As a researcher in gender equality, every week for me is Gender Central, simultaneously frustrating and thought-provoking. Questions of gender are always complex and answers are not always easy to find.
Last Friday I was contacted by the media team at my university, to provide an ‘expert view’ on a news story developing close to the university campus. A well-known restaurant within an upmarket hotel was renovating one of its entrances. They had decorated the hoardings around the building works with oversized posters featuring a scantily clad female posterior (we assume it was female, the model’s head was not in the picture). ‘We’re working on our rear entrance,’ the poster said. ‘We’ll be pert and perfect by June’. The hoardings stood directly in the path of many hundreds of school, college and university students en route to the multiple educational establishment in the neighbourhood. The image was more like something from the 1970s than the 2010s. A twitter storm raged for a number of hours, the posters were removed by late afternoon. Someone had realised it’s better for business NOT to outrage the neighbours.
Last week too, another twitter storm sprang up following the story of the temp receptionist at PwC sent home for refusing to wear high heels. Among other responses, the Fawcett Society launched #flatsfriday. Cue many (too many?) photos of women wearing flat shoes. Men too – but then they rarely wear anything else. It reminded me of the time Twitter and Facebook were swimming in ‘je suis Charlie’ / French tricolours – for a limited time. ‘Love my killer heels,’ said one tweet, ‘but today I’m in my flats’. I think #flatsfriday missed the point (the Fawcett Society were not pleased that I said so). Posting photos of shoes is a fleeting and superficial response to the continued sexualisation of female identity in the workplace. It really doesn’t tackle the heart of the matter, playing instead into the ‘every woman loves shoes – don’t they?’ stereotype. (This week, PwC hosted a gender equality forum for business and government …. Awkward timing?)
This Friday, the #flatsfriday hashtag is notable only by its absence from the feeds and my week ends dispiritingly, with the appearance of a group photo celebrating newly appointed professors and readers at my university. Of seven new professors, six are men, six are White; both readers are also male. To misquote Justin Trudeau – ‘This is 2016?’