Did you know that it is now more then 40 years since the passing of the Equal Pay Act 1970 and more then 35 years since the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975. Both these acts were aimed at bringing about gender equality.
How well do you think we have done?
Women still hold very few leadership post relative to men (less than 14% of FTSE 100 board members, and less than 25% of MPs), still earn less than men (over 50% less in the financial services industry) and still undertake most of the caring in our society (children and older people).
I changed gender in 2002 and very quickly realised that much of the discrimination I encountered was not because I am transgender – but because I am now female, and because I have lived as both a man and a woman, I am far more sensitive to gender based discrimination than most people.
Unconscious Bias and Hidden Prejudice
What I have observed more recently is a growth in unconscious bias and hidden prejudice. This occurs where people are either consciously prejudiced, but hide that as far as possible or treat certain people less favorably because they have been influenced by social stereotypes.
Unconscious bias or hidden prejudice is an inevitable by product or legislation. The Equality Act 2010 has made it illegal to discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on the grounds of one or more of nine protected characteristics. It has also extended protection to people who are perceived to have a protected characteristic or are associated with someone with a protected characteristic.
But changing the law as we have seen with the Equal Pay Act and Sex Discrimination Act doesn’t in itself stop discrimination or bring about gender equality. That takes a much more difficult process of changing attitudes. People continue to discriminate and to treat some people either unfairly or more favorably, often without even realising that they are doing so.
We are not our Gender
“It’s a Boy” – “It’s a Girl”
The moment we are born the first thing almost everyone wants to know about us is our sex. Even before a baby is born people are asking the question “is it a boy or a girl?”
At birth this information is determined by a quick inspection or our genitalia to see whether we have or do not have a penis – because in most cultures boys are considered more important and valuable than girls.
However this information is not really about sex – it is all about determining how someone will be treated for the rest of their lives. If we believe or perceive a baby to be male or female that determines our expectations of them and how we will treat them. From the moment we are born the colour and style of clothes, the way we are spoken to, the language used and even the way we are physically handled is determined people’s perception of our sex, not our actual sex.
This socially constructed view of our “Sex” is our “Gender”. Where Sex is physiological, Gender is psychological. Sex is essential – i.e. it is the way we are born; Gender is cultural i.e. it is the way we develop in response to the way we are treated.
Of course we are all different – and there is the problem. Many of us find that we don’t fit the “normal expectations” of being a man or a woman and some of the expectations others have of us because of our gender are unfair or unrealistic and we can be put under considerable pressure to conform to the gender stereotypes.
Challenging Gender Stereotypes
A hundred years ago, challenging your “gendered place” in society was very difficult, and those who were prepared to stand up and fight for women’s rights, like Emmeline Pankhurst, were often arrested for their actions. History shows us countless examples of people being arrested and even pilloried for wearing clothes considered inappropriate to their gender.
People are still publicly ridiculed and humiliated for transgressing the gender boundaries, however slowly but surely the changes in attitudes are taking place. How slowly is illustrated by the fact that in the 1970’s legislation was put in place to outlaw gender discrimination yet today gender is still one of the most common causes of discrimination. Men still earn on average 80% more than women; women still undertake most caring in society; masculinity is still essentially defined as “not feminine”; atypical gender behaviour and appearance is the second most common reason for bullying, both at school and in the workplace (behind body shape) .
In my work I often hear comments suggesting that gender discrimination is largely a thing of the past. However my life experiences as a transgender person has convinced me that we have a long way to go before we see gender equality, as is illustrated by the Equal Opportunities Commission publication The Gender Agenda. This publication is a few years old now and we have come quite a long way with the the Equality Act 2010 – but passing laws does not change attitudes.
This site is being complied to help to speed up that change process and to empower people to be themselves, to challenge gender stereotyping and help you to “be the best you that you can possibly be”.