The Minister of Women's Affairs thinks there are not enough women at the top of the pecking order.

THE MINISTER OF WOMEN'S AFFAIRS only objection to the machine seems to be that there are not enough women pulling its levers.

Julie Ann Genter thinks that white men of a certain age need to retire gracefully from company boards to allow more women to get their feet under the boardroom tables. Apparently capitalism would be so much kinder and gentler if more women were in charge. Think cuddly Margaret Thatcher. Think Helen Clark imposing the neoliberal policies of her Labour government on the New Zealand populace.

Genter took her 'liberating' message to the students at Christchurch's Cobham Intermediate School this week. She told them that the way forward was for the private sector to tackle the low level of female representation on New Zealand company boards if more businesses were to be led by women.

I suspect Genter has reacted to a report released this month by the consulting firm Grant Thornton International that says New Zealand companies have slid backwards in their proportion of women in leadership positions.

Genter says 85 per cent of board members are male and many are "old white men in their 60s". This might be true but it is difficult to see why Genter, as Minister of Women's Affairs, should think this is of pressing concern to working class women disadvantaged by our present economic system.

Laurie Penny
But Genter attempted to give her argument a progressive veneer by suggesting that having more women in the corporate boardrooms would be of benefit to women in general. But this is little more than 'trickle down feminism'; the material benefits achieved by women at the top will somehow trickle down to women in offices, on the factory floor or trying to survive on a benefit.

Whether Genter intended it or not, there’s also a pernicious brand of capitalist marketing going on here that suggests that all women can rise to the top if they just work hard enough - while the power structures of capitalism that prevent then from doing exactly that continue to chug along regardless.

The kind of 'feminism' that Genter is advocating might be appealing to a minority of women who worry abut breaking through the corporate glass ceiling, but it fails to recognise that, under our present economic system, most women will never make it so such lofty levels. Her argument simply cuts working class women right out of the picture.

As Laurie Penny writes in her book Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution: "“While we all worry about the glass ceiling, there are millions of women standing in the basement—and the basement is flooding.”

If the Minister of Women's Affairs thinks using her resources to promote corporate feminism somehow strikes a blow for gender equality in general she is wrong. It is in totally ineffective way of promoting social change. Laurie Penny observes:

"Public ‘career feminists’ have been more concerned with getting more women into ‘boardrooms’, when the problem is that there are altogether too many boardrooms, and none of them are on fire."


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