pondering whether to write this post for week, because it's a bit of a
controversial subject and generally I tend to keep things on Sal's Kitchen
pretty light. But in the end it was the very fact that this subject - the
simple question of whether one half of the human population should be equal
with the other - is considered controversial that made me so mad. Surely, you
would think, it's pretty damn obvious that men and women should be on an equal
footing. And yet it's still a topic that upsets a lot of people, and stirs up a
lot of frankly mad opinions.
It's been on my
mind because of the recently concluded series of Great British Menu. I wasn't
the only person to note that, despite this year's competition being themed
around the WI centenary and the celebration of progress in women's rights, out
of 24 contestants in the heats only 4 were women. Only one made it to the
final, and she didn't feature in the final winning banquet. In an interview with the Radio Times afterwards, Prue Leith (the only female judge) admitted
that there weren't many women, but said that she thought they had 'tapped the
top women chefs pretty well.' Seriously? So there are only FOUR top female
chefs to be found in the whole country?
What really got
me mad, though, was that the program made just one, solitary effort to confront
this giant, gaping oversight, quickly done and quickly dismissed. In the final,
Dame Jenny Murray put it to the three winning male contestants. Their response?
The WI is all about equality, so the fact that we're men actually shouldn’t
matter. When I suggested on Twitter that this year’s Great British Menu could
have been all female, in honour of the WI, I was shouted down by one of the
male finalists, who said, in effect, that positive discrimination in favour of
the women is not real equality.
At a quick
glance, you might be fooled by this slick piece of misdirection. Jenny Murray
certainly seemed to be. It comes up again and again - the idea that equality
can never be enforced, like, say, justice, but must always happen 'naturally'
without any intervention, or it's not 'proper' equality. But some folks are
more equal than others, and I reckon only those who are 'more equal' could, in
all conscience, believe this.
To prove my
point, imagine two people who both need to be able to see over a crowd. One is
taller than the other, but neither of them can see. You could say that giving
each of them the same box to stand on is equality, because they're both getting
exactly the same thing. But though the taller one can now see over the crowd,
the shorter one - despite, on the face of it, getting the same 'opportunity' -
can't. True equality would be to give the second one a bigger box, so that they
can both see.
The same is true
in almost every workplace. Ladies, saying that we need a bigger box to stand on
is NOT saying that we're not as good as the men. It's NOT saying that we need
more help because we're weaker, or we don't work as hard, or we aren't as clever.
All it's saying is that men have the advantage of hundreds of years’ worth of
helping each other get on – hundreds of years of positive discrimination in
their direction – which has made their box much bigger than ours.
In the end, of
course, it's not just the fault of the program makers that there were so few
women. No doubt according to the terms and conditions of the show, the
opportunity offered was equal, with no actual requirement that 5/6 contestants
be men. But that doesn’t mean female chefs were equally likely to succeed as their
male counterparts. The kitchens of the high-end restaurant industry are heavily
male-dominated. The reasons for our smaller box in this situation are many and
various - the perception, by men and some women, that women are too highly
strung to deal with such a high pressure environment. The fact that a woman
working 7 evenings a week must effectively choose not to have children, because
the likelihood of her husband taking on that much childcare is pretty small.
The way that a women who works as hard at her career as one must, to become a
top chef, is viewed as aggressive, and intense, and unloved, in a way that
career men really aren’t. All of these things and more mean that when we want
to see over the crowd, we're starting out from a much lower vantage point than
the men. That's why we need a bigger box. And that's proper