Friday, 11 January 2013

Well, OK then, Diane

Diane Abbott made jaws drop last week when she said that feminism had been partly to blame for the breakdown of the family in this country. It is not often that you find a female Labour politician prepared to make any criticism of the feminist movement. I don't think Harriet Harman would ever be caught saying anything of the sort.
My immediate, knee-jerk reaction is to say feminism is not to blame, because I strongly believe that women should be out there in the work-place, getting equal pay for equal work, and rising to the top if they merit it. Much though I resent being governed by the EU, I admire Mrs Angela Merkel. I like her boring clothes, her boring image and her plain, businesslike manner - I liked her even more when she was caught giggling at Silvio Berlusconi.
But in one respect, I think that feminism did get it wrong. The idea that all gender-stereotyping was bad and could be abolished was an experiment that has proved only partly successful. It can be taken so far, and no further. It is true that there are many jobs women now do that they used to be thought unsuitable for - but it is also true that there are still a lot of traditional men's jobs that they are shying away from and I don't think the gender gap is going to change much more. Yes, women can now be cabinet ministers and go into the army, but most don't want to be engineers or plumbers or work on building sites. Men can do secretarial work or become nurses, even midwives, but only a very few of them are doing so.
I wonder if we have reached the natural limits of the gender revolution. Yes there are women on TV driving heavy articulated trucks across wild terrain - but for every woman who does that there are thousands who don't want to and would rather be a librarian, or a nurse. Meanwhile only one in ten of our nurses is a man.
We used to give little girls nurse's uniforms to dress up in when they were five years old, until feminists told us that this was gender stereotyping. Careers teachers should stop pushing leaflets about nursing at the girls, and encourage them to become architects. Films such as "Billy Elliot" challenged the expectations of what a boy should aspire to career-wise. With mines closing down, and men on the dole, why not encourage him to become a ballet dancer? Maybe, but that's not a very realistic way to run the economy. How many jobs as ballet dancers are there in the UK and how many unemployed men?
The fact that we are now, as a society, desperately short of nurses and carers, is something that I would consider blaming feminism for. A nation only needs a few architects (I sometimes wonder if we need any at all) but it needs tens of thousands of nurses, particularly when we are an aging population with the highest life expectancy of any era in history. I cannot see us recruiting all the nurses we need from our teenage boys - correct me in ten years time if my prediction was wrong. And when you look at the job vacancies here that people are desperate to fill, the words I hear most often are "nurse", "carer", "engineer" and "plumber". Why would we need to import so many Polish plumbers or heating engineers if our own young women were so eager to train for the job? I can only find one female plumber in the Oxford Yellow pages. And now take a look at the nurses and carers we are importing in such large numbers. Yes, the vast majority of them are women. They come from countries where people still give nurses' uniforms to little girls at the age of 5, and where you can undoubtedly train to be a nurse without having to take a degree.
So I'm with you, Diane Abbott. It is OK to criticize feminism, you were honest to do it, and I will lay into it a bit more next time I find just cause.

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