Today’s victims of sexism: They don’t know they’re born

Yesterday’s Guardian featured a piece by a female barrister revealing the sexism she had to deal with while still on the bottom rungs of the profession. It was stuff like always being the one who had to make tea, being asked to babysit for senior colleagues, not being paid for extra work even though her male counterparts were. Trivial shit, really, but the kind of trivial shit which creates yet another environment in which men and women are not equals. If you think it’s too trivial to bother with – what with the “real” discrimination that happens in other countries, and other ages – then this post isn’t for you. Go and find something else to do. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind making me a cup of tea?

Anyhow, were were we? Oh yes, today’s Guardian now features a response piece. It’s written by Maura McGowan, the vice-chairman(!) of the Bar Council. So no sexism so far, eh, job title analysts?

The title of the piece is “Sexism at the bar may still be rife, but women barristers have come a long way”. I find that an odd way of putting it for starters. Almost makes you feel that “sexism at the bar” has been women’s responsibility to overcome. But anyhow, it’s not as bad as the sub-heading: “During pupillage in the 80s, not only did women make the tea, they had to avoid being groped in the process”. So ner! Guess who wins the oppression Olympics there? Well done, Maura. Still, perhaps I’m being a little unfair. You’re a serious person with well-honed argumentative skills. Surely your piece can’t be as moronic and pointless as some stupid Guardian sub-editor has made it sound?

Alas, it can indeed. Maura is sad about Thursday’s article – so very, very sad – but still, however sad she and others (current victims of sexism, for instance) may be feeling, she nevertheless believes “it is only fair to acknowledge that the bar has come on leaps and bounds in [addressing sexist attitudes] since I completed pupillage in the early 80s”. Well, the thing is Maura – how exactly shall I put it? – NO, IT IS NOT “ONLY FAIR” TO ACKNOWLEDGE THIS. IT FUCKING WELL ISN’T. Equality is a right; it is not something the privileged “grant” the oppressed. No woman should be required to “acknowledge” progress towards her being treated as an equal; on the contrary, the best those who have let her down in the past should request (but not expect) is a degree of forgiveness.

Unfortunately Maura doesn’t see it that way. She really does go on to depict an 80s in which:

most women believed most of the dinosaurs of the bar had become extinct and that we were entering a relatively egalitarian profession. Nevertheless, not only were we expected to make the tea, but we also had to do it looking backwards to avoid being groped in the process.

See, ladies? Now THAT’S discrimination! It doesn’t count unless you’re literally having to cover your own arse. To be honest, though, you have to wonder: if that was the 80s, what were the 70s like? Did you have to fashion your robes in the style of Pan’s People’s latest? Put Playboy bunny ears in your wig? Because if that’s true – if, say, the Guardian does an article on that tomorrow – the trust me, Maura. When it comes to sexism, you don’t know shit.

Of course, it’s no good just to go on about the bad old days. It’s important to identify the enemies of equality right here, right now. In the spirit of this, Maura’s piece points the finger straight at … the author of Thursday’s article:

We wondered why the author had not sought advice from one of the many avenues of support available. We realise that any pupil hoping for tenancy wants to avoid alienating their senior colleagues and jeopardising their chances of success, but there are many anonymous sources of advice, including the Bar Council’s pupil advice line, which offers confidential support. In addition, the Bar Council provides an equality and diversity helpline, the Association of Women Barristers’ can provide support for female practitioners at all levels and the inns of courts’ student officers will always help and advise.

Well maybe, just maybe, the author of yesterday’s article was worried that she couldn’t ring up all these “support lines” with tales of making tea and having to wear high heels. Maybe she thought they’d laugh down the line and tell her if there wasn’t any groping, there was no discrimination. Maybe she’s in an environment where the drip-drip-drip effect of mild sexism isn’t fully acknowledged. I mean, god knows where I’d get that impression. But maybe, just maybe, it’s true.

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