Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Role of Women

Today I found some curious documents in a book published in 1947. Headed CLERICAL POSTS IN BRANCH "B" OF THE FOREIGN SERVICE, it gave details about joining the Civil Service.

The starting salary for 'both boys and girls at age 16 or 17' was listed as £150 per year. I have no idea whether that was good or bad in those days, but I suspect the latter. The document then mentioned annual increments and I was appalled to see this:

In the middle four grades, the highest salary a woman can earn is still less than the entry level for a man. How motivating, and yet that attitude would have seemed entirely reasonable in 1947.

Even twenty years later, things hadn't changed that much. I remember my mother telling me that she was awarded a 'dowry' when she left the Civil Service to get married.

On another piece of paper, I saw some details about the Civil Service Entrance Exam, which tested the literacy, numeracy and IQ of all applicants:

Why did the examiners need to be aware of the exam candidate's gender? I can understand some sort of positive discrimination in favour of ex-servicemen, as many of them had an awful time when they returned to civilian life, but why identify women? What's even scarier is that the Civil Service was probably one of the more forward-thinking employers of the time.

Harry Enfield's parodies of 1930s public information films are clearly humorous, but sometimes they are uncomfortably close to the truth:

Of course it's all different now. Women are still frequently paid less, but nobody dares to put it in writing.


Jim Murdoch said...

Yeah, I've never understood that kind of discrimination. I've just read an old Philip K Dick novel, Time Out of Joint, set in 1959 and I took note how the women in the book are treated and how they reacted - or to be more honest, didn't react - to that treatment:

   "Go away, this is men-talk."
   "Yes, dear."

I can just imagine if I tried to pull that one on my wife.

Art said...

Whats surprising to me is that it doesn't feel like that was so long ago...

Enjoyed the video :)

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Yes aside from the classier clothes, manners and sense of (surface) fairplay, the past would have been a jolly frustrating place to be female in many respects.

Particularly if marriage never materialised and you needed more than 'pin money' to support yourself!

I guess the protest was minimal as they were too scared of losing their jobs and were outnumbered by male employees. That may also be why they deferred to them, being in a more vulnerable position in the workplace.

May said...

Salary discrimination, career opportunities and the role of gender in organizations are currently very fashionable topics.

I like this blog (AND its name).