It’s A Man’s World

I’m told by a correspondent that Scotland and the SNP are regularly referenced in the Catalan media as leaders of the new progressive politics. Here is a short translation from the publication ARA – the main Catalan language daily printed in Barcelona – examining what is filling the socialist Left void in Europe.


The collapse of traditional social democracy, accelerated by social change, the economic crisis and corruption, is producing alternatives from a range of traditions which are also either laying claim to its space or attracting its voters. The Scottish independentists have become consolidated as the national and practically the only party of reference in the country for a significant part of the popular classes. Progressive pro-Europeans steadfastly opposed to the inheritance of the Thatcher era, they have taken over the space abandoned by the London-dominated Labour Party. The independentist victory in working-class Glasgow on 18 September is significant in this respect.’*


And it’s certainly true that the Nationalists are moving into the space vacated by the old Left parties although precisely what policy areas justifies this new status isn’t always clear.

One of my own measures is attitudes towards, and policies for, women. That took me to the Centre for Contemporary Art on Sauchiehall Street last night to view a film made about the impact of Ailsa McKay, the feminist economist from Glasgow Caledonia University on people to whom she revealed her theories, including Alex Salmond who paid moving tribute. (She died last March).


The film itself does not explain Ailsa’s theory in any detail but the compelling insight and inspiration of those exposed to it acts as a lure to find out more. I intend to do so and have plans to use Newsnet as a platform for exploring where the standard measures of economics, which exclude much female input, go wrong and lead directly to women being literally undervalued.


I’ll come on to my own understanding of the feminist case in a moment but first Business for Scotland has an interesting article today by Alexandra Black explaining how women are excluded and effectively mistreated and under valued under the current economic model.

In it she writes: ‘In 2011 the UK Government created an initiative called ‘Think, Act, Report’ with the aim of exposing the transparency on gender inequality, to provide action and encourage good practice. In the research they discuss the stages of women in work and acknowledge that women in the 3rd stage (been at home with children) take a downward shift in status. Too right we do! On a positive note the report does at least acknowledge that this doesn’t make sense economically, as often these 3rd stage women have received substantial investment in education and possibly training.

In the UK, 1.3 million women want to work more hours and a staggering 2.4m women want to work who aren’t! It seems that the UK has access to a ready and willing resource that is being overlooked. In Scotland, if participation of available and willing to work women was introduced into the labour market, it would boost our annual economy by £700m in tax revenues. This massive economic potential needs to be leveraged.’


Ailsa would agree but as a member of what has become a global women’s movement in this area, she would go further and say it isn’t only about following the existing structures into work but reassessing what that actually means if you are a woman at home. If the woman (in the traditional configuration) isn’t at home, how can the ‘bread-winning male’ take part in the active economy either?

This section (from Wikipedia) sums it up. ‘Feminist economics call attention to the importance of non-market activities, such as childcare and domestic work, to economic development. This stands in sharp contrast to neoclassical economics where those forms of labour are unaccounted for as non-economic phenomena.Including such labour in economic accounts removes substantial gender bias because women disproportionately perform those tasks. When that labour is unaccounted for in economic models, much work done by women is ignored, literally devaluing their effort.’

Why don’t we count women’s contribution? Because the structures we use for accounting are organized historically by men who impose their own gender bias.** The international standard of national accounts explicitly excludes ‘non-market activities’ so that all developed countries, and in essence the entire measurable world economy, dismisses the contribution of half of the population.

The message to women is: You don’t count. Literally. All that lugging shopping bags, piles of ironing, screaming kids, sleepless nights…all for nothing as far as the economists are concerned. Your home help or cleaner – well, that’s different. They count because you pay them cash but your spending allocation (from dominant male) is just part of the naturally-recurring scheme of things. I think the equation is…Man Powerful, Woman Inferior.


Even in Norway which included unpaid household work in the GDP in the first half of the 19th century, left it out in 1950 for reasons of compatibility with the new international standard.

Ailsa believed that one solution was a basic income for all as a ‘tool for promoting gender-neutral social citizenship rights’. Turning that idea into policy is an area for the brave to venture but, if we are to rethink the very basis of national accounting on a global scale, why not give it a try? Natalie Bennett showed what can go wrong if an aspiration isn’t research-based.

There are groups and bodies feeding into the SNP government on this and related issues but you can see how a traditional party machine would wonder privately if this would look like mad wonk politics to ordinary voters unless the detailed preparation was done first. I’m at least encouraged that those around Ailsa believe the government and SNP is genuinely open to a radical reappraisal of women’s role and much more so than any other party. But this is daring stuff and needs a concerted effort to engage and invigorate. But our world has changed in Scotland, hasn’t it? We’re progressives, right? Let’s prove those Catalans right and start leading the new European politics. And let’s use Ailsa McKay as our inspiration.



*Thanks to Joyce McFarlane

** Each country measures its economic output according to the System of National Accounts (SNA), sponsored mainly by the United Nations (UN), but implemented mainly by other organisations such as the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the World Bank. The SNA recognises that unpaid work is an area of interest, but unpaid household services are excluded

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19 thoughts on “It’s A Man’s World

  1. I think the SNP have already put a few cracks in that glass ceiling and if its up to our new FM, that ceiling will cease to be a problem very shortly. 🙂

  2. But despite all this, women wanted to vote for staying in the UK and perpetuating this situation! Somebody explain, I’d really like to understand.

    • elizabeth melville

      Both women and men voted for staying, polls suggested most women voted for staying but polls are just that, they are not votes.

    • This is exaggerated. The difference was only a few percentage points.

    • It was largely the elderly vote that was the most strongly pro-UK. Since women tend to live longer than men, and women already outnumber men, there are more elderly women than there are elderly men.

      • I know. But it wasn’t what did it. A large number of voters over 65, of both sexes, voted No. If the gender differences were evened out it would not have altered the result. And if under 65s had voted Yes in sufficient numbers, say, to the 60% level it would have nullified the pensioners.

      • Again, only according to the polls. Polls can only tell us what people say that they voted. Where do pollsters go to find “older people”? Not to my home, or my mother’s. Do they go around to the lunch clubs and homes for the elderly or do they make a genuine attempt to connect with a wide variety of peple of all aged in all circumstances. The vast majority of my “older” friends and family tell me that they voted YES. None of them were polled.

  3. So which is it – do we want to value homemaking, caring for loved ones, bringing up children and so on as equivalent to work: in Ailsa McKay’s words, “creating an economy and economic theories that fully acknowledge care for each other as well as the planet”? Or do we want to ensure that more women have equal rights by going out to earn a wage like the rest of us? As Alexandra Black puts it, “Business for Scotland…could help develop a simple model to get women back to work.”

    There seems to be a dichotomy here which is far from being addressed, but it’s ending up in many women being torn in two directions and suffering from burnout, since they’re being told they absolutely must contribute to capitalist production as well as keeping the family together. Perhaps it’s no wonder that in advanced economies like Japan and Taiwan women often choose not to bother with marrying or families: it’s simply too much hard work, trying to do both.

    Family homes without a parent are less able to pass on culture in all its variety – custom, language (no more Gaelic, anyone?), cuisine and many more aspects. In particular, the argument that single mothers should of necessity find work seems to be spoiling the ship of society for a ha’porth of tar, and it’s a great favourite of the neoliberal consensus in UK politics.

  4. The ‘simple model to get women back to work’ isn’t one of force or duress but one for women who feel they have reached a stage where it is possible for them to re-start or re-engage with a career. Support would be around technology and depending on the scale of the organisation experience in various departments etc. This model hasn’t been created as discussion needs to be had with businesses as well as women. While at home with the family women develop a number of skills (or maintain them) but sadly this experience is not seen as such but is seen as a GAP in your career. I’m 49 and reckon I have a good few years of self development. I would like to earn money, ease the constraints on household budgets etc and more than that, find a place in society where I continue to contribute. Developing the ‘model’ is crucial, as is keeping it simple.

  5. Steve Asaneilean

    I think it’s both Fearchar. It’s about choice. It’s about valuing unpaid contributions to society. I would also suggest the same applies to voluntary work, again undertaken by women more often than not.
    What we do now is only value work that is paid and the more it is paid the higher the value and prestige we place on it.
    But can anyone truthfully tell me a seven figure earning hedge fund manager deserves to be valued and respected more than the young mum in her 20s looking after a profoundly disabled child at home so the State doesn’t have to?
    Yet these women (and it usually is women) go largely unnoticed and unrecognised by most of us.

  6. I think free child care and generous child benefit would help greatly. In Norway if you look after a severely disabled child at home they pay you for it regardless of the child being a relative. The state accepts it has a duty to assist financially.

    • Trust the Norwegians to be so smart.

      However, the English are far superior to the Norwegians,
      so to follow their example in anything,
      is completely out of the question.

      If the English don’t think of something first,
      they tend not to think of it at all.

      It’s about Eton, you see.
      Anyone who has not gone to Eton,
      knows little of any value.
      And that’s all there is to it really.

      Norwegians don’t go to Eton.

      What you say?
      They have more money than we have.
      Are you sure?
      Well, I say old boy!
      Can you believe it.
      There must be a mistake.
      A mistake I tell you!

      Sherry, old boy?

  7. Natalie Bennett made a terrible mistake in not knowing her brief properly on the Basic Income. If you scrap JSA completely and just give everyone that £70/week, it’s actually pretty close to neutral in terms of expenditure ( but it generates more economic activity, instantly gets rid of a big chunk of the “benefits trap”, incentivises more work of all kinds, depresses wage inflation for a while (which would be useful while we dig ourselves out of the current economic hole) and reduces stresses on people who are unemployed whlie enabling Jobcentres to be about jobs instead of sanctions. It could also lead to us getting rid of the absurdly bureaucratic tax credits system to be replaced by people just having more money automatically.

    There are other issues too. A more generous child benefit would be a huge boon to all mothers, but especially those who aren’t working. It should also remain as a benefit paid directly to the mother rather than getting folded into Universal Credit. The entire “head of the household” concept on which UC is based is inherently sexist and will almost certainly lead to greater intra-household poverty. That’s a very real issue, but one that our household-dominated measurements rarely acknowledges, let alone calculates or acts to counter-balance.

    We could also do LOTS more to support carers. Carers’ benefits are pitifully low, but if the regular carers we have were all to disappear out of the system, the state would incur MASSIVE expenses in trying to do their job. Bumping them up by £50/week would be relatively trivial in the grand scheme of government expenditure but would drastically change lives (and of course, a big chunk of that money would eventually end up flowing back to the government anyway through VAT and corporation tax.)

    Finally, it’s worth bearing in mind that our ever-escalating housing market has in many ways coincided with increased female employment. When it was just one man’s salary that was considered for a mortgage, that kept a lid on prices. Now, two salaries are needed more often than not in order to buy even a reasonably modest home. This prejudices against families (mothers specifically) who want to do what is probably best for their kids and stay at home for at least the first few years. Measures to rebalance the housing market could make a big difference to giving women a choice in the matter rather than being forced into a position where they have to work but end up barely any better off because of the cost of childcare. “Free” childcare provided by the state is one part of the solution as it makes going back to work easier, but we need to do much more to ensure that women who want to stay with their kids for longer are able to do so without a crushing financial burden being placed on the household.

  8. Do not imagine that when the woman is the main provider,
    the homemaker is treated any differently,
    or that housework suddenly becomes valued
    due to a gender switch.

  9. The so called equal opportunities act came into being decades ago, when I was a kid, and what has happened? In the workplace; not a great deal. With childcare; not a great deal. And so it goes on. If women leave men to make decisions, the outcome is clear: women are the losers. Until many more women are in positions of (representative) power, then they will continue to be second rate citizens.

    We’ve seen what Women for Independence can achieve. Isn’t it about time that women in general copied the actions of women in Sweden some time ago (or it might have been one of the other Nordic countries)? They threatened to set up a women’s only party. And, boy, did that change the attitude of politicians.

    Jings, just think what an action like that might achieve in Scotland.

  10. Since public funding was removed from Comhairle nan Sgoiltean-Araich, there is effectively no provision for young children to be brought up with Gaelic, unless a Gaelic-speaking parent stays at home. Passing on the single most significant cultural indicator of the nation of Scots from one generation to another has been put out of the reach of all but the well-off or the very determined.

    For those of us valuing culture, financial support for parenting is a no-brainer, but it’s important to be aware that childcare can and does undermine the continuity of elements of culture that may be essential for the long-term success of the Scottish identity. By and large, mothers present in the home are the people providing this cultural continuity, but this inestimable contribution to social welfare is not recognised financially.

  11. Born Optimist – I don’t disagree that more women in positions of power would be a useful step forward in lots of ways (not least in changing girls’ perspectives on what their future roles might be) but it’s a HUGE mistake to think that that’s the biggest issue as it often seems when so much talk about is about boardroom appointments. You can quote all the research in the world about female-led businesses doing better than all-male ones (which is problematic in itself, since it assumes that women are somehow “better” than men) but you only need to look at Thatcher or Theresa May or Angela Merkel to know that women in power doesn’t necessarily mean women helping other women. I’d much rather see a focus on the systematic anti-woman discrimination of our benefits system, for example, since that will affect many, many more people than any number of boardroom quotas.

    At the same time, let’s not forget – boys do worse than girls in school. In almost every discipline, fewer men go to uni than women. Men then have a higher drop-out rate and on the last stats I saw are likely to earn substantially less on graduation. Men die younger than women, especially if they’re poor. Men are more likely to die young – from drugs, alcohol, violence and suicide. They’re far less likely to engage with health services and are many times more likely to be in prison. (Where’s the campaign for a different approach to criminal justice for men after Jim Murphy saved us all from HMP Inverclyde?) I’m not suggesting that men have it worse than women, but if we’re going to talk about gender differences it’s vital that we don’t assume that because white middle class men have far more money and far more power than anyone else that ALL men necessarily do better than women. Gendered issues have effects on both sides of the balance sheet and to only focus on the plight of women risks leaving those men at the bottom of the heap even further behind. Gender, race, class and more all intersect and it’s naive to look at them in isolation.

  12. Well, no mention of single fathers, of which I am one. Sometimes I think that we are really the minority that gets ignored.

    Anyway, I don’t really care if my housework is included in GDP calculations or if I am ‘valued’ by capitalist society. Why should I?

    I do feel strongly that childcare provision needs to be improved so that it is not a barrier to employment. I’d find it tricky to carve out a high flying career and still be at the school gates at 3 pm.

    I also agree that we need to have affordable housing (political courage required) and/or better wages so that families could get by on one wage (if they desired).

    As for the gender equality stuff, I’m not entirely convinced. I often think back to when I was at university in the early 90’s. There was one girl and about thirty boys! Now, I don’t think the fiendish course leader was rejecting scores of female applicants based on their gender. By the same token, how many women are actively trying to break into politics? I would suggest that women tend to be more risk averse (small ‘c’ conservatism) and less interested in politics. That’s been my anecdotal experience and some recent polling carried out by WOS would seem to back me up. Could this be a factor in the under-representation of women?

    However, I do accept that there is discrimination in the jobs market (and the political world no doubt) and that may well be to the detriment of women. To that we can add age, race and class, to which men will also be subject. I remember being asked “what does your father do” at an interview for a work placement (a placement which was offered to my privately-schooled, rugby playing classmate!).

    Frankly, I do get irked my the pervasive narrative that “those bad men are continually trying to keep those poor women down”. By all means, lets work to reduce discrimination generally and support working parents, both male and female.

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