For heaven’s sake, it’s 2020. By rights, patriarchy ought to have packed up and gone home aeons ago. But here we are, still stuck in a world where men overpopulate boardrooms, courts, bureaucracies and ministries, where they continue to explain things to women and talk over them, and where old white men can throw tantrums and cling on to power even after losing an election. You would think the problem is the near-universal male monopoly over wealth, property, resources and entitlement — ergo, too many men. But, no, France’s public service ministry appears to believe otherwise. It has decided to slap a $110,000 fine on Paris city authorities for employing too many women in its senior positions. Apparently, by hiring 11 women to five men, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has broken a 2013 law that holds that not more than 60 per cent management positions can go to people of the same gender.
To quote a rule that promotes gender equality to run down an initiative that succeeds in achieving just that is rich in irony. It is also a manouevre that might be familiar in the Indian subcontinent, where the standard-issue male chauvinist cuts his teeth in sexism by whining about seats reserved for women in public transport. Dominant groups increasingly wield this language of “fairness” to justify their discomfort at teeny steps that force them to share power, whether it is via reservation for historically oppressed “lower castes” or more seats in Parliament for women; or having to listen to angry critiques by the disenfranchised which they righteously deride as “cancel culture”.
The trick is to own the change. The Paris mayor has said she’d pay the fine — unjust as it is — but hand over the cheque to authorities accompanied by all her women colleagues. She argues France needs more, not less, of such a hiring skew, to aggressively plug a long-neglected gender gap. In all this, lurks a big lesson to organisers of manels everywhere in the world. Too many women? They exist. Now, go find them.