Thursday, 27 August 2009

My sixteen months of tears

So scientists have worked out that women spend 16 months of their lives crying; well, you can add an extra two months to that for pet owners, obviously.

I've never had much patience for the weird female compulsion that induces otherwise sensible women to hire a copy of some cheesy old movie like “Now Voyager” so that they can spend the evening snivelling into a growing pile of tissues. Any film that sets itself up as a tearjerker gets very short shrift from me.

Bereavement apart, the thing that reduces me to tears most often is anger. You know, the situation that winds one up beyond endurance, to the point at which a sort of red mist of inarticulacy descends and words stick in the throat.

The last time I experienced this was at my last job, working for an international property company.

It was great at first. The entire workforce was shoe-horned into a tiny space and a pioneer spirit prevailed. We all had the same aims and a commission system that was passed on to every employee secured our loyalty.

Then we moved to a massive office in a glitzy building and it all went decidedly Pete Tong.

The corporate mind-set must be one of the most unpleasant phenomena in the world, something that is so female unfriendly that the new-look company featured only two women at the highest level: one who was promoted through hard work, application and real dedication to her job, the other who was appointed late in the day and maintained her position through a technique that can best be described as horizontal. I refused to believe this until practically the entire staff (male and female) assured me that the stories that were circulating were not scurrilous rumour but the truth.

In the 1980s I worked for a South African retailer called OK Bazaars. Grand and petty apartheid was still in full swing, but there was less of a gap between the salaries of the lowliest shelf-stacker and the CEO than there was in this company between the average skilled worker (I was employed as a copywriter) and middle-management.

There was a clear divide – if you were a bloke (a key issue, this) with a good grasp of jargon you could start on a salary that was about four times more than a female employee could expect, however poor your basic education. This situation was maintained by a transparently unfair process whereby female workers were dubbed “not high-fliers” and told that their lack of value to the company was such that there was no way they'd ever be considered for a raise. This wasn't the case for the men who could expect to take home a pay packet five or six times larger than all but two of the women. Worse, the commissions that allowed us to bolster our salaries were withdrawn.

Since so many women have commitments outside their professional lives and find it difficult to stay late, this was another stick with which the male managers beat us. Most of the female workers had similar hours: I worked from roughly 9:15 until 18:00 every day and took less than an hour's break. It simply wasn't necessary for us to stay late, seeing as we didn't fritter away our days on unnecessary meetings.

And as for the times that an idea presented by a female staffer was ignored, but later adopted when suggested by a male manager – don't get me started.

This is just one woman's personal experience – I know there are millions of women in similar situations and far, far worse.

Given that our status in the workplace is so low, with female salaries still lagging way behind that of our male colleagues, while magazines and tabloids tell us that feminism is dead, long live post-feminism, have you seen the dress that Cheryl Cole wore to that premiere and wouldn't you just LOVE to have a pair of Louboutin's like Victoria Beckham's, is it any wonder that we need our sixteen months of tears?

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