Well, not really:
“At a TUC event last month we lamented: we are going backwards. Women are leaving the workforce in ever greater numbers, to meet the usual fate of women who don’t work in a shrinking state divesting itself even of free access to the Child Support Agency and legal aid – poverty, and indifference to poverty. When the current vogue for retro style rolled in –cupcakes and Mad Men and Julian Fellowes‘s reactionary fantasies – I thought it was a trend. I didn’t realise it was a prophecy, hung with other assaults on women’s needs, such as protesters standing like righteous zombies outside British abortion clinics. (Be pregnant, is their message. Be grateful).
The truth is an irrelevance here; women do not plead for special treatment, begging to enter the workplace so they can buy pretty things. It is established wisdom that working women benefit the economy, their families and themselves. Just last week it emerged that depression is more widespread in non-working women and, in the long-hours macho working culture that thrills business because it enables men’s psychological dominance, what is the cost to them? Even the prime minister acknowledges the benefit of working women as he legislates to make them unemployed, in that strange childish way he has of wishing for something with one hand, and demolishing it with the other, which brings to mind the rage of Shulman’s tiny son: “If we fail to unlock the potential of women in the labour market,” he said, “we’re not only failing those individuals, we’re failing our whole economy.” He said it and forgot it because the budget came – £10bn more in cuts.
So, some facts that won’t make it into Vogue, with or without topless actresses and birds: this is a perfect storm of growing inequality. Last month, there were 1.13 million unemployed women in Britain, a 19.1% increase since 2009, and the highest figure for 25 years. (In the same period, male unemployment has risen by a mere 0.32%). According to data collected by the Fawcett Society, in the last quarter 81% of those losing their jobs were women; in some local councils 100% of those fired were female and, as ever, the poorest are hit most: black and minority ethnic women and those in the north-east are the first to go, and in the greatest numbers.
Many women are leaving work due to the cuts in child tax credit and child benefit. Unable to pay for childcare, they cannot afford to work, which is senseless and destructive, and will keep alive the dogma that women should not work into the next generation and beyond. A survey conducted by the charity Working Mums last year found that 24% of mothers have left employment and 16% have reduced their hours to care for their children; this is regressive, poverty in poverty, depression into depression.
These cuts should be overturned, but how to pay? With the 50% tax rate a historical anomaly, who knows or cares? A strategy for women’s employment is necessary, encompassing women’s security in the workplace, decent provision of childcare and the scandal of occupational and gender segregation, which, together, bring forth the pay gap.
The private sector will boom, says the government, and employ (some of) these women, although it doesn’t have the nerve to promise more. Well, maybe. Was it Emma Harrison, the jobs tsar (now tarnished), who said: “There are always jobs” – adding, as is customary, the scent of blame to the welfare claimant? If they are lucky, women can look forward to their time in the private sector, with its disgraceful full-time pay gap of 20.4%, its inflexible working hours and, of course, its smiling walls of Alexandra Shulmans, telling them “it’s hard”. Down at the TUC last week, all was misery; we are walking, too swiftly, into the past.”
It is funny how forms of inequalities are usually ignored when they put women at a disadvantage and maintain patriarchal privilege (like the wage gap or the greater impact of economic recessions on women and are attributed to something other than patriarchal structures (like women’s individual choices). But when a situation benefit women (like the larger number of women college graduates), then, it is a crisis and we must do something about it (implicitly, to restore male supremacy… you can find the many garbage books on the subject of how schools have become feminized institutions, what with all the “political correctness” that prevents men from being men). Conversely, look at how much traction the concept of “mancession” got despite being a mirage.