According to the Telegraph, David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science, “blamed the entry of women into the workplace and universities for the lack of progress for men”. The tag line for the article says “feminism has held back working men”.
Let’s stop right there. “Blamed”? “Held back”? Is Mr Willetts suggesting that women should not have the same opportunities as men? That equal rights for women are, to put it bluntly, a bad thing? Is he a sexist dinosaur chasing women out of public life?
Wait, it gets worse. He uses the term “assortative mating” to describe how individuals with good education and potentially high earning power tend to choose partners with a similar level of education. The concept itself is hardly news, but to call it “assortative mating” when talking to the media? He’s absolutely right to call it “delicate territory”.
Is there any wonder that the Telegraph (as well as other papers) leapt on the story?
However, the quotes directly attributed to Mr Willetts make little mention of “blame” or “holding back”. Indeed, they contain no emotive terms in opposition to women’s rights, and a few in support. For example, he talks of the “entirely admirable transformation of opportunities for women”. He appears to be attempting to make factual, academic points about the changing nature of social mobility and gender roles. Even the inflammatory phrase “feminism trumped egalitarianism” is a comment on the faster decline of discrimination on the grounds of sex as opposed to class. So what is he really saying?
If, and at this point it’s still an “if”, David Willetts is not sexist, then he is desperately in need of common sense. In that case, this is disingenuous twisting on the part of the Telegraph (and other papers) and truly remarkable foolishness on the part of Mr Willetts. Surely, but surely he could have guessed how his words would be represented?