Last week, the long struggle for equal pay reached a historic turning point. The latest statistics show that, on average, a woman in her twenties will earn 2.1 per cent more than a man of the same age. It's taken so long, and so much hard work.
For the past 10 years, women have steadily been achieving better exam results than men; they've painstakingly acquired qualifications and proved that they are highly motivated, reliable and ambitious, and now employers are recognising that. Women are carrying more responsibility, rising up to executive level right across a whole range of sectors and it's reflected in their pay packets. It's a struggle I know at first hand – and yet, I don't feel like celebrating. I only got to the top by not having children, always putting my work first, to the detriment of all my relationships. Sadly, I don't think much has changed over the past three decades. The same set of statistics reveals another historic first : more women than ever in their forties – one in five – are childless.
Some might have postponed babies because they couldn't afford it, hadn't found a decent place to live, or because the right partner hadn't come along. But sadly, I suspect most of these middle-aged women did not have had kids because they recognised that pausing to breed would stop or slow down their tortuous ascent up the career ladder. Every time you have a child, you slip a few rungs back down the food chain, and before you know where you are, that underqualified dreary bloke you fought so hard to rise above is issuing orders while you are effectively demoted in your workplace.
For every woman who claims that it's possible both to raise a family and to hold down a good job, these statistics are proof that for most female workers this remains an optimistic dream. There will always be a small number of middle-class mums, with supportive husbands or partners, who can afford hired help and who are lucky enough to have understanding bosses who accommodate their flexible hours, the school run, sports day and trips to hospital. That is not the norm: 90 per cent of bosses are still male and blatantly uninterested in their female worker's life outside. Women must fit in, and get on with it.
Most women want to have children: we are genetically programmed that way. That 20 per cent are childless by choice or necessity means something is very wrong in our society. We still have a male-dominated workplace, with rules set by and operated to favour the male way of doing things. If having kids were no problem for female workers, the birth rate wouldn't be dropping and loads of middle-aged women wouldn't pretend their lives were complete with designer clothes, a cute pet and a top-of-the-range sofa. Maternal instincts are being sacrificed for power, a comfy income and material possessions.
Women in their twenties can now claim there's no glass ceiling. But women in their thirties still lag behind men, with a pay gap of 2.9 per cent, although it is closing. These young high-fliers might be the first generation that can truly have it all. If so, the career women who reached 45 and never had children have made a huge sacrifice for the sisterhood. Without these trailblazers, these successful twentysomethings would never have reached parity in the workplace.
Ridiculing a disabled child isn't comedy. It's despicable
Channel 4 proudly describes Frankie Boyle's new comedy series Tramadol Nights as "adults-only", and issues a warning before transmission promising "very strong language and uncompromising adult content". This is an X-rated club I don't want to be a member of – if making jokes about Down's syndrome and autism is sophisticated, count me out. I'd rather be considered naff.
Frankie Boyle is a touchy subject in our household. My partner (like a lot of middle-aged blokes) thinks the repellent Boyle is exciting and edgy, whereas I find him the comedy equivalent of Clarkson – something I won't be including in my leisure time. Even Frankie's hardcore fans must be feeling a bit queasy about his latest target: Katie Price's severely disabled eight-year-old son, Harvey.
On last week's show, repeated without cuts after the promise that it would offend, Boyle announced, "Jordan and Peter Andre are still fighting each other over custody of Harvey – eventually one of them will lose and have to keep him." He went on, "I have a theory about why Jordan married a cage fighter – she needed a man strong enough to stop Harvey fucking her."
Is this a stylish example of black, cutting-edge humour? Or just plain nasty? For once, Katie Price has my wholehearted sympathy – she's reported the matter to Ofcom after receiving no apology from Channel 4. Making a sexual joke about a blind child is hardly brave. Time for Frankie to grow up and apologise.
Royal tat is a missed opportunity
The forthcoming royal wedding means a flood of gloriously tacky souvenirs (I cherish my Charles and Camilla mug, printed with the wrong date), but this happy couple seem naively optimistic about policing the tat celebrating their nuptials. The other week, I suggested that Kate flog her engagement dress for charity. Now they've issued a po-faced list of items permitted to carry their picture and the Prince's coat of arms. Carpets, cushions, wall hangings, mugs and scarves are OK, but T-shirts, tea towels and aprons have been banned. Instead of trying to police taste, William and Kate should be using their wedding to raise millions of pounds for charity by charging to use their image on souvenirs. And is a tea towel less tacky than a biscuit tin?
Some twits are bigger than others
Middle-aged pop stars should be grateful they sell records, but sadly, the Smiths are a pompous exception. Both Johnny Marr and Morrissey are outraged that David Cameron proudly tells us he's a fan. Marr tweets, "David Cameron stop saying you like the Smiths, no you don't. I forbid you to like it." Morrissey turned down Andrew Marr's show when Cameron was also to be on. Morrissey, a strict vegetarian, is upset because the PM wants to repeal the ban on fox hunting – but missed his chance to put his point of view across live on television. You can't pick your fans, and MPs have notoriously naff taste in music. The Smiths should ignore the PM, instead of highlighting his attempt to appear trendy.