A few weeks ago one of our most read articles contained tips for talking about gender inequality in a social setting. It’s a minefield that I unfortunately stepped into on Friday evening. I found myself in the midst of a frustrating discussion that started with this question:
Do I think Women’s Agenda promotes a victim mentality? No.
Do I really believe women are disadvantaged? Yes.
Do I really think I have personally been disadvantaged? Yes and no.
The conversation included many of the tried and tested lines we have all heard before: ‘If women are good enough, they will achieve career success’. ‘I know one woman who has four children, works as a partner in a law firm and is unbelievably competent … that is obviously proof it’s possible’. ‘Life isn’t fair but it’s not about gender’. ‘There aren’t many women in senior roles because they choose not to’.
There was also one rather novel line I hadn’t heard before and that was if he was to take a surfing trip for two years (like women take career breaks to have children) he wouldn’t expect his job to be there on his return and his career not to suffer.
Just for starters I had to point out that there are few major differences between surfing holidays and child-rearing, in particular the fact surfboards do not require childcare at the end of the ‘break’ but that was obviously the least of my concerns.
My greatest concern was that this conversation took place with someone my own age. Someone who openly admitted that when he was studying law at university his female peers did much better than his male peers, but who was steadfast, that any later discrepancy in their careers would be explained by choice. Someone who said that his mentors — and the people he admires most — are all women. Yet, alarmingly, someone whose mind was completely closed to the notion that any gender inequality exists.
The questions weren’t asked with any real interest in my answers. They were asked with the purpose of explaining to me why, in his view, a platform like Women’s Agenda isn’t necessary. (Ironically proving exactly why it’s necessary.)
When I attempted to counter with data on the gender pay gap or Australia’s ranking in international terms in opportunities for women or why the merit argument has no merit, my answers fell on deaf ears. I was being preached to by the wholly unconverted.
I know, without question, that my sparring mate on Friday does not believe males are superior to females and in that regard I would not describe him as being sexist. But unfortunately someone who is adamant there is no gender gap does as much to promote gender inequality as someone who admits, even to themselves, they hold outdated views. It’s just more insidious.
From the outset there was no chance of me being able to shift his views, a point I wish I had recognised sooner. The only constructive solution I can see is to ask him to read Women’s Agenda for a full week before we revisit the topic. Of course it may not change a thing. But it might and I live in hope.