The convenient fiction of ‘merit-based success’

August 28th, 2015  |  Published in Gender; Sexuality

bayThe myth of ‘merit’ as a measure of women’s ‘success’ makes me want to rush into the night and bay at the moon. When people like Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, pontificate about getting more women into parliament without compromising “merit”, they perpetuate a convenient fiction that ignores structural inequalities. To illustrate, here are six stories from one issue of The Age (23 August, 2015):

  1. Of the fifteen Republicans in the US presidential primaries, fourteen are men. All fifteen, including the one woman, are anti-abortion (pp.18,19). The more anti-abortion you are the more chance you have, apparently, of getting elected and doing your bit to control women’s choices. In fact, being anti-abortion is non-negotiable.
  2. Two thirds of women in the Solomon Islands have experienced violence from male partners, one third say their first sexual experience was forced, and two thirds of men think hitting women is acceptable (p.23).
  3. Meanwhile, in Australia, Rosie Batty works to get awareness about respectful relationships built into school curricula, but this is criticised as asking teachers to be parents (p.27). I would have thought that learning respectful relationships is something that needs to happen consistently across all segments of society – at school, home, and elsewhere, and to argue otherwise seems like sabotage of a program aimed at challenging the status quo.
  4. On another note, women’s footie is creating a bit of a media stir, but women in womenfootiesport still earn far less than men and “most elite female athletes work day jobs” while professional male cricketers, for example, “earn a minimum $260,000 and can make up to $2 million a year” (p.13). In a country that LOVES its sport, shouldn’t this be one area in which “merit” is more equitably defined?
  5. And, what does the Ashley Madison saga say about gender relations? Of the 37 million whose details of “cheating” were uploaded by hacktivists, 32 million (86%) were men (p.22). I don’t want to dwell on this one, but it doesn’t reflect equity.
  6. So, I share Annabel Crabb’s scepticism about the role of merit “in a system that coughs up only one in five federal parliamentarians who are female, and one in 10 in the cabinet” (p.32).

I’ll be happy to have conversations about merit when they are no longer needed about inequality (whether by gender, race, class, sexuality, able-ness or any other dimension)…Joan Beckwith.


NOTE: As of 14 September, 2015, Malcolm Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott as Prime Minister of Australia in a leadership spill (54 to 44). Julie Bishop remained Deputy Leader of the LNP, defeating Kevin Andrews (70 to 30)

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One comment on “The convenient fiction of ‘merit-based success’”

  1. Here are links to three additional relevant articles, although not from the same day as the post is based around.
    • Mikayla Novak (IPA) considers the gender pay-gap is about the ‘choices’ people make, rather than discriminatory attitudes on the part of employers.
    • Wendy Squires is pleased the Pope advocates equal pay but doesn’t want to “leave it up to a man in a frock and a church that will never really encompass equality to lead the way.”
    • Julie McKay says there is no evidence behind the merit-based approach and no evidence “of any country anywhere in the world that has made gains on gender equality and women’s leadership without legislated quotas in place.” She links gender equality to prevention of violence against women, citing research to back her claims.

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