As one of the newly-elected district councillors for Liss, I attended my first council meeting the Thursday before last.
I am already in trouble. I was told men must wear a jacket and tie when attending council meetings. I was wearing a smart open-necked shirt. However, I noted there was no similar advice given to the new women councillors.
After a little investigation I found this to be a clear case of gender discrimination.
“Poor lamb,” I hear you cry. Man suffers gender discrimination – big deal!
It would appear to be wholly unintentional. But it’s casual low-level discrimination like this that makes it so pernicious. It is there but we don’t recognise it.
There are lots of these little unrecognised instances. Regardless of which gender suffers, they add up unnoticed. This unconscious acceptance tends to normalise more serious and damaging examples.
Have you noticed that in the past 30 years or so, policemen appear to have disappeared? The numbers have not necessarily diminished, it’s just they are now police officers. Similarly we now have firefighters.
We no longer have barmaids but bar staff or tenders. I thought the debate on gendered job titles for people had been settled 30 or so years ago. But not in East Hampshire, apparently.
I was genuinely shocked when I realised the East Hampshire District Council still had a chairman. There was a touch of ironic humour in this realisation.
One of the first items on the council meeting agenda was an address by the outgoing chairman. The outgoing chairman was a woman.
I know there must be a non-gendered title for this role. Simply “chair” always strikes me as being far too wooden. “Mayor” is often used by other districts. A little pompous perhaps? Email me with any ideas you may have at [email protected]
Dress code and job titles do seem to be minor instances of a real problem. Gender discrimination is damaging and for many, many women, demeaning. They have been fighting it for a long, long time I will take my starting point of feminism as Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1790.
Since then women’s rights have had some major boosts. The shock of two world wars changed society’s attitudes to many things. This included the role of women in the workplace and positions of authority.
After a long campaign, the suffragettes forced full voting emancipation. More recently, legislation has introduced a statutory requirement not to discriminate.
But unless we recognise discrimination, we cannot stop it. In the main this recognition develops in tiny incremental steps. Seemingly insignificant word by insignificant word. Seemingly insignificantly tiny change in attitude by tiny change.
I think there is a duty we should all share. We should all help our granddaughters to grow up in a world without the disadvantage and indignity of gender discrimination. We should always call out discrimination whenever and wherever it occurs, however trivial.
By Ian James
Green Party councillor for Liss