Chimp behaviour provides solution to the pay gap…
Posted on April 11, 2009
Earlier this week the BBC reported on a study of chimps in the Ivory Coast that apparently showed them entering “into ‘deals’ whereby they exchange meat for sex.”
Twisty Faster: “I wonder if the researchers will draw any conclusions about human behavior based on these patriarchy-informed observations of an isolated primate population belonging to a totally different genus?”
Helen Rumbelow (ok, so she’s not a researcher she’s a journalist, but in my book that makes her even less qualified to draw conclusions about human behaviour based on these patriarchy-informed observations of an isolated primate population belonging to a totally different genus): “Chimpanzees can teach us a lesson. To reach the top in a man’s world women must choose femininity or success.”
As far as I can make out, Rumbelow’s chimp-study-induced theory is that the reason women get paid less than men, and are taken less seriously in the workplace than men, is not because this is a man’s world and it’s in the patriarchy’s interests to keep women down and firmly in their place at the bottom of the gender hierarchy: it’s quite simply because women wear the wrong bloody clothes to work!
According to Rumbelow, thanks to the efforts of the first wave of feminists “the late 1970s was full of women aping men” with their “trousers” and their “cropped hair”, but now, in our bid to shake off that hairy-legged wanna-be-men stereotype we’ve inadvertently taken things too far the other way. She’s not suggesting that we go back to the 70s of course (although she does acknowledge that “70s feminism may have had a point“), or suggesting we turn up at work looking “too ridiculously mannish” but she is proposing that we turn “down the volume on all the display girliness – the big hair, tight wiggle-bum skirt and high heels,” and go for a more unisex working wardrobe instead.
There’s a really intriguing bit in the middle of this piece where Rumbelow talks about the dangers of race and gender stereotyping, and then cites some research that I’d really love to be able to link to, but which I haven’t been able to find anywhere:
“Because black people are rarely lauded for their academic ability, simply making a black student more aware of his race is enough to lower his academic performance. All it takes to lower a bright black child’s test scores is to first ask him to tick a box identifying his race. The same for women – because it is taken as a truism that girls are less good at “hard subjects” like maths and science, all it takes to lower a girl’s score on a maths exam is first to ask her to state her gender.”
Is that true? That girls perform worse in maths exams when they’re reminded that they’re girls, and black children score worse when they’re reminded that they’re black?
Anyway, you may well be wondering by now how Rumbelow got from Ivory Coast chimps to women needing to wear more unisex clothes at work if they want to see an end to both workplace discrimination and the ever persistent gender pay gap…
It’s because when women wear dresses or look too girly, we’re apparently signalling that we want to be provided for, just like the female chimps in the study (who weren’t wearing dresses as far as I’m aware, but why let that little detail get in the way?). If we look too female, we remind everyone that we’re women, and then that reminds them that we’re crap at maths and science and we need looking after. Or something like that.
Do you think the Equality and Human Rights Commission are aware of this amazing break through in the pay gap dilemma? Do you think they’ve sussed by now that rather than introducing equal pay audits or trying to enforce anti-discriminatory legislation they should instead be focusing on the contents of women’s wardrobes?
If not, I think they should be told.
PS And there’s now a special place in feminist hell reserved for Britt Lintner, Sarah Brown’s dress designer: “Is she a feminist? “No!” she shrieks. “I’m not trying to act like a man.”