The Secret Sauce of the Misogyny Compliment Sandwich

John Amaechi OBE -CEO, Amaechi Performance Systems

I am so tired of reading articles by men supposedly “empowering” women — especially when connected to the world of business or sport — only to realise they are often brazenly misogynist in their composition and tone.

Even saying that gets me in trouble, because of course, NO men are misogynists now, it’s just a function of a particular subtle deficiency in women or a backlash from the ‘feminazis’ out there trying to ‘…castrate the cis-gendered patriarchy.’

Hmm, that’s a mouthful, but even talking about this makes me a good guy. Much in the way Tim Wise (a white, American, anti-racism and equality activist) can talk about white privilege without being instantly labelled a racist, I have the privilege of being able to call out at least some of this sophisticated anti-woman clap trap and live to tell the tale.

I read Matthew Syed’s article in the Times today and I thought for a second we would have some rare insights. One paragraph in and the brief but oh-so-certain dismissal of the gender pay gap began. The gap being “implied” not real and not even a product of the “bigotry of employers”. Rather, Syed’s “closer inspection” revealed that the problem is — of course — a woman’s disposition.

If only they would try to negotiate like “the majority” of right-minded men, then they’d get exactly what they deserved.

I am a massive fan of musicals, and the only way I could stomach the rest of this article was by listening to Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, speak-singing “A Hymn to Him” — the lyrics (from 1964) perfectly echoed the tone of so many of these male-authored, supposedly supportive brain burps: “why can’t a woman be more like a man…eternally noble, historically fair…” and on, and on, and on.

Following up the bombshell of alluding to purposeful self-harm by women in the case of the gender pay gap, it almost seems like Syed throws them a bone by recognising the “setback” (Really? “setback”?) that women who chose to negotiate suffer that “undermine long-term career prospects”.

Acknowledging that “long-term harm” comes from a woman attempting to negotiate her pay from the outset, and simultaneously ‘blaming’ women and excusing the gender pay gap as a woman’s fault for abdicating her responsibility to negotiate seems a bit callus, not to mention convenient. Syed calls it a “catch-22”, but before doing it, shoe-horns in that the issue here isn’t systemic bias and a convenient use of Stereotype Threat by those in power, who use it as a weapon against those who are most susceptible: minorities who really want to achieve. Anyone who chooses to comment here about women not being minorities really needs to read a book. Instead, Syed says that — and this is incredible — women are “trading in a lower salary for the benefits — personal and professional — of being considered feminine.”

I am unclear in an occupational setting, what the “personal” benefits of “being considered feminine” are, but I’m pretty sure Syed already explained that the “professional benefits” are being paid less for doing the same job.

Syed goes on to laud the zenith we are experiencing in women’s sport — without mentioning how much less they get paid (if they are paid at all). I suppose their unequal pay has a similar rationalisation — or maybe it’s just that the best women in the world don’t rank in the top 700 men as John McEnroe suggested of Serena Williams during Wimbledon.

Perhaps pay is inconsequential considering the role these sporting women are playing, according to Syed, to help a “new generation of girls (and boys)” to be “surrounded by new “gender norms””.

…the challenge of sexism and misogyny is systemic, not individual…

I am unclear why “and boys” needs to be parenthetical. I also think that given the widely understood gulf between the coverage of men’s and women’s sport, most girls “(and boys)” will have had to go to extraordinary lengths to hear about anything but a 30-second summary of these women’s collective victories during Newsround.

The hammer drops when that word is used: feminists. According to Syed “The tragedy is…”, NOT the pay imbalance or the catch-22 he at least recognises, nor is it the systemic bias he describes, but rather “…that the feminists have often made the problem worse by calling for symbolic changes (like) quotas in the board room”.

It’s so good to know that qualified women on boards are a “symbolic gesture”. He then goes on to suggest (in a way that is equally offensive) that racial quotas in South Africa and the United States are the reason that black people have been “undermined” in both those countries.

Really? That’s why I get stopped and searched four times a year? Such a relief to know it’s Mandela’s fault.

That is the kind of obtuse ‘hot take’ on the issue of racial strife that one might expect from Rush Limbaugh or Katie Hopkins and is the worst kind of pseudo-intellectualism.

Syed seems to stand with men who think that the systemic challenge of bias in society can be undone by women sportspeople who are “social catalysts” — but only because of sport’s role in “…giving girls a greater opportunity to play games that enrich their lives”, but only metaphorically.

There is a science to change and while role models (of every gender in this case) are really important, the challenge of sexism and misogyny is systemic, not individual and the solution will not just be one or two remarkable women in or outside of sport. Had that been true, change would have already come, not sitting like a train held outside a tube station with headlights we can see: tantalisingly close. Meanwhile, we’re still standing on the crowded platform, hot and bothered, waiting to actually get somewhere, knowing with every passing second that we should have been there ages ago.

There is a gold mine — or perhaps more correctly a mine field — of content in Syed’s article and many more like it, that fit my thesis that too many articles by men supposedly supporting women are really the worst kind of compliment sandwich: a veneer of positivity, top and bottom, and a stodgy filling dripping with bias, naivety and epic churlishness — and I’m tired of it.

We’ve ‘grown accustomed to the face’ of this type of journalism when it comes to issues of bias…but ‘wouldn’t it be loverly’ if we all demanded a little more from those who purport to support?