anything they want to - in theory at least. In fact many will never rise to the heights of their profession and why? There are a number of reasons but they all come down to perceptions. Apart from anything else we are all more comfortable with someone we feel are similar to ourselves. So men are more likely to favour other men without any deliberate bias and while you might expect women would favour women this is not necessarily the case as stereotypical perceptions, like this, for instance, and this and this, show. To me the most alarming thing about these is that the bias is not only by men. Women were also judgemental so it seems that perceptions like these are reinforced by society.

There are many other factors that affect women in the workplace, of course. Australian women in general are still paid less than men and there is no valid reason for this any more than there was when I was told told the reason why I wasn't entitled to receive equal pay as a teacher was because I couldn't do the same job as the men. What if something heavy had to be lifted? And that was said with a straight face. It comes back to perception again, in this case that men are the providers so need more income, and it's total nonsense, of course. For many couples the wife's income is the critical one for the family, even more in these days when fathers are taking a more active role in child care.

Then there's child-bearing which means for many women a serious disruption in upward progression in their workplace. Maternity leave may be a legal right but time away from work to have a baby is still regarded as a break in employment history by many when it comes to promotion. It's also a very shortsighted waste of talents to push a woman to the sidelines just because she takes some time off to have a child.

So we have come a long way but we have a long way to go. I'd like to think that by the time my granddaughters are entering the workforce they'll be judged on their abilities and achievements, receive equal pay for equal work and will be able to take maternity leave without it affecting their careers and one final thing, that they and their partners will be able to decide between themselves who should take time off to care for their children and whichever one stays home with them will not damage their career.

Am I dreaming? I hope not.


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