Looking back, my childhood wasn’t normal. It was at the time, you accept circumstances as a child. That’s just how it is. That’s life and life is what you know. But it was only when I left home and started mixing with others in college that I started to grasp just how different things had been.
I was shocked to find out that others hadn’t gone on Union marches and protests from the age of five. Initially, this was probably more of a lack of babysitter issue than indoctrination to a particular cause, but march we did. Joining in with chants that were meaningless to me and my sister.
Taking turns to hold banners, knowing that at the end of the process would be a warm bottle of “non-corporate” pop, a paper straw that collapsed in on itself after two sips and a packet of crisps.
Others were taking swimming lessons, in football teams or watching Saturday morning cartoons. We were running around playing hide-and-seek while the local Labour group met to organise canvassing for the local candidate.
We’d tag along, knocking on doors, handing out leaflets. On election day, we’d spend our bonus day off school at the polling station giving out Vote Labour stickers.
But the “cause” stretched further into our lives. Prohibitions were placed on any entertainer who had ever expressed any sympathy towards anything other than full Marxism. This left quite a void in the TV schedule.
Kenny Everett was banned (he professed a fondness for Thatcher), Cilla Black gone (same), Dallas and Dynasty violently switched off in disgust, even if it was a short promo, even when it was a news item for “who shot J.R.” because of their promotion and glorification of capitalism.
The list of the banned and the suspected political enemies rivalled McCarthy’s black list (a list that featured strongly in our house as a list of entertainers it was OK to watch and support).
I also learned the concept of hypocrisy as watching and supporting Liverpool Football Club was encouraged, despite several of the team being quite fond of lower taxes and Mrs Thatcher. It didn’t matter, Shankly was a socialist, even though he had recently died, which meant Bob Paisley was too. That was all that mattered.
There was a small sense at the time that we were missing out on something. School ground discussions on the previous night’s television would naturally cover some of the banned programming.
You’d just nod along and pretend you were in on it, laugh along with the others, “ha, yeah that was classic”, repeat the catchphrase, then steer the conversation to something you had seen. Thankfully, Doctor Who was never prohibited, nor any kind of Sci-Fi. Top of the Pops was only banned when Jimmy Saville was on, but that was due to his Thatcher and Royal ties rather than prescience of any other issues.
It wasn’t until college that I played my first game of Monopoly. This came as a shock to my flatmates. It came as a shock to me that here we were, 18 years old, free from parents and they wanted to play a board game instead of going down to the Oak in Headingly and taking advantage of their £1 a pint on a Thursday.
I’d just realised that you could buy a single Pot Noodle for 50 pence in the supermarket, pay with your debit card and get cash back. Due to the early stages of this technology, it didn’t seem to check with the bank how much was in your account, so you could withdraw money that didn’t exist. I was flush with twenty quid, enough for a curry and a lot of Theakstons at the Oak.
Instead, my bourgeoisie flatmates (all broke and unwilling to take part in my Pot Noodle scheme) wanted to spend the night playing a prohibited game. A game that had never been allowed in my house, a game that glamourised all the evils of the capitalist system. I was about to be a traitor to the proletariat.
I was assured that Monopoly was true equality. This was the very foundation, I was informed, of Marxism. Everyone has the same, irrespective of race, gender, religion or politics, you start equal. Life as a game of chance, not privilege. What could be fairer?
I lost. Badly. Quickly. I had a tactic of buying the railways and utilities, an attempt at nationalisation. I kept them free of properties, determined to keep ownership with the People, to not profit from the People.
I watched for a while, made my Pot Noodle in lieu of a curry and watched as the game descended into petty arguments, jealousy, accusations of cheating and was finally abandoned. Thankfully just in time for last orders at the Oak.
The experience neither strengthened or weakened my political views, but it did stick with me. Admittedly, more for the missed opportunity of a pound-a-pint night than anything existential.
It came back to me this week, along with a disgust of Pot Noodles, a thirst for Theakstons and the first of many very uncomfortable discussions with my Bank Manager a few months later.
The now ex-Google employee made a pitch for the futility of trying to force equality and the commentariat split off into their usual divides.
In the background, actual scientists tried to debate the issues at hand aboutmale and female differences. Many are shouted down by non-scientists because their research seems incredulous to the individual’s beliefs.
It is true, men and women are different. We have the science. We don’t need to debate that. The differences do not equate to differencing abilities though. They do not equate to differing interests.
Women can be interested in technology as much as a man, that interest may arise for different reasons, but it is an equally valid and productive interest. We just see and feel differently about some things.
The criticism of the Google employee has focussed on his use of science to explain difference. It turns out he is mostly right. He may have oversimplified, he may have been too general, but his references and science check out. That argument is done.
The foundation of his argument is wrong though. This is what hasn’t been challenged enough. Through all the, mostly ignorant, arguments on science, few arguments have picked up on the assumption that a job or a workplace is inherently unequal.
Like my childhood, we tend to accept the normal as being just that. That’s how it is. Some work is ruled by pressure, by long hours, by isolation. It’s how I do it. It’s how it must be for everyone.
Come down off the cross, we can use the wood.
We all think we’re special. I’m more complex than you could ever imagine on the inside, we say to ourselves daily since 14 years old.There has to be a meritocracy because I am where I am due to merit, grit, talent and hard work. I think.
But not that lot over there, they’re incompetent, they must have something on the boss. I got where I am by working this exact way. That therefore has to be the right way. The only way.
On the surface Monopoly seems equal. We do all start with the same, there is no privilege. Tactics can only go so far as you’re a slave to the chance of a dice. But the game is rigged. The principle of the game is to win. The only path to winning is to own more and earn more than anyone else.
Not just earn more, but ensure the bankruptcy and defeat of the competition. Who says that is the right or natural way of work or life?
We accept this as natural. We play the game, happy we’re all equal at the start. Oh look! A Rick and Morty Monopoly set, how cool is that? Now I get to make a child cry as I send them into a spiral of debt.
The assumption that Computer Engineering doesn’t suit women is based on the assumption that the only way to Engineer is in isolation, for long hours, in highly stressful circumstances. This largely exists because that’s how the tech companies started, small start-ups understaffed and no money, (but enough for a foosball table).
It was their path to success so it must be the only way to maintain success right? It doesn’t matter that necessity and lack of money forced their hand. It’s how they did it, so it is how it is.
Has anybody asked if it really needs to be that way? Maybe it does have to be that way, the author of the memo never discusses this, nor do the critics or supporters. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it’s a pretence of equality like Monopoly, attached to an unfair, unnatural system. We’ll never know unless we ask the question.
Fitting the science to those circumstances it is possible to see why you could conclude women won’t be attracted to the tech industry, so why bother? Fine, but only if those circumstances are necessary and not just from a lack of imagination around a finding better way.
The key thing for all businesses should be getting the best employees. We know that high ability men and women avoid competitive circumstances. If you’d only ever seen The Apprentice, you could have come to that conclusion on your own, we didn’t need science.
Why would a business want to foster or develop an environment that discourages the high-ability employees and only benefits low-ability? Yet this is exactly what they do because it is all they know. We all accept this as natural as it is all we know.
I’ve played Monopoly since. It’s only a game. If I can accept the concept of dragons and magic in other games, I’m fine to accept the premise of Monopoly. Despite the unauthorised overdraft fees, I’m still sore over missing the cheap drinks when I had money burning a hole in my pocket.
But we still need to be wary and critical of ideas of equality pasted over an inherently unequal concept. We need to be wary of distractions in debates that avoid rooting out the problem.
I’ve also sent this out as a memo to my entire company.
What could go wrong?
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