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Postcards from Scotland

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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 25/08/2005

Not being a great fan of TV, I havenít bought a Radio Times for years but with all the fuss about Michael Buerkís comments I decided to get one and read for myself. The first thing which surprised me is that it wasnít a piece he wrote but an interview which read like it had been spiced up and reproduced in the style of tabloid journalism. No wonder he later claimed that he had been misrepresented Ė a journalist stung by someone in his own profession.

For years Iíve been interested in the topic of gender. Indeed my thesis topic was The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. Many years ago I used to run courses for women in organisations and look at gender equality issues. This was a type of work which I never warmed to and moved away from quickly. The problem was that inevitably as soon as you start talking about gender issues in organisations you reinforce gender stereotypes. So women in organisations need assertiveness training and men donít Ė tell that to women like Margaret Thatcher or some of the other confident women in senior management positions these days.

But while there are undoubtedly a lot more women in senior positions I just donít recognise the world that Buerk describes. Women havenít taken over in the way he describes. Sure there are certain occupational groups Ė and the broadcast media may be one of them Ė where there are more women than before. There might even be a majority in some sectors. But that isnít true across the board. Just look at the snall number of women who have directorships, the number of senior female academics, the low status of womenís sports or the comparison between men and womenís pay and you donít get the impression that women have taken over running the world.

In some ways I agree that there is a feminisation of society going on at present. Womenís preferred way of being Ė open about emotions, communicating and being sensitive - is now more obvious in society and is at the root of a lot of management training in organisations across the private and public sector. Just look at how counselling is now routinely offered for people who have experience any kind of ordeal. I also think that men have lost their identity somewhat and there is something of a crisis of masculinity. What does it mean to be a man in a world where strength no longer matters? But none of this means that women are now the superior sex or that they have made it at menís expense. In fact in some ways a convincing argument can be made that changes in sex roles have made menís life easier in some ways and womenís more difficult.

I used to demonstrate this in a simple training exercise with a group. Iíd get them to come up with a list of what Ďthe new womaní is like. A huge list of things would get written up: sexy, talented, good at her job, fit, attractive, great cook, good mother of very clever children and so the list goes on. This is the kind of woman that is projected in womenís magazines. It is oppressive to women as it is completely unachievable. No one can be good at all these things. Then Iíd ask for a list of the traditional woman. This would have things like caring, sensitive, supportive, doesnít have needs of her own, homemaker etc.etc. And the women would all argue that this list hasnít gone away. They still feel that they want to live up to this list and are judged by it. And so you get the feeling that women are driven by all these difficult, competing agendas and often end up feeling dissatisfied with themselves and their lives.

If you do a similar exercise for men what you find is that menís lives have become somewhat better. Men are still expected to be men in a traditional way but if they let their feelings show now then that is ok. And also the pressure has been taken off them to be single breadwinners.

So the issue of gender in modern world is complicated. I might even be tempted to tune into Michael Buerkeís series to see what he really makes of it.

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