For women to talk about money, let alone demand equal pay, is still taboo
Is Jeremy Vine really worth six times as much as Samira Ahmed? Or is it that women in their 50s are routinely paid less than men?
Most people are more interested in a woman’s thigh gap than the pay gap. Equal pay? Oh, not again – that’s as dull as talking about pensions. Most of us would rather die. But if we haven’t actually died, then, unfortunately, we have to live on something.
Women’s relationship with money is still somehow considered embarrassing by society. Young women write confessionals full of masochism and the world is fascinated by these unspoken desires, which are part of our romantic ideology. Older women talk about being poorer and duped out of their pensions and it’s considered a bit icky. To talk of money, in any personal way, is taboo – actually, dirty. Having too much or too little – both of these states are used to disqualify women from talking openly. We are too demanding. Always.
Young women have long been deemed less employable than young men because they might have children. Older women are less employable than young women because they are no longer youthful. The working life of a woman is predicated on reproduction whether she reproduces or not. The worth of a woman is not her experience. If it was, then how come women in their 50s are routinely paid less than men? New research shows that women’s average salaries are 28% lower than men’s. Men’s salaries drop by 4% in their 50s, but women’s drop by 8%. This continues until there is a differential of 27.6% at retirement age.
How do we explain this? Are we women simply past it by the time we hit 50? When exactly is our prime? It’s impossible to tell. I live in the moment, as instructed by Instagram and er … wotsisname? Buddha. All I know is that it’s rough out there and I have to work until I am 67 for a state pension. All I can say is you really don’t want me as your waitress in a few years’ time.
Many women my age will be impoverished because the state pension age has been lifted. The travails of the middle-aged may not seem radical material for a generation who can’t get on the housing ladder. But, as I say to younger women, we are all in this together. If your mother’s work is not deemed of equal value to men’s, what makes you think yours will ever be?
The gurning, high-fiving maniacs in shows such as The Apprentice, with their fake paeans to “teamwork”, have a lot to answer for, as does the idea inherent on the right (and, apparently, at the BBC) that women work for pocket money. This has not been true, if it ever was, for a very long time. I will always remember interviewing the wives of miners who had “retired undefeated” after the strike. The men would not take the new service jobs on offer; the women were doing three.
The BBC view that Samira Ahmed is worth a sixth of Jeremy Vine masks itself as common sense, the same common sense that allowed John Humphrys and his crew to titter over the gender pay gap. How very droll that women should demand it be closed. And how unseemly that they should do this in public. Whatever happened to gentlemen’s agreements? The paternalism of the BBC is on full display yet again. But such attitudes are found in all walks of life. Years of accumulated wisdom, of juggling many demands, of being good at your job seemingly count for little. Try getting a new job past 55. I read the advice offered in Saga magazine and fell at the first hurdle: “Don’t have an attitude.”
Wow. How is having an attitude seen if you are a man? It’s called vision, integrity, grit. What do we call.the nous of the older woman in the workplace then? The ability to spot bullshit at 100 yards, the knowledge that everyone will get through the latest stress because you have in the past. It is understanding how to pace yourself. You can see it in older nurses in a hospital, you can see it in small businesses, you can see it in headteachers.
This casual indifference to financial equality is so deeply ingrained that in 2019 women demanding equal pay in very well-paid jobs is still seen as bolshy. But this is not just about pay, it’s about how we are valued. You are not worth it because you buy one shampoo or another. Self-esteem does not pay the rent. We are worth it full stop. We do not stop being worth it in our 50s. On the contrary, we are more sure of that than ever. Show us the money.