Get Up Stand Up

A couple of years back, I sent the manuscript for Atmos Fear to a literary agent who wrote back saying a number of characters were misogynistic—which is true, but when you have a US special forces baddie, a Saudi terrorist, and a Wall Street broker in the mix, that kind of behavior is entirely in character.

You would in fact be astounded if a Saudi did not consider women as a lower form, given that in the Kingdom ladies aren’t even allowed to drive. A young woman I know twice tried to visit her baby nephew, who she’s never seen, only to be turned away at immigration in Riyadh, and told she had no business coming to Saudi Arabia at all.

The role of a woman in the caliphate, the first experience of the Arab world by mainland Europeans, was literally as receptacle of semen—technically it meant there was no such thing as a bastard, since the woman’s role as a parent was inconsequential—this led to blond and blue-eyed emirs, born from Scandinavian mothers enslaved in the hareems.

I suspect that at the time, Christian women did not necessarily fare much better, but we are talking about the eight century. In the West, much has changed, in the Mid-East, you be the judge.

Nevertheless, Western women in business usually adopt a different language when making statements. A few months ago, Alexandra Petri discussed this in the Washington Post, and gave examples of classic statements as delivered by a man and a woman.

“Give me liberty, or give me death.”
Woman in a Meeting: “Dave, if I could, I could just — I just really feel like if we had liberty it would be terrific, and the alternative would just be awful, you know? That’s just how it strikes me. I don’t know.”

And my favorite.

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Woman in a Meeting: “I’m sorry, Mikhail, if I could? Didn’t mean to cut you off there. Can we agree that this wall maybe isn’t quite doing what it should be doing? Just looking at everything everyone’s been saying, it seems like we could consider removing it. Possibly. I don’t know, what does the room feel?”

Of course, Reagan’s counterpart in the UK was Margaret Thatcher, who would easily have been more abrasive in her words—after all, she was known as the only man in the cabinet.

The British satirical puppet show represented Maggie in all her glory. After you see this clip you may well be tempted to watch the next one, where Hitler is Margaret’s ageing neighbor at Nº 9, Downing Street—I loved it.

Ms. Petri’s point is well made, and she has a number of other examples in her article. I would argue that many men also use a soft-sell approach, but there is certainly much work to do with respect to equality of the sexes.

One of the key indicators is compensation. It’s shocking how the West is mired in hypocrisy on this subject—the pay prejudice cross-cuts the most diverse professions in America and Europe.

The exception that proves the rule. I'm afraid there's a terrible pun in that first category.

Dollars earned in the sex industry. The exception that proves the rule. I’m afraid there’s a terrible pun in that first category.

Of course, the sex trade is different. I am a little puzzled at how similar the pay is for erotic dancers—I suppose that’s PC for strippers. But porn aside, the movie industry is anything but egalitarian.

The Forbes list of best paid actors in 2013 shows Robert Downey Jr. at the top with seventy-five million bucks. That’s more than the combined sum paid to the five top actresses.

In sport, the CEO of the Indian Wells tennis tournament recently said on the record  ‘If I were a lady tennis player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born because they have carried this sport.’

The comment is inexcusable, but the discussion in sports is tough, because pay is nowadays a function of the way performance translates into TV rights, corporate sponsorship, and merchandise.

In everyday activities, white collar work carries a pay premium over blue collar, so comparisons of pay based on jobs that require strength or imply danger don’t make much sense.

On the white collar front, whether we’re talking about sales, marketing, teaching, or the stock exchange, salary discrimination makes no sense.

The bottom line is that compensation should always be linked to objectives: don’t tell me how hard you’ve worked, tell me what you’ve done.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

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