The topic of equality between men and women in the work place has been cropping up more and more recently. It was only a few months ago there was the case of the temporary female worker who was sent home for not wearing high-heels. She has since made a petition for parliament’s consideration, which has so far collected some 150,000 signatures.
It used to be the case that the topic of women’s equality, particularly in the work arena, was mainly centred around the right to work and the right to equal pay. Of course, society has moved on since those dark days of gender discrimination, but there remains a degree of inequality between the two genders.
Let’s take a closer look at some of those finer but significant inequalities.
Women are being asked to wear shoes which either are a health and safety risk or hurt their feet, namely high-heels. The health and safety aspect will depend on the job they are in. One would presume an office isn’t a particularly dangerous place for stilettos but a restaurant or a café might be.
Men are also being asked to wear shoes which hurt their feet: dress shoes. A decent pair of men’s dress shoes can cost easily over £100: these tend to be the most comfortable, give better support for your feet and cause less or little pain. Of course, there are millions of men out there who can’t afford such shoes, so they buy a cheap pair for around £20. I have two such pairs and I alternate between them each day, because if I wear the one pair more than one day in a row, I end up with blisters across my feet. The painful discomfort of the shoes, however, is a daily grind I just have to tolerate it. There will be many men out there who have to tolerate it but, unlike in my case, going to work in a pair of trainers would be completely unacceptable.
I often see women in office attire wearing flat, very open shoes and they look incredibly comfortable. If they existed for men, I’d wear a pair for sure, though I’m not sure if it would fall under office dress code. Perhaps the solution is just to let us all wear trainers.
And on the topic of dress code, women have also complained that they are being asked to dress in such a way which extenuates their sexuality, making them more attractive to the customer. Of course, what is being overlooked here is that many men are asked to do the same thing: think about the women who walk in jewellery stores are met by a man dressed in a pristine suit, perfect stubble and a muscular physique, with a shirt tight enough to reveal it. Leaving the store all giddy, it somehow seems ok for women to have some eye-candy to look at but not the other way round. Well, I disagree: I think both genders shouldn’t be made to dress in a particular way for the entertainment of the other.
Some of the reports I have heard recently of the inappropriate behaviour towards women have been appalling. While at work, women have had to put up with inappropriate comments as they walk by their male colleagues, like good morning beautiful and much worse. They’ve been disturbed during their working hours by male colleagues who attempt to flirt with them or even ask them out on a date. And most recently I heard the story of one gym-goer who feels she has to go to the gym wearing makeup because men are constantly watching her.
It seems to be presumed in the media that such inappropriacies never happen to men. Yet it was only a few years ago during a training day that one female colleague, who had made her interest in me very clear, gave me a wink from across the training table. She later sent over another female friend to assess whether my interest in her was reciprocal, and during one final attempt, she approached me directly and asked if I’d like a cheeky drink. At the time, complaining about this to a manager would have been a waste of time, mainly because the person causing my discomfort was a woman, and the culture we live in currently focuses on the trespasses of men, not women, in the workplace.
Only last night in the gym I had to tolerate the woman next to me to staring, as during my workout on the cross trainer she constantly kept turning her head to look at me while I was looking forward and whenever I looked at her directly she would quickly turn away. It was quite discomforting knowing you were being so closely watched and at such a close range. I use the word ‘tolerate’ because I feel it isn’t acceptable in society, yet, for a man to ask a woman not to do this.
The current zeitgeist talks about how it is unacceptable that men should lay their hands on a woman while flirting, especially as it might be unwanted. Of course, hand gestures as well as other body language and linguistic cues are all part of the flirtation process between people. In the last week alone I have had both men and women’s hands lain on me without me prior asking them to. Again, if I was a woman, this could be seen as wholly unacceptable. Is the solution just to ban all form of human contact that isn’t workplace related?
The term mansplain is being more and more widely used. This is when women have to endure being talk down to or condescended by men, especially in situations where the man in question assumes the woman in question knows less than what she does.
Of course, this happens every day to men in the workplace: it just goes unspoken. Supervisors, managers and directors explain to men, and women, every day work related matters or even world affairs in the break room in a way that you would think the workers had been living behind a rock. Of course, the assumption here is that the line manager or the director doing this mansplaining is always a man.
Wrong. I think these sort of condescending, presumptive charades come about because of the position of power, rather than because of the gender. This would go a significant way to explaining why I have had to endure the following statements said to me by female superiors:
- Yes, darling, but that’s not what people really want, is it?
- Well, as a man you wouldn’t really understand, but the way it works is…
- You, of course, don’t have to worry about these things. It must be marvellous being a guy – such an easy life.
Spoken by a woman, the above statements are terribly assuming, condescending and sweeping. Had they been spoken by a man to a woman, they would also be those things as well, so the solution here is probably, like all the other solutions, to avoid all such ways of speaking in the workplace – again, regardless of gender.