TORONTO – Catherine Mayer says there is not a single country that has achieved gender parity, but creating a level playing field for women to succeed doesn’t lie solely with pursuing political power.
“The mechanisms that are holding women down are interlocking and you can’t — just by putting more women into politics — you can’t actually create change,” said Mayer, co-founder of the non-partisan U.K-based Women’s Equality Party.
“You have to look at things like the media environment that continually either diminishes the idea of what women can be, or in other ways, finds ways to make us anxious about who we are and to turn our energies inward. So, we have to find ways to change that.”
In “Attack of the Fifty Foot Women: How Gender Equality Can Save the World!’ (HarperCollins) the author and journalist cites many of the same core objectives touted by the Women’s Equality Party, or WE, as a potential road map to achieving parity.
Pursuit in equality in education, pay, caregiving and bringing an end to violence against women are party tenets. They are also measures echoed in Mayer’s book as examples that will not only lead to the betterment for women but society overall.
Mayer paid a visit to Iceland, which has long been heralded for its progressive attitudes towards women. She spoke to many locals who gave their accounts of the Women’s Day Off as a key turning point in recognizing the vital role women played within the country. On Oct. 24, 1975, all women walked away from their jobs and unpaid caregiving duties, leading production in all spheres to come to a halt.
“For that one day, the men suddenly realized how much the women contribute,” said Mayer. “It didn’t turn it into a gender-equal country overnight, but it kickstarted the process.”
She writes of measures and social supports Iceland has instituted such as shared parental leave, and high-enough salaries to incentivize fathers to stay home with the kids, helping mothers to continue to participate in the labour force.
“They’re still nowhere near total equality. There’s still gender-based violence, there’s still a gender pay gap, there’s still segregation in the job market. But they are much further along,” said Mayer. “The way people interact is so noticeably different, and the confidence with which women present themselves; but also the ease with which men deal with manifestations of female power are completely different.
“The biggest thing of all is that men understand that it’s part of the same project. They see that they, too, benefit from everyone being more equal rather than assuming what men in many cultures do — that it will take away from them.”
Mayer’s WE Party proposes a strategy to increase female representation in the U.K. Parliament by ensuring 66 per cent of candidates vying for office are women. She had high praise for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to have a gender-equal cabinet, and dismissed those touting meritocracy over measurable targets to bring women on board.
“That’s such nonsense when people argue that because there is a quota operating in favour of mediocrity at that moment,” she said. “That’s what’s wrong with all of these institutions that do not draw on the widest talent pool available — for all the different reasons that they don’t.
“People recruit people that are like themselves; so it’s unconscious and conscious bias at operation there as well.”
Mayer said she has met men during her U.K. promotional events who have told her they purchased the book for their wives, but had not recognized they, too, could value from its lessons.
“It shows the work that still needs to be done,” said Mayer. “There’s so much evidence about the benefits to everyone from gender equality; yet somehow, despite all of this, men will read these individual bits of research but they won’t relate it to their own lives.
“This is my next obsession, actually, is how to get men onboard, but how to get men onboard in a very real way.”
— Follow @lauren_larose on Twitter.