Why Feminists Must Step into the 21st Century; A Question of Family: Sir Alan Sugar, with Apprentice Winner Michelle Dewberry, Is Right to Be Concerned

Daily Mail (London), September 8, 2008 | Go to article overview

Why Feminists Must Step into the 21st Century; A Question of Family: Sir Alan Sugar, with Apprentice Winner Michelle Dewberry, Is Right to Be Concerned


Byline: Katie Grant

AS our 22-year-old daughter heads off for her first job interview, I ask myself: would it be objectionable for her potential employer to ask if she is thinking of having children any time soon? Of course, this is entirely hypothetical, since such a question has been ruled out of bounds by the equality lobby. And when The Apprentice's Sir Alan Sugar suggested that not being allowed to ask might well result in employers throwing out women's CVs without even reading them, he was roundly denounced.

Had they dared brave the fury of the 'Porkers Have Feelings Too' society, his critics might even have called him a male chauvinist pig, a good oldfashioned insult that was as ubiquitous in the 1970s as prawn cocktail and Bohemian Rhapsody.

And that, it seems to me, is part of the problem for women today. The voices raised on our behalf - Scottish voices among them - sound increasingly to come from another era.

I noticed it on Radio 4's Any Questions, as the women panellists were shrill with concern at the findings of the recent Sex and Power report that the number of women holding what are known as 'top posts' is falling.

Conspiracy Writer and broadcaster Bea Campbell and chairman of the Heritage Lottery Fund Liz Forgan saw this as an appalling conspiracy. On and on they went about some kind of 'legitimate association between masculinity and force' as though still, in 2008, men were literally donning hobnailed boots and trampling their way to the top of the workplace over the prostrate bodies of ladies too weak to put up any kind of defence.

These feminists were also agreed that Britain was still full of what we might call institutional sexism. In short, to Campbell and Forgan - and they would brook no opposition - the problem was not women, it was men in general and men like Sir Alan in particular.

Yet though I am as ambitious for women as both Campbell and Forgan, I do not see it like that. The problem for women is not men in general and particularly not men like Sir Alan. Rather, it is increasingly those women who have failed to realise that the gender wars of the 1970s are over.

While answering questions about having babies may be uncomfortable and sometimes even impossible for women such as our daughter to answer, they are perhaps even more disadvantaged by the kind of battleground rhetoric old-guard feminists favour.

Such rhetoric might once have been necessary but it is now managing to destroy something even more essential to good male/female working relations than equality, and that is trust.

Taking on an employee involves time and expense, particularly in a small firm. So it seems not only reasonable but possibly helpful to discuss what the future may hold.

Ardent feminists may wish to look away here but the truth is that for a working woman, having a baby is not just a personal choice, it is a choice that affects everybody, from the boss who must pay for maternity leave while at the same time employing a replacement, to the other employees who must grin and say 'how wonderful' while taking up the slack that a colleague's pregnancy inevitably involves.

Morale It is to the 1970s feminists' credit that legislation has ensured that all firms are much better prepared to accommodate women who are having families than they ever were before. Some bosses are even happy, since a family atmosphere is good for morale. What makes bosses really unhappy, however, is the slight air of menace that now accompanies female candidates for jobs. …

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