If the forward march of women has slowed, it is partly because of new scientific claims that remaining sex inequality is grounded in human nature. Most of the theories do not bear close examinationby Natasha Walter / June 19, 2005 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2005 issue of Prospect Magazine
A few years ago progress towards sexual equality seemed to be moving forwards—not at a sprint, but nevertheless with some momentum. When I wrote my book The New Feminism in 1998 (just after publication of Naomi Wolf’s Fire with Fire, which tapped a similar sense of optimism in the US in the early years of the Clinton administration), there was a strong feeling that old traditions were cracking and giving way to a more equal society.
Many of the reasons for this optimism are still with us. None of the opportunities and freedoms that women have won in recent generations have been ceded. But the sense of energy that accompanied those women who found doors swinging open that had not been open for their mothers has begun to turn into a quiet fatalism.
When women look around, they can see that full equality is still a distant promise. In the UK, women in full-time work earn just 85 per cent of the average male full-time salary; women make up only 4 per cent of executive directors in all listed companies; and only one of the 12 most senior judges is a woman. Women are also far more likely than men to earn less: in 2001, 30 per cent of female employees earned under £4.86 an hour, compared to 18 per cent of men. Meanwhile, mothers put in twice as much time as fathers on unpaid work in the home.
And more and more women are talking about the difficulty of combining careers and family life. If women do retreat into the home, it is often celebrated as a victory for choice, although the pressures that enforce such choices are overlooked. Kate Reddy, the heroine of Allison Pearson’s bleakly comic novel I Don’t Know How She Does It, is a template of contemporary female achievement. She has found a route into well-rewarded wo…