Earning less and taking more time off for children casues more disadvantage than ‘the curse of casual sexism’.

The broadcaster Alison Mau wrote a piece at the weekend about what she called "The curse of casual sexism". She said she feels "a bit sick" for her teenage daughter that she may have to put up with being treated as a sex object as she gets older.

The examples Mau cites are being wolf-whistled at, being propositioned in bars and having to tolerate shouted questions about her sex life in the workplace. (The last one mystified me; but then I tend to proffer reports on mine without being asked.)

She is also offended by a competition to decide the sexiest female television presenter, an award she once accepted, and she is troubled by WAGs, the glamorous wives and girlfriends of sports stars, being called WAGs. ("Wag more, bark less" as the bumper sticker goes.) I consider myself a feminist but I can only find it in myself to care in a most desultory manner about any of these things. Casual sexism seems, well, casual to me. What I do care about is the reality of the economic power of women, especially older women and minority women. This matters more to me than the objectification of television presenters. Like most things in life, it all comes down to money.

Read more: Dana Johannsen: Time to ditch the word WAG


According to the 2012 New Zealand income survey women earn 9.3 per cent less than men and the gap is bigger for Maori, Pasifika and Asian women. The gap also widens during a women's career.

Research from 2010 found a 6 per cent gender pay gap for graduate starting salaries which increased to 17 per cent after five years. So we start off behind, and slip even further back. Personally, I would say this matters a lot more than whether WAGs' feelings are hurt by not being asked their opinion on Syria.

Women not only earn less, but if they have children, they tend to take time off and here they are disadvantaged as well. These ways may not be as obvious as getting your bum pinched, but are certainly much more painful, for both poor and wealthy women. New child support laws will soon allow fathers to cut the amount of money they pay if they have custody for less than half the week.

And in a recent ground-breaking case, a wife was granted a share in trusts totalling $26 million but she had to hire top lawyer Lady Deborah Chambers, spend 10 years and go to the Court of Appeal, and the judgment may still be appealed. There is not a lot of sympathy for the ex-wives of rich men.

A friend of mine who is a female unmarried lawyer without kids rejoiced that a judge in another high-profile divorce case told a separated wife to "get a job".

This seemed justified and fair to my friend, who has a high-powered career, and thinks wealthy ex-wives are indolent brats. Before I had children I probably would have agreed, but, hollow laugh, I see things differently now. I used to be a feared financial reporter. I won scholarships to Oxford and the Columbia Post-Graduate School of Journalism. I was a news editor and could potentially have had a high-powered job by now. But after I had children I became a lower status freelance journalist to allow me to spend time with our children.

Read more:
Dana Johannsen: Time to ditch the word WAG

I know that my childless friend would tell me I could have put them into daycare and carried on being Gina Hardfaced Bitch. Maybe. But choosing to keep on climbing the career ladder also depends on variables you can't control, such as what kind of children you have. You can't predict that. If your children have special needs this may not be an option.


When my son was 3 I was lucky I was able to give up work entirely so I could spend more time helping him. He is doing really well now, and I think that was a bigger achievement than if I had won more awards. Women like me, who have taken years off from their career to raise children or put their career on the back burner, will also find it difficult to get back into the workforce, and for me this seems much more of a problem than thoughtless casual sexism once you are there.

Young women who feel they get treated as sex objects might find the attention from men irksome, but they still wield a certain kind of power from their youth and beauty; and if they don't like it the answer is simple. All they have to do is wait to get old and haggard and it will disappear.

Fortunately I have an immutable thing for older men, but for most women still wanting to take part in the Darwinian dating game, it's bleak. Just do the math. Older men tend to want to go out with younger women. This is not just about romance, but means many older women don't have the option of setting up a two-income household, which is financially more secure. This is most women's reality and while I understand Mau's protective feelings for her daughter, she might be better off teaching her to just ignore casual sexism and focus on the serious sort.

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