Yesterday I learned that as a woman my contribution to the economy is shopping. That’s it. I didn’t read this online on a “sexism for dummies” website or via some troglodyte’s tweet. No, unbelievably, this was a well-known economist at a highly-paid speaking gig.
Now before you wonder whether he was joking. I can assure you he was not. There was not a hint of humour nor irony when he delivered the following assessment of the economy (not a direct quote but enough to give you a rough idea of his archaic thinking): “The women consumer confidence index is also up. Women, you see, are responsible for economic booms or recessions because above all else they like to go shopping.” Silence.
I was there with a female colleague and admittedly we made up about five per cent of the audience given the industry I work in is male-dominated. But a bit like that line about whether trees still make a sound when they fall in the forest if no one’s there to hear them, just because we were in the minority doesn’t mean you have permission to be an ignorant prat.
I sat there white with fury after he disrespected nearly every woman in Australia. My brain was doing annoyed cartwheels while I simultaneously pontificated on what I myself would tweet about it in response (nothing as it turned out) or indeed whether I’d have the gumption to ask a question at the end of his presentation (which, from that point on, I stopped listening to) about whether he really was a cave man from the Stone Age.
I turned around to my colleague and the look on her face spoke (economic) volumes. Our male colleague, who’d invited us, looked on sheepishly. Funnily enough, he technically is our subordinate. Lord knows how we managed to score such plum “superior” jobs when we clearly should’ve just been out doing our bit for the economy by splashing some cash on clothes we do not need.
In the past 24 hours, I’ve been thinking a lot about that offensive economic comment. While I recognise that such entrenched sexism and outdated ideas are often more to do with the generation above mine (and thankfully not every man of that age – like my dad – believes such nonsense either), it sure makes me wonder how far we as women have really come.
My colleague sent me the image at the top of this blog after the function and pondered the same question: “This poster is from 1928. How far have we come in 87 years?” Sometimes it seems a million miles and sometimes, like yesterday, it seems we’ve made little progress at all.
For me personally, that stupid “economic theory” of course failed to consider the myriad ways that women in the year 2015 contribute to the economy. While there still may be pay disparity and less than favourable representation on boards, amongst other valid complaints, many of my sisters today are leaps and bounds ahead, financially and professionally, of their male counterparts.
One of my girlfriends is the CEO of a mid-sized company and she doesn’t like shopping at all. Another is a senior economist, who prefers trainers to high heels. I, myself, am responsible for the livelihoods of my staff as the editor of a national magazine. I am also the owner of rental property, which provide shelter for people to live in, which are managed by agents, who in turn hire tradesmen for repairs and maintenance, who buy their tools and whatnot from retail and trade outlets, which previously were manufactured somewhere else at some other time. And all the while, I haven’t bought one pair of shoes or sexy undies but it certainly sounds like economic contribution to me.
The economic tentacles of today’s modern woman are indeed spread far and wide across the country and the globe, and are much more complex than a proclivity for shopping. In fact, it is also usually the women in relationships who make the buying decisions on such things as, you know, million-dollar houses. I’m not too sure you just can simplistically call that “shopping”.
Finally, when the presentation was over, I turned once more to my female friend and sweetly said: “What a dick” because it really was the most insightful way I could think of to sum it all up.