Conspiracy theorists like their threats to be fundamentally phantom. After all, if you stake your pride and credibility on something that can be empirically tested, you risk being proved wrong and having to adjust your world view. This was certainly the case with the more committed species of campus feminist I encountered at university. Patriarchy to them was not something with any demonstrable limit – it was a vast, secret conspiracy on the part of the male sex covering all aspects of live and explaining everything.
Every instance of disproportionate male involvement was a result of this evanescent injustice. Even the student council – elections to which were riddled with enough ‘positive’ discriminatory measures to make a meritocrat’s eyes bleed – had a fairly narrow male majority, which was taken as proof positive that more work was needed. The idea that the playing field might actually be fairly level, and the disparities the result of other factors and individual preferences, was anathema.
The same thinking lies behind Harriet Harman’s obsession with boardroom representation, which has recently taken hold of the mind of the Prime Minister. The argument runs that lots of hard-working, economically productive women are being passed over purely on the grounds of their sex, and this is costing the British economy £40bn a year. Now, the Telegraph’s James Delingpole has handily skewered the laughable notion that politicians are simply foisting unwanted profit on short-sighted businesses. But it’s worth considering how ridiculously extensive this patriarchal conspiracy Harman and others subscribe to must be.
Let’s imagine we have ten businesses competing for the same market. If we are spectacularly ungenerous to the male sex (as to get into Harriet Harman’s brain we must surely be) let’s assume that nine of those businesses are run by real, conviction sexists who consciously exclude capable women on the grounds that they’re women. This leaves a vast talent pool available to the tenth business, which presumably can lap up these highly capable workers. If sexism was depressing their wages as well, then this business would have a significant competitive advantage over the competition.
How long would rival businesses really keep deliberately hiring inferior labour at inflated prices out of allegiance to the principle of sexism? It would only take one company in a competitive market to break the ranks of chauvinist solidarity for such arbitrary and costly employment practises to be rendered totally unaffordable.
There are all kinds of reasons for differing employment patterns between men and women, including different priorities, working hours, child-rearing and so forth that have firm bases in business sense.
To ascribe these differences to an omnipresent, more-important-that-profit sexist conspiracy, one must believe the entire spectrum of business subscribes to the exclusion of women at the expense of their own industrial and economic interests. That they literally looked at the ‘profits’ David Cameron is waving in front of them and decided that, if the cost was employing women, £40bn wasn’t for them. Let’s hope nobody ever shows Cameron ‘Loose Change’.