What does equality mean to women and girls? I suspect if I asked twenty women and girls, I would receive twenty different answers. It’s not an easy discourse to collapse into a few words. I will offer the current UK Equality Act 2010 (EQ2010) definition, defining equality as legally protecting people from discrimination, whether at work or in UK society. Are women protected from discrimination or has it been just an exercise in ‘levelling up’? Arguably current laws, institutions and government policy have focussed on bringing women’s entitlements in line with those of men. For example, women’s state pensions were equalised, which meant women had to work to the same age as their male counterparts. This was an equality trap that benefitted not one woman, but saved the treasury millions. Earlier state retirement at 60 was granted to women employed outside the home based on the fact that women carried most of the burden for domestic management of the home and children, plus paid work. This recognition has now evaporated into the debris of equality conservatism.
The removal of sex bias in formerly male-dominated institutions, like the armed forces, police, law, medicine, engineering and the hard sciences, in the name of equality, sought to do so without changing the dominant male culture that had for millennia prevented women’s entry. How does that work for women and girls?
Germaine Greer (1999 p.296) notes that popular feminism strives for equality, while not rocking the male establishment boat. Women are expected to hold their own in a world formerly reserved for men. This is what I term as ‘wedge politicking’, opening doors previously closed to women and girls, but without any form of equality. This became a covert excuse to demonstrate further anti-woman sentiments. In her talks of 2016/ 2017, now on U-Tube, Greer illustrates just how this wedge-politicking damages women who have been lead to believe that no doors are closed to them in their aspirations for career and life opportunities. She cites, with other examples, the military where women are expected to train for the front line in accordance with historical male values of true grit, endurance, strength, and with personal verbal abuse, sexist banter, which allegedly build character and male bonding. On the front line, this background makes women vulnerable and at risk from their own comrades. In Iraq, US women combatants were subjected to sexual assault, rape, coercive male behaviour, threats of violence, sex pesting , not from the enemy but their own male dominated battalions. Greer asks, as do I, ‘how is this equality’.? It is not. As Greer reminds us, (1999, p299) ‘the notion of equality takes the male’s status-quo as the condition to which women must aspire’. She also asserts that the demand for women to embrace this conservative fraud of equality expects women to adopt behaviours that are inherently against our own interests as women or downright dangerous for our survival.