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There is nothing vulgar in wanting equal pay

By Hannah Marsh

Published 14/11/2015

Uppity, unladylike, brazen - society has long had its vocabulary aimed at dismissing women who don't take inequality quietly. So, when Kate Winslet described public conversations around the gender pay gap as
Uppity, unladylike, brazen - society has long had its vocabulary aimed at dismissing women who don't take inequality quietly. So, when Kate Winslet described public conversations around the gender pay gap as "a bit vulgar", she wasn't saying anything that hasn't been said before

Uppity, unladylike, brazen - society has long had its vocabulary aimed at dismissing women who don't take inequality quietly. So, when Kate Winslet described public conversations around the gender pay gap as "a bit vulgar", she wasn't saying anything that hasn't been said before.

"Maybe it's a British thing. I don't like talking about money; it's a bit vulgar isn't it?" she said on Newsbeat."I don't think that's a very nice conversation to have publicly at all."

It may not be a nice conversation, but if we want to see change, it's a necessary one. We're not going to see the gap (14.2% in Britain, according to the Fawcett Society) close by retaining acceptable levels of feminine modesty.

If shyness around talking about money really is a "British thing" - although I suspect it's more a "British expectations of women" thing - then we need to address that, not use it as an excuse to duck the difficult issues.

Women pushing the boundaries of what society expects from them have long been up against a powerful war of words looking to undermine their expectations as "unladylike" or "unfeminine".

There's nothing Hitler-esque about wanting to be paid the same as our male colleagues for doing the same work.

In describing women who refuse to lay down and quietly accept a lower wage for equal work as "vulgar", Winslet, knowingly or not, adopts a well-used approach when it comes to undermining equality - making women feel that in standing up and demanding change, our behaviour is somehow inappropriate.

And it's easy to see how a weapon that de-feminises is an effective one, in a society that feverishly values femininity, beauty and youth as carriers of female worth.

Winslet may not have intended it, but by wrinkling her nose at the like of fellow Hollywood actor Jennifer Lawrence's strident discourse on the subject, and dismissing such discussions as "vulgar", she's doing the same thing. And it's really disappointing.

Profound social change doesn't come from staying within the polite boundaries of our comfort zones. It comes from raising our voices and calling out inequality where we see it, challenging it and demanding a world where we are recognised as equal citizens.

We shouldn't feel obliged by niceties to keep quiet about inequality. Kate Winslet may feel that it is uncomfortable but I, for one, am glad it's a conversation that's firmly on the agenda.

Belfast Telegraph

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