Philip Whiteley's Blog

December 15, 2010

The strange death of gender equality

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 9:18 am

I was prompted to reminisce about working in a charity in the 1980s the other day, while in conversation with a couple of younger colleagues. I was talking about how the hippy ethos involved a sense of complete equality between men and women. I’ve not given it much thought, but that sense has almost died in the past 25 years. Roughly between 1967 and 1985 in many charities, in social work, on student campuses and at rock concerts, men and women wore the same clothes, accepted each other as equals, and emphasised our similarities, not differences. Brilliant singer song-writers like Joni Mitchell and Joan Armatrading could get up on stage in the same casual clothes as they would go to the pub, and still get recording contracts and huge airplay. Nowadays, their equivalents either have to dress up like dolls or, like Aimee Mann or Kate Rusby, accept smaller audiences.

What on earth happened? Punk rock bears much of the responsibility. It was a macho cult that swept feminism aside and encouraged men to bury their gentler tendencies. Then the dreadful and reactionary New Romantics like Duran Duran and Human League started portraying women as adornments, heavy with make-up. Since then it’s been a slide, in many walks of life. I’m dismayed to see so many younger women obsess about hair extensions and frocks, like we’re going back to the Edwardian age. Instead of Joni Mitchell, we have Cheryl Cole. In politics, party leaders are 40-something alpha males. There is lots of equal rights legislation, but I can’t help feeling that resorting to the law is an admission of defeat – it gives the impression that women’s equality is so bad for men that it has to be imposed by the courts.

There is, however, a counter-current. There are more female entrepreneurs now. There is a small, but significant coterie of female chief executives. One recent report indicated that young professional women are now earning more than men.

It has been strange that the pioneering attempts at gender equality of the 1960s-1980s – that we actually lived and thought would become permanent – may have just been a phase. Stranger still that the only lingering progress seems to be in the world of commerce! Still, it’s possible that in the next quarter of a century we will reverse some of the losses of the last.



  1. I agree Phil – middle-class society remains strangely conservative when it comes to women being on their own in their 30s, not having children, but instead reverts to the pressure to have it all- – a loving family and career. It might not be explicitly said but it definitely still exists! Men I am sure are subject to pressures too, but none quite like this…

    Comment by Katy — December 15, 2010 @ 9:43 am | Reply

  2. I think you’ll find the New Romantics portrayed MEN as adornments, heavy with make up. Nothing wrong with that, either …………..

    Comment by Rose Whiteley — December 15, 2010 @ 11:24 am | Reply

  3. Katy – the phrase ‘having it all’ has a lot to answer for! It can just pile up pressure on young women, whose parents expect them to get a top degree and career, and produce lots of grandchildren as well. Without a supportive husband and/or army of servants, that’s a tough ask. For men, the sad change since the 70s, when about half of social workers were male, is that it’s no longer cool to be sensitive. We’re told to ‘man up’ or ‘grow some’. These are phrases I’ve only heard in the past few years.
    Rose – you know my views about 80s music. Hrrmph. I was thinking of the Duran Duran Rio video & Human League. Bleugh.

    Comment by felipewh — December 15, 2010 @ 11:46 am | Reply

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