It is 100 years since women got the vote and I have been joining in the celebrations, on public transport — lightly tapping attractive women on the knee or gently massaging their lovely shoulders and saying, cheerfully, ‘Well done, babes!’ Some react with anger and irritation to my heartfelt congratulations, especially when I ask for their phone numbers so that we might discuss suffrage further — which is, I suppose, an indication they did not really want the vote in the first place. Certainly it imposes a terrible pressure upon them — they are forced, every five years, to make a clear decision.
The statistics suggest many resent this imposition deeply, with women twice as likely as men to remain ‘don’t knows’ until the final minute: you can see them all, on polling days, making their way to the booth in a pretty little cloud of confusion. They are actually more likely to vote than men, and much less likely to know what they are voting about or for. I think, then, that this represents progress of a kind. It is also 100 years since working-class men got the vote, but nobody seems terribly bothered about that.
The BBC has been in one of its fairly frequent states of oestrus over the event (much as it was when Nelson Mandela died and the organisation wore black armbands and kept showing black people singing ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika’, which means‘Shoot the white farmer and rape his wife’, I think). I took part in a debate on the World at One about the #MeToo business, but I was up against four women, so was restricted in attempting to promulgate my considered thesis that #MeToo is basically affluent, entitled women whining about next to nothing.
The next day the Today programme was an exclusive women-only zone — presented and produced by women and with only female guests, an interesting idea presumably taken from the BBC’s Brexit coverage where only Remainers are allowed to ask questions or answer them. I wondered if this innovation might be developed and extended so that we might have a BBC programme entirely produced by, presented by and the interviews consisting solely of cretins. But then I remembered — hey, there’s PM!
The Today show included a rather fractious interview with a female comedian in which the question was posed: can women really be funny? I thought this might prove time for some laughs. Hell, of course they can be funny — they’re frequently hilarious. Just give them a map, or watch them parking. But the comedian, the least humorous person on Planet Earth including Philip Hammond, just screeched back: ‘That’s not funny! You shouldn’t even ask the question!’ Perhaps the woman comedian was approaching her menses and thus possessed of an irrational fury. If so, I think the presenter, the excellent Sarah Montague, should have let us all know. ‘And joining us on the line from Hades is Roz Harridan, who is about to come on.’
I say Today was an entirely women-only zone, but it wasn’t quite. At the end of the show they read out the names of the programme editors and studio producer — and there was a bloke’s name there. As a former boss of the show, I had a guess at why this would be. When I was there the staff were pretty much split 50-50 between men and women, perhaps with a slight female bias. And women were represented equally throughout each of the BBC’s ludicrous grading system on the programme.
But in my time, the male producers earned considerably more than the female producers. Why was this? Institutionalised sexism and unfairness on the part of me, the editor? No. The staff on Today work three kinds of shifts. A tiny minority work a congenial nine-to-five shift on a planning desk. But the rest of the producers do either an 11-hour day or a 13-hour night. Those night shifts are a killer, literally and metaphorically. Working through the night is seriously injurious to health and can be catastrophic for family life — and so the extra money paid to the people who did these horrible shifts seems to me entirely just.
Now, both sexes were meant to do the night shift —after all, you can’t put a decent edition of Today out without a team working overnight. But during my time, more and more women presented compelling (to the BBC) reasons for why they couldn’t work overnight — mostly, but by no means exclusively, because of child care. And so they were made exempt. One after another came to me and said: ‘I’m pregnant, can’t do nights, sorry.’ Or, ‘I’ve got kids — can’t do nights’. Or even simply — ‘The doctor says I can’t do nights’.
The Today hand-over meeting between the two teams was at eight o’clock in the evening. And I would watch as the largely female day team greeted the sallow, red-eyed, zombified young men turning up for their third of three consecutive night shifts. I ought to add that some women were happy to do nights, but far fewer. So that’s why men, back in 2003, earned more money than women: they did the same job, but at a different, much less congenial, time.
And so after three hours of women-only interviews on the Today programme last Tuesday morning, perhaps the most revelatory and informative nugget of information came right at the end, just before the pips: they had a bloke working overnight, because that’s what blokes do. And very few people will have picked it up.
A great shame, really, because it is just one — among a million — examples as to why the gender pay gap is a myth, a fabrication. There is an earnings gap between men and women, but not a pay gap. Do the same job as men and you will be paid the same amount of money.
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