Melanie Phillips

28 January 2013

Shock news! Women are different from men

Published in: Daily Mail

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The chief operating officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, decided last week to use the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos to make some observations about women in the workplace.

She said that companies should be able to ask women employees whether they intend to have children.

Crumbs. Did she really say that?

It is, of course, no more than basic common sense to say that if a woman has children, this will very likely affect her attitude to work. At the very least, it surely merits a discussion with her employer.

But such is the equality madness, so absolute the prohibition against speaking about such matters and so great the opprobrium directed at anyone who does, that when someone actually says the blindingly obvious like this it comes as a shock.

Indeed, Ms Sandberg revealed that her firm’s own lawyer had been nervous about her suggesting that women employees might be different from men. Heaven forbid!

In fact, most of the rest of her message was militantly feminist — attacking gender stereotypes, criticising women for not being more assertive at work and urging them not to downgrade their ambitions just because they had children.

Nevertheless, she also believes that employers and female employees should be open with each other about how such women will juggle work and family — because women have different priorities in life from men.

You may find these differences praiseworthy or, as Ms Sandberg clearly does, most regrettable — but that’s just how it is.

Yet this patently obvious fact is unsayable because of the shibboleth that women behave in exactly the same way as men and therefore have to be treated in an identical manner.

The latest example of this implacably unisex approach is the possibility that Britain may follow the example of the U.S., which has just decided to reverse its ban on women soldiers serving in combat units.

Opinion about the wisdom of this move is divided, not least among women soldiers themselves. Some believe there should be no such bar, on the grounds that women soldiers are both physically and emotionally as capable of killing the enemy as their male colleagues.

But others say there are significant drawbacks. First, women are simply not as strong as men. One female soldier has been reported as saying that she just could not envisage a woman joining the Parachute Regiment, because ‘you need to be able to carry 100lb of kit and still kill the enemy’.

In addition, she and others believe that women lack the ‘killer instinct’ to be properly effective in battle, and would also weigh down the male soldiers alongside them since men’s instinct is to protect women from harm.

Personally, I don’t know who is right in this argument. Experience in those countries which allow women to serve in combat units appears to have been mixed, and there are clearly serious doubts about whether such a move would hamper military effectiveness in a combat zone.

What is alarming, however, is that proper consideration of such concerns appears to be impossible — because they are simply trumped and rendered moot by the unchallengeable belief that women have to be treated in every walk of life in exactly the same way as men.

This is based on the similarly incontestable belief that if there is anything they are unable to do, this is proof positive of discrimination.

But this is simply false. Denying women opportunities on the basis of true prejudice is clearly wrong, and regrettably still happens. But much of what is called ‘discrimination’ is due to women’s own choices.

For example, women may hit the so-called ‘glass ceiling’ at work because, even in full-time employment, they often choose not to go for promotion or decide to work fewer hours than their male colleagues on account of their other priorities, such as caring for young children.

Yet women who own businesses earn nearly 17 per cent more than men in the same position — because they are working on their own terms, which are different from those of men.

Modern feminism presents women as passive victims of circumstance, unable to influence their own destiny. Not only is this nonsense, but it infantilises women by denying them any responsibility for what happens to them.

This absurdity has been on display in the past few days over perfectly sensible remarks about what women need to do to help protect themselves against attack.

Last week, the actress Joanna Lumley advised women: ‘Don’t be sick in the  gutter at midnight in a silly dress with no money to get a taxi home because somebody will take advantage of you — either rape you, or they’ll knock you on the head or they’ll rob you.’

For such advice — which any caring parent might give their daughter — she was promptly torn apart for ‘misogyny’, ‘reactionary ideals of femininity’ and ‘toxic language’.

A Tory MP, Richard Graham, supported her by saying that women were putting themselves at risk of rape if they staggered about at night drunk and clad in short skirts and high heels.

Apoplectic women’s groups then accused the hapless Graham of reallocating blame from rapists to their victims. But he did nothing of the kind. All the poor man said was that if women were drunk and wore short skirts and high heels, they couldn’t run away from their attackers fast enough.

Some of his accusers were beyond parody. According to Jo Wood, a trustee of Rape Crisis England and Wales, women should bear no responsibility for any attack on them even if they were off their face with alcohol and ‘lying naked on a bench’.

This is tantamount to claiming that if someone wanders across a motorway for a dare, they should bear no responsibility whatsoever if they get run over.

Is it surprising, therefore, that women who have battled through real obstacles in their lives tend to view modern feminism with contempt?

Mary Berry, star of BBC TV’s The Great British Bake-Off, is a no-nonsense career woman who overcame polio and went back to work a few weeks after giving birth to each of her three children.

Yet she says she is ‘stunned’ that women now get a year off after having a baby and don’t even have to tell their employers whether they are coming back or not — which makes it impossible for small firms to cope.

No wonder she thinks feminism is a dirty word and wants nothing to do with ‘women’s rights’.

Women’s equality surely means equal access on a level playing field. It does not mean identical treatment. Yet that’s what it’s become.

The ‘unisex’ view of men and women, however, is simply false. The truth is that women have different characteristics, needs and priorities in life from men.

Forcing them into the same mould as men means those differences cannot be accommodated but are instead squashed out of existence.

The result is that women themselves find life more difficult, not less.

Turning themselves into ‘ladettes’, they make themselves vulnerable to abuse or attack — and end up in their 30s wondering why they haven’t found a nice chap with whom to settle down.

Or they run themselves ragged trying to combine work with looking after small children — not because their menfolk aren’t pulling their weight at home, but because they themselves can’t bear to play second fiddle in caring for their children.

Treating women as victims has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We need less feminism and more realism if we are to stop infantilising half the human race — and thus finally give women real equality.

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

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  • The World Turned Upside Down
  • Londonistan
  • The Ascent of Woman
  • America's Social Revolution

Contact Melanie

Melanie Phillips
Daily Mail
Northcliffe House
2 Derry Street
London W8 5TT

Contact Melanie