Sex and Gender discrimination at work
Discrimination based on an individual’s sex has existed in one form or another, as long as remembered history. Present day association of the word evokes emotions and imagery of injustices being propagated – by some in the dominant group – upon the female sex, though men can equally be victims of sexism and discrimination. The latter is perhaps not as gripping, because according to some the system is in favor and in control of the patriarchy.
Mark Doyle, an anthropologist from University College of London, led a study a few years back suggesting that early hunter-gatherer societies might have been more egalitarian than previously thought and that inequality based on sex might have been a more modern construct. By also observing the present-day hunter-gatherer tribes, the study concluded that the accumulation of resources and wealth during the birth of agricultural communities and being settled in one place might have been the reason why inequality emerged. It might also have been the motivation why men sought more control within their communities; this period in time might have also seen the birth of polygamy by men who by then were able to afford more children than women.
Equality of sexes was something that even Plato argued for, roughly 24 centuries ago – perhaps not for the reasons that modern-day feminist would agree with – nonetheless, the awareness of gender inequality even as far back then, has not lead to a more utopian ideal. Matriarchy has also been suggested as an alternative, and the romanticization of it by the first-wave feminist movement was a topic of popularity during the early 19th-century as a more harmonious substitute for the patriarchy, though, feminists would not characterize it as the mirror-opposite of patriarchy, but a less controlling and more harmonious with nature in its application. Hypotheses of there being lost or primitive societies that were matriarchial in nature are almost entirely disregarded by most anthropologists.
There have been many others since the time of Plato who have voiced their opinions about the relations of sexes and misogyny in general, like the Italian-French writer Christine de Pizan (1364 – 1430), who wrote the The Book of the City of Ladies and Epistle to the God of Love. She is thought of as the first woman to condemn misogyny in society.
Another very significant 17th-century feminist English author was Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, who became the prescribed model for women to aspire to and how educating women could elevate their status and respect in society and bring more equality. She explored topics like ‘sex and gender, also exploring the topics of marriage, courtship and infidelity. She also examined whether gender inequality was caused by an imbalance between the sexes or a lack of opportunity for women.’ It wasn’t until 1888, that the Women’s Trade Union League argued for and secured the very first successful equal pay resolution at Trades Union Congress.
Sex-based discrimination in the workplace has always been a sensitive topic for women since the post-world war II feminist movement to redefine their traditionally assigned and accepted roles in society. Of course, like any major movement, it was inevitable to not encounter some form of resistance. That resistance perhaps manifested itself in the form of discrimination by some of the patriarchic members of society, trying to oppress and subdue the previously subservient sex back into its pre-assigned and traditional roles.
While the initial nature of these discriminations perpetrated against the feminist movement was one-dimensional and revolving around or between the then two mainstream sexes, today’s discrimination in the workplace and society has been reignited with more complexities and more challenges than ever before. With the continuing rise of the contemporary alternative gender movements and it’s proactive strive and struggles for more acceptance and freedom of self-labeling identity – alongside the already battle-hardened feminist movement – the topic of discrimination of any and all genders has gained ever more momentum. The utilization of social media to bring these points to the forefront seems to have been an effective tool, not only to give these topics more exposure but to also to make these discussions more mainstream than let’s say twenty or thirty years ago.
Another point of friction at the moment seems to be the amount paid to an employee based on his or her gender. Just in recent months, one of BBC’s China editors (Carrie Gracie) resigned from her post citing unequal pay as the main reason for her resignation. She was ‘dismayed to discover that two male international editors earned at least 50% more’, compared to her. She also accused the BBC of having a ‘secretive and illegal pay culture’. In June of this year, Gracie received at least £280,000 from the BBC in back payments. In a bizarre twist, the BBC finally also issued a public apology acknowledging that they had been paying Gracie less than her fellow international editor (Jon Sopel), who was employed on a far higher salary. While Gracie agreed to her position as the China editor on a salary of £130,000, when the BBC was required to publish the salaries of its top-earning presenters, Gracie was surprised to discover that Sopel was earning £200,000-249,999. Prior to the public apology and acknowledgment of wrongdoing, the British Broadcasting Corporation did, however, argue that Sopel appeared in more peaktime bulletins than Gracie.
Suppose an employee pay depends on the employee’s gender, but the definition of gender itself is ambiguous in its meaning – not only within the company policies, but also in government laws, and the acceptance and norms of the society – then it certainly complicates the matter even further and increases any sense of inequality not only within the affected groups but also as a wider problem of who decides when to pay what, and on what basis.
The abovementioned struggles not only affect the laws and jurisdiction of territories but also involves everyone’s day-to-day lives and activities on all levels. While workplace is a front that the alternative gender community is fighting for in terms of representation and inclusion, the movement is also trying to achieve legal recognition for its rights and more common acceptance similar to what the early feminist struggled for.
Many countries have adopted the legal recognition of a third gender – even if with a limited and contextually narrow understanding and definition that affect only those that fall within the predefined and accepted templates; e.g. the intersex (formerly known as hermaphrodites) – however, most of these laws only apply to a fraction of the non-binary genders and diaspora.
As of May 2018, there is no legal distinction for the third gender in the UK law and it only recognizes male and female as valid genders. Many government bodies and businesses do however widely accept Mx as a valid title for non-binary individuals as a substitute for Mr and Mrs, but due to it being relatively new, the title remains informal and not recognized by law.
In contrast, a guide published by the Government Equalities Office detailing how to provide services for transgender individuals, recommends all service providers to accommodate people wishing to be referred by alternative gender-neutral titles (including Mx).
Since the Gender Recognition act of 2004, UK law does allow one to legally change their sex to the alternative one on the precondition that the individual is diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The individual must be at least 18 years old and the applicant must have lived in the acquired gender for the period of at least two years prior to the date on which the application is made. The applicant must also live in the acquired gender for the remainder of his or her life, making any reversion legally more difficult.
Sam Kane, a 58-year-old successful British transgender career woman who went from male to female and back, changed her gender three times and stated that life is easier as a man than a woman.
After the failure of his marriage in 1992, struggles with his personality and gender led him to explore an alternative gender identity. Desires of being a woman that was suppressed throughout his early life pushed Sam finally to aspire and transition towards becoming Samantha in 1997.4
After going through with gender reassignment surgery and the removal and reshaping of her male organs – the physical features that could still identify and categorize her superficially as a biological man in society’s eyes – Sam embraced the new transformation and initial excitement as a woman. However, after seven years in 2004, Sam began to doubt her convictions up to that point. Convinced ‘that men did not take her seriously as a businesswoman and privately mocked her for not being a real woman’, she reverted back to being a man and changed her name to Charles Kane, after yet another complicated surgery to reclaim respect and equality in her professional life.
At this point, Sam’s worries were perhaps due to society’s unacceptance or maybe fears of not getting equal opportunities at that time. Her fears were practically outside the protection of the law and even that of the workplace, because even though she was (and still is) a successful multi-millionaire businesswoman, she was unable to fend for herself effectively or receive any satisfactory level of protection be it from the law, society or her workplace.
At this point in her life, Sam even openly criticized another transgender individual who lost an Appeal Court battle to get NHS funding for a breast enlargement procedure. Sam – who went by the name Charles during that period – said he himself needed therapy, not surgical treatment.
“Based on my own experiences, I believe sex-change operations should not be allowed, and certainly not on the NHS. People who think they are a woman trapped in a male body are, in my opinion, completely deluded. I certainly was. I needed counseling, not a sex-change operation.”5
Sam also claimed to “be a victim of the medical profession. She believed that the decision to have a sex change surgery came as a result of the trauma of the breakdown of his marriage”, in 1992.5
She did eventually re-revert back to being a woman in more recent years because she felt the times had changed and this time she did not even opt for another surgery because it did not matter to her anymore whether she fitted the physical requirements for being a woman.
As it is evident, there is no single law, regulation or employment policy that can be all-encompassing in its protection, nor can anything of its kind safeguard the rights of any nonmainstream gender or any minority group for that matter. There is also sometimes a mental health or disorder an aspect to the problem and this factor is far more invisible to the statistics-machine, crunching out numbers to sway public opinion one way or another.
Even the government isn’t immune to the mistreatment of minority groups, be it based on gender, religion or sexual orientation. A very famous case is that of Alan Turing.