Belfast Telegraph

In the battle of the sexes, the Superbrat may be paid more, but what about the class gap?

Gender pay difference is complicated, says Fionola Meredith but the working class suffer the real inequality

You cannot be serious! - I bet Martina Navratilova couldn't have shrieked that any louder than John McEnroe, the original tantrum-throwing, racket-flinging Superbrat himself, when she realised that she was getting paid 10 times less than him to talk about knocking balls around.

Both are tennis champions turned pundits, and both are employed by the BBC to commentate on Wimbledon. But while Navratilova, with 18 Grand Slam titles to her name, was paid £15,000 for her thoughts on the competition, McEnroe, with a measly seven Grand Slams, was raking in at least £150,000, and possibly a great deal more.

Yet another example of the BBC wildly over-paying the male "talent" at the expense of the ladies?

No, no, no, of course not, protested the corporation, in maximum denial mode.

The gender pay gap is a super-sensitive subject right now, what with the outcry over female presenters' pay, and the fast-approaching deadline for the UK's biggest companies to declare the difference between what their male and female employees earn.

McEnroe's role was of "a different scale, scope and time commitment" to Navratilova's, insisted the BBC. "His pay reflects all of this - gender isn't a factor."

I guess McEnroe's public profile, his additional hours and the BBC's exclusivity rights to his commentary would add a few extra quid to his pay packet - but over a hundred grand more than his female counterpart, for a couple of weeks' work? Come on. They really can't expect us to take that one seriously.

Navratilova herself certainly doesn't. "It's still the good old boys' network," she said bluntly. "The bottom line is that male voices are valued more than women's voices."

Well, we shouldn't be surprised. That's been the case since the time of the Ancient Greeks, when Aristotle considered women to be misbegotten men. Whether the BBC or any other employer acknowledges it or not, the idea of men being the prime, natural holders - and transmitters - of power and authority is woven deep into the roots of Western culture. Consciously or unconsciously, these notions still inform our thought processes, still influence the way we encounter the world.

That's not to say that women can't take on the big political or economic or legal roles - obviously they can and do, in ever increasing numbers - but there's never that sense of "natural" ownership of the big seat at the top.

"If we close our eyes and try to conjure up the image of a president or a professor, what most of us see isn't a woman," writes the classicist Mary Beard. "To put this the other way round, we have no template for what a powerful woman looks like, except that she looks rather like a man."

This is also why, as a female commentator, I sometimes encounter stupid blokes who think that, simply by virtue of being male, they know better than I do, or that their logic is sharper than mine. (PhD in philosophy, guys? No, thought not.) That's been the curse of smart women through the ages - being patronised by pompous prats.

Let's not fall into the modern feminist trap of perpetual victimhood, however. The national median pay gap between men and women may stand at 18.4%, according to the Office for National Statistics, but that's the lowest level since records began, and younger women are now actually earning more, on average, than their male counter-parts.

Factor in women's greater likelihood to do part-time jobs, or to interrupt their careers, as a result of motherhood and parenting decisions, and the gap shrinks still further. Progress may be slow - dead-slow and stop in some areas, like investment banking - but for the most part, it's happening.

As you can tell, I am sympathetic to Martina Navratilova's frustration - I'm sure it's no fun losing out to an ex-brat with fewer tennis titles than you. It simply isn't fair.

Yet the worst injustices are not being done to professional women of the middle-class elite, whose pay-packets may or may not be smaller than their male counterparts, but are still pretty chunky nonetheless.

No, it's the working-class female - and male - employees at the opposite end of the pay scale, trapped in low-skilled, part-time, temporary jobs, who are really feeling the bite, compounded by a grinding lack of social mobility. "A social class pay gap, rather than a gender pay gap", as the author Joanna Williams describes it.

So if we really want to expose wage inequality, why not start by looking there, before turning to the plush precincts of Wimbledon and the comfortable studios of the BBC?

Belfast Telegraph

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