Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Spanner in the Workplace

Officially known as 'R v Brown' (Regina - i.e. the State - versus Brown) "The Spanner Case concerned a group of homosexual men who engaged in consenting sadomasochistic activities of a reasonably extreme nature. The ‘aggressors’ were convicted of varying degrees of ‘assault’ on the basis that the consent and, for the most part, enthusiastic participation of their ‘victims’ were contrary to the public interest. Their appeals to the Court of Appeal, House of Lords and European Court of Human Rights all failed. In legal terms, it seems, sadomasochism is criminal if anything more than very minor injuries result, regardless of the unambiguous consent of the ‘victim’. In direct contrast, even if death results, boxing is not a criminal activity as long as the rules are followed." Reference

I was discussing this case with a couple of friends, a lawyer and a psychologist. I was taking a strongly liberal line that anything consenting adults do in private is no-one else's business, that there is a fundamental human rights issue at stake.

It was argued that these guys were injuring each other to the extent that they had to go to hospital, and therefore, as they are imposing an external cost on to society, then it is no longer their private business. Their activities are, in this way, analogous to smoking (and smokers pay a vast amount of tax which offsets their health care). I think this is a valid point.

Boxing and extreme sports are different, as participants do not deliberately set out to injure themselves or each other; of course accidents sometimes happen, and sportspeople should get some insurance to cover those costs themselves.

However, this insight has some bearing on the issue of working mothers. In a recent article about mothers' pay, Catherine Rake commented that "The choice of whether and when to return to employment is, of course, a very personal one". Stating the reasons for mothers' "pay penalty", the article concludes "Poor access to childcare is the main reason for this disparity. "Reference

If the rest of us have to pick up the costs for women's decision to have children, then it is no longer 'a very personal' choice. The current situation is that an employer cannot ask a female candidate at interview if she intends to get pregnant in the near future. This is regarded as none of the employer's business, and would be discriminatory to boot. However, if she chooses to, then the employer effectively has to pay her not to work, and her childless colleagues have to pick up the slack.

This stunning system of privilege has not escaped the notice of middle-class women. Often, their intention is simply to milk the system for maternity benefits.

A woman of my acquaintance, discussing her family plans, told me: "I'm just going to wait until I get my promotion next month, and then I'm planning to get pregnant". She liked the idea of sitting at home on an even higher salary than she already had. When asked why she was not entitled to 12 months on full pay, she replied "There are too many women where I work. Not enough people to pay for it". What she meant of course is that there are not enough men to pay for it. Not enough men working there to finance all the women's lifestyles and do their jobs for them while they sit at home.

The employer's intention when recruiting is to get a job of work done, and a woman candidate's intention is often to get her baby paid for. There is a conflict of interest here. This is resolved in the feminist mind simply by putting women's interests first. Rake, like most other feminists, advocates government-funded creches. There is no regard for the effect that this will have on families, children, employers, or the wider society. A woman's rights are unlimited, and trump everything else. No questions asked. However, as in the Spanner case, if your activities impose an external cost onto the wider society, one that the rest of us have not agreed to, then it is no longer just your private business. It is public business. The choice of whether and when to return to employment is only "a very personal one" if you are wealthy enough to fund your lifestyle yourself.

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