Discrimination laws are too timid by half

Yvonne Roberts writes that tougher laws are
needed if discrimination and prejudice are to be overcome.

A remake is planned of The Stepford
. In the 1975 version, uppity women were turned into
robotic dutiful spouses who obeyed their husbands’ every

In an
era when the changing expectations of men and women are confusing,
contradictory and nigh on impossible to fulfil, stepping back in
time holds an obvious attraction, if, one ignores the fact that the
foundations that anchored this hierarchy of power in place –
traditional morality and the supremacy of the male breadwinner –
have crumbled away.

philosopher Jacques Ellul in his 1960s book, Propaganda,
pointed out that effective propaganda deals not in lies but in
variations of the truth – half-truths, truth taken out of context,
and limited truths. According to Ellul, the better educated the
audience, and the more atomised the society in which they live, the
more likely the message will hit home.

In the
case of women, the half-truth is that they have emancipation – and
the “rewards” are stress and permanent exhaustion. The whole truth
is that the management of huge cultural change and the recognition
of the value of diversity requires strong clear laws and much
tougher penalties. Sadly, we lack both.

Alongside legislation outlawing
discrimination on grounds of race, gender and disability, a new EU
directive will shortly also ban discrimination on grounds of sexual
orientation, religion and age. Ridiculously, the latter three will
apply only in the workplace, not in goods, facilities and services
such as housing, health and education. Barbara Roche, the Cabinet
Office minister, has initiated a six-month consultation to discuss
the idea of a single equality commission.

Companies require a workforce
that reflects the diversity of the markets and the customers they
wish to attract. So, some large private businesses are driving
through anti-discrimination policies and overhauling management
criteria, asking why, for instance, there is a trend for bright
Indian males to do well at university but 10 years into employment
they are far behind their white counterparts.

answer is prejudice. And the cost is reflected not only in a
desperate waste of talent but also in the dangerous fracturing of

single equality commission will only be effective if it has razor
sharp teeth and it strengthens its alliance with the progressive
private sector. Then, there might be just a chance that the white,
male, middle-class establishment will begin to change its


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