One of the most hideous sentences I have had the displeasure of reading this week is that which a misguided recruiter felt necessary to finish of a job description: “We particularly welcome applications from women”. This might be read charitably as encouragement (patronising as that might be) but I’d argue its mere existence in a place where gender need not be considered proves the intent to give women a helping hand where it is not needed; a well-meaning stepping stone to unhelpful gender quotas. This position was for a generic office administrative role in a printing company, hardly gendered enough to require the feminine touch. I can’t come up with any reason why this should not be (if it isn’t already) illegal, just as calls for it to be such would bellow loudly if the reverse were to be written.
It is this sort of paternal leg-up in the workplace that should have feminists busily typing diatribes about discrimination. It is this particular style of infantilising motivation targeted at women that has ceded the rise of the gender quota; a commitment to gender parity in the workplace at the expense of remembering women don’t need extra help to succeed, at the expense of forgetting it is anti-feminist to give women special treatment, however genial the intent. This line of thinking embodies discrimination in its most guileful form; sexism packaged as anti-sexism.
In one fell swoop this lets men know that by virtue of their gametes they are marginally less likely to be afforded the dignity of work, regardless of their qualifications. It lets women know they’re not being judged solely on their hard work and compatibility with the job, but partly by their gender. What a work environment to be in, one where you’re not entirely sure your colleagues are there because they’re skilled, conscientious and respectable individuals committed to the job, or because they have a vagina. Imagine being surrounded by people who are suspicious of your actual qualifications because they’ve noticed your gender is the right one to placate the nauseating guilt of the recruiter signalling their progressivist credentials with each miserable tap atop the keyboard.
As Jonathan Haidt observes of diversity quotas in universities, identity based advances through the recruitment system do not minimise any identity based gaps but rather have the potential to pullulate the reverse. It fosters an environment where the presence of a putatively underrepresented person arouses suspicion as to the basis of their job or university offer; eligibility or identity. Such a move might encourage legitimate worries about the employee’s or student’s capabilities that could so easily be transmuted into the language of microaggressions and misogyny. In a world where the hashtag #ThingsOnlyWomenWritersHear is littered with imputed mansplaining that are often comments women are more likely to hear from other women, “Working from home? Nice not to have to put on make-up in the morning”, and comments male writers are just as likely to hear, “Have a back up plan, freelance can be unsteady work”, why take the risk of letting genuine concerns be turned into a workplace sexism lawsuit?
Fortunately, asking such a question already buys too far into the implicit message that there aren’t a glut of qualified women out there whose application wouldn’t be welcomed on merit alone. In a world where women are better educated at every level – by degree classification and level of qualification – a better question is why even write this? There are bound to be women as qualified as men applying for this position, if you have a preference based on whatever wrongheaded script from the feminist playbook you have imbibed then indulge that preference in secret. There’s bound to be a woman fit for the job, hire her without letting her know you’re not just happy she’s a good candidate but you’re thrilled she has a vagina too. Are you saying that you’re so worried there aren’t capable women out there you need to ensure you’ll let standards slip in the name of redressing the balance? Are you saying that in the unlikely case that the one candidate fit for the job is male, you’d take on an under-qualified female and sacrifice your business in the name of equality? Surely, a basic refusal to have your gender considered should underlie the feminist message about equality in the workplace.
Sadly, closing the purported wage gap means women don’t mind not being judged on the same footing as men, that women don’t mind if it’s their gender that gets them the job, that women don’t mind if their self-worth is reduced to their genitals, that women don’t mind if their years of hard work are worth as much as the chromosomes they were born with, that women don’t mind if they are reduced to pawns in the political pursuit of the appearance – but not the practice – of equality. It is saddening the echoes of second wave feminism that demanded equal but never special treatment – that didn’t want to be viewed as an inferior underclass that need a paternalistic helping hand to navigate the world – have all but faded into silence.