International Women's Day: some depressing statistics

Two reports released today show that women are still under-represented on television and in business

Two reports published today to coincide with International Women's Day yield some sobering results.

First, the World Economic Forum (WEF) Corporate Gender Gap Report 2010 found, predictably, that women are still unable to break into senior management, or sit on the boards of companies.

While 52 per cent of the workforce in the US is female (compared to just 23 per cent in India), women everywhere are concentrated in entry- and middle-level positions.

Scandinavian countries such as Norway and Finland had more women in top jobs than others, following legislation that makes it compulsory for public companies to ensure that 40 per cent of their board members are female. Even so, the average number of female CEOs in the WEF sample was just 13 per cent for Finland, and 12 per cent for Norway and Turkey -- the three highest-performing countries.

Women in the UK make up more than half of all graduates, yet only one in every ten FTSE board directors is a woman. Twenty-five FTSE firms have no women on their boards at all.

But perhaps it is not surprising. Quite apart from constraints of childcare (which I won't go into here), many women quoted in the WEF report cited a "lack of role models" progressing in business.

On that note, a second survey, commissioned by Channel 4, found that men outnumber women by two to one on television. Moreover, this number is disproportionately made up of young women -- a bitter-sweet vindication for various female broadcasters who have recently accused their employers of ageism. Just four in every ten women on screen are aged over 40, although six out of every ten men fall into the same age group.

Even more telling are the contexts in which women appear. They make up almost half of the actors in soaps, but when it comes to serious broadcasting, they constitute only a third. And when they do feature on news programmes, 69 per cent of the time they are discussing softer topics, such as health, culture or cookery, leaving the serious stuff to the men.

It's a rather dangerous situation: it could be argued that women on screen are sometimes used as "window-dressing" (to borrow a phrase from Caroline Flint). Their presence gives the impression of equal representation in the media, but the importance placed on their youth and appearance, and the fact that, more often than not, they do not discuss "serious" topics such as business or politics, subtly underline gender stereotypes. They also reinforce the message that there are certain spheres to which women are simply not suited.

No wonder there are so few female CEOs.

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Leaving the cleaning to someone else makes you happier? Men have known that for centuries

Research says avoiding housework is good for wellbeing, but women have rarely had the option.

If you want to be happy, there is apparently a trick: offload the shitwork onto somebody else. Hire cleaner. Get your groceries delivered. Have someone else launder your sheets. These are the findings published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but it’s also been the foundation of our economy since before we had economics. Who does the offloading? Men. Who does the shitwork? Women.

Over the last 40 years, female employment has risen to almost match the male rate, but inside the home, labour sticks stubbornly to old patterns: men self-report doing eight hours of housework a week, while women slog away for 13. When it comes to caring for family members, the difference is even more stark: men do ten hours, and women 23.

For your average heterosexual couple with kids, that means women spend 18 extra hours every week going to the shops, doing the laundry, laying out uniform, doing the school run, loading dishwashers, organising doctors' appointments, going to baby groups, picking things up, cooking meals, applying for tax credits, checking in on elderly parents, scrubbing pots, washing floors, combing out nits, dusting, folding laundry, etcetera etcetera et-tedious-cetera.

Split down the middle, that’s nine hours of unpaid work that men just sit back and let women take on. It’s not that men don’t need to eat, or that they don’t feel the cold cringe of horror when bare foot meets dropped food on a sticky kitchen floor. As Katrine Marçal pointed out in Who Cooked Adam Smiths Dinner?, men’s participation in the labour market has always relied on a woman in the background to service his needs. As far as the majority of men are concerned, domestic work is Someone Else’s Problem.

And though one of the study authors expressed surprise at how few people spend their money on time-saving services given the substantial effect on happiness, it surely isn’t that mysterious. The male half of the population has the option to recruit a wife or girlfriend who’ll do all this for free, while the female half faces harsh judgement for bringing cover in. Got a cleaner? Shouldn’t you be doing it yourself rather than outsourcing it to another woman? The fact that men have even more definitively shrugged off the housework gets little notice. Dirt apparently belongs to girls.

From infancy up, chores are coded pink. Looking on the Toys “R” Us website, I see you can buy a Disney Princess My First Kitchen (fuchsia, of course), which is one in the eye for royal privilege. Suck it up, Snow White: you don’t get out of the housekeeping just because your prince has come. Shop the blue aisle and you’ll find the Just Like Home Workshop Deluxe Carry Case Workbench – and this, precisely, is the difference between masculine and feminine work. Masculine work is productive: it makes something, and that something is valuable. Feminine work is reproductive: a cleaned toilet doesn’t stay clean, the used plates stack up in the sink.

The worst part of this con is that women are presumed to take on the shitwork because we want to. Because our natures dictate that there is a satisfaction in wiping an arse with a woman’s hand that men could never feel and money could never match. That fiction is used to justify not only women picking up the slack at home, but also employers paying less for what is seen as traditional “women’s work” – the caring, cleaning roles.

It took a six-year legal battle to secure compensation for the women Birmingham council underpaid for care work over decades. “Don’t get me wrong, the men do work hard, but we did work hard,” said one of the women who brought the action. “And I couldn’t see a lot of them doing what we do. Would they empty a commode, wash somebody down covered in mess, go into a house full of maggots and clean it up? But I’ll tell you what, I would have gone and done a dustman’s job for the day.”

If women are paid less, they’re more financially dependent on the men they live with. If you’re financially dependent, you can’t walk out over your unfair housework burden. No wonder the settlement of shitwork has been so hard to budge. The dream, of course, is that one day men will sack up and start to look after themselves and their own children. Till then, of course women should buy happiness if they can. There’s no guilt in hiring a cleaner – housework is work, so why shouldn’t someone get paid for it? One proviso: every week, spend just a little of the time you’ve purchased plotting how you’ll overthrow patriarchy for good.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.